|Source: Altimetrias de Colombia|
I mentioned above that Letras is the biggest mountain pass I know of. The volcano of Mauna Kea in Hawaii is bigger - it offers 4,203 meters of elevation gain. But, Mauna Kea is not a mountain pass. And, nothing in Europe comes close to Letras. The biggest climbs I found in Europe were Gavia and Stelvio in the Dolomites, with almost 2,000 meters of elevation gain. The mountain passes in northern India and Chile are at higher altitudes (almost 5,000 meters) but the climbs (as measured from the nearby valleys) are only 2,000 meters or so.
So, until someone tells me otherwise, I am claiming Alto de Letras as the biggest mountain pass in the world.
Letras is located in the heart of Colombia. As I mentioned, the climb begins in Mariquita at around 600 meters. The climb is 80.7km in length and heads towards the west. If I continue west once I summit, I'll have a 42km descent to the university town of Manizales, at approximately 2,000 meters. I prefer to continue west rather than turning around and descending 81km.
|The climb begins in Mariquita (A) and heads west for 81km. Continuing west, the ride will end in Manizales (B) after a 42k descent.|
|And in the big picture, this is where Letras is located.|
I have another two to three weeks of training on the calendar, and I really need it. I was in great form by the end of 2011. Rides of 150km and 3,000-4,000 meters were on the weekly menu. I could climb all day with a VAM of 850. But then I took a month off over the holidays and now I am paying for it. I suffered like a dog for most of January. Just last week, I felt like I finally found my form. I rode 120km on Saturday with 2,100 meters. Today, I climbed Las Palmas in 48 mins (a VAM of 929). Not bad at all; I was surprised and encouraged.
As Letras nears, I'm trying to be more specific with my training plan. I hope to complete at least two 3,000 meter rides as well as one 180km+ ride. Both San Jeronimo (over Alto de Boqueron) and La Pintada (over Alto de Minas) will get me to 3,000 meters. I've done each of these rides before and I know they are solid training. I want to ride to Rio Claro (east of Medellin) for the 180km goal. I haven't been to Rio Claro yet but its been on my list since I arrived in October.
I am also taking several difficult steps to lose weight. I have committed to reducing my McFlurry intake to 3 per week. I am also eliminating all donuts, Fruit Loops, and empanadas until I complete Letras. I am continuing to eat a healthy diet (daily staples include chicken, rice, fruit, veges, beans, etc.).
And if you are wondering, I am still powered by the little known secrets of Colombian cycling: arepas and bocadillo (see here for more info), as well as a daily 50mg dosage of Viagra (see Wikipedia here for an explanation of Viagra as a performance enhancing drug). I'll probably increase the dosage to a 100mg pill on the day of Letras.