Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Live from Mariquita

I just arrived in Mariquita after a 6-hour drive from Medellin. We're at 500 meters altitude so its much hotter down here (approx 35-38 degrees celsius) than up in Medellin.  I was expecting to see Letras looming over this small town, but it is out of sight.

I am nervous about my form for tomorrow. Lets say that my fitness for 'epic riding' was a '10' last August when I spent 9 days in the Pyrenees with Dave Andersen. After my 4-week break over the holidays, I was hoping to be a '7' by now. But in reality, I am more like a '4'. I had some good training rides, but it didn't quite 'come-together' for me. On the other hand, my weight is reasonable: 71kgs (157lbs). I was generally able to avoid ice-cream and empanadas over the last 3 weeks, except for the Super Bowl. 

If I was in my August 2011 form, I could complete a 3,200 meter climb in approx 3 hours and 45 minutes (assuming 850 VAM and ignoring the effects of high altitude). My Colombian friends completed Letras in 5.5 hours. The problem is that Letras' length and altitude is a massive unknown for every cyclist. Letras is much bigger than anything in Europe. My longest climbs in the past were around 2.5 hours (Stelvio, Gavia, Boqueron, and Minas). Friends in Medellin tell me to watch out for three things: 1) the air is thin so you have to climb slower, 2) its very cold at the top (~5 degrees celsius) so you have to bring your winter gear, and 3) its also very windy. So, I'll start slow and pace myself (~600 VAM). I'll speed up in the last 500-1,000 meters if I am still feeling ok. 

I'm planning to start the 80km climb at 7am so that we can get up to a decent altitude before mid-morning when the valley turns into an oven.  I hope to cross the pass by 1pm and then continue down to Manizales. The descent is approx 1600 meters over 40km. It sounds like great fun, although my friends said its often just too cold, especially since my kit will be soaking wet. I have some of my winter gear (windproof jacket, arm warmers, and leg warmers) with me, and even if I have to change into a dry kit, I think the descent will be worth it. I just wish I had full-finger gloves with me!

We raided the local supermarket today and stocked up. The support vehicle will carry 5 liters of Gatorade, 1.5 liters of Coca-Cola, 6 sandwiches, several bananas, and a dozen bocadillo bars. 

If I have a really good day tomorrow, Letras will only be moderately painful. If I have an average day, it will be really painful. And if I have a bad day (I've had more than my fair share over the last 6 weeks), I'm in big trouble.

Letras 3677.

Driving out of Medellin this morning.

The Medellin-Bogota highway winds through the Andes.

Hacienda Napoles is Pablo Escobar's old ranch and private zoo. He stocked the ranch with 18 hippopotamuses, ostriches, zebras,  and other African animals. Many of the original animals are still alive and the ranch is now a tourist park. The plane at the entrance is one of his drug planes.

Rio Magdalena

Downtown Mariquita

The supermarket!

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