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Transcordilleras: Cycling through Colombia's Andes

March 08, 2024

Transcordilleras: Cycling through Colombia's Andes

OBED athlete Austin Sullivan embarked on the formidable Transcordilleras journey in Colombia's Andes. Spanning 620 miles over 8 days, this challenging adventure wove through breathtaking landscapes, fostering connections and unforgettable experiences along the way.

Colombia. Andes. If you follow cycling closely, you're already aware that the riding is exceptionally challenging, and the professional cyclists who hail from this country are on another level. Transcordilleras takes that challenge to new heights. Covering 620 miles, climbing over 70,000 feet, and spanning 8 days where you carry everything you need, it's no small feat. Yes, there's a 'non-stop' version, but I opted for the 8-day variant to have more time to immerse myself in the experience. In non-stop events, I often find myself rushing through checkpoints, but this time, I wanted to savor the journey. Some racers are known to speed through with a quick purchase. I, however, wanted to take in more of the landscape and connect with the people, so I chose the longer race, and I couldn't be happier with that decision.

You know something is special when you read the race book and find it devoid of the usual hyperbole found in US-based 'race bibles'. None of the "you won't finish if you're not on this tire" nonsense. Instead, there are passages about the need for not only top physical shape but also a strong emotional and mental state. It was a refreshing change, and I immediately knew this would be an event I would truly enjoy.



Our first day from Paipa to Soata covered 82 miles and 9,600 feet of vertical gain, hitting all the unknowns. Steep ramps up to our highest point in the race had many of us realizing exactly what kind of 'mental state' we would need. The subsequent days' routes featured a 4,000-foot descent and an equally lengthy climb late in the stage. The descent treated us to breathtaking views, reminiscent of So Cal's dry, brown-scale mountains. And then there was the surface, super sketchy with loose dirt and smooth gravel stones, requiring cautious line choices and braking. This area was the Chicamocha River Canyon, the first of three major rivers of Colombia that we would ride near. Climbing out of the canyon, the difficulty level of this race became even more apparent. Smooth stones that slipped under our tires as we pedaled, combined with the intense heat, made for a challenging ascent. Despite manageable gradients of 8-12%, traction proved to be difficult. About three-quarters of the way up the climb, we spotted a solitary house on the hillside with  a cooler of drinks on the porch. Jorge yelled out, asking if they had any drinks, and we immediately diverted to investigate. Thankfully, the lady had sodas and potable water. After a quick purchase and some dried sugar cane, we continued our ascent. After a paved descent to the finish, I felt a newfound camaraderie with Jorge. We shared a meal, swapping stories with other racers who shared our concerns about the challenges of the race.



This was exactly what I signed up for with Transcordilleras. Tough riding, roadside encounters, and friendship at the finish line. Jorge and I ended up sharing meals throughout the race and even shared an Airbnb in Fredonia. Chatting with locals in town squares, drawing curious looks as I roamed town with my unmistakable gringo appearance, I found a new level of relaxed exhaustion with each passing day and town. To top it off, I wasn't alone as I typically would be in non-stop racing. Whether gringos, Europeans, or Paisas (the Colombian word for Colombians), we all shared smiles and camaraderie when we crossed paths in town. A few words about the day's stage, some shared smiles despite language barriers, and then straight to brass tacks—where to find breakfast at 5:30 am the following morning.



The first few days of the 'race', I was simply surviving. I aimed to get stronger throughout the race and avoid a massive implosion after pushing too hard the day before. Over the first five days, I covered 443 miles, climbed 53,700 feet, spent 38.75 hours moving, and burned over 24,000 calories. Phew. The first half of day six was relatively relaxed, riding some of the most beautiful roads I've ever seen, and with amazing company. Never did I imagine having a casual conversation with someone who has won the Tour, Giro, Vuelta, Olympic, and World Championship titles. Annemiek van Vleuten was a joy to ride with, and her humble demeanor made for enjoyable exchanges. Riding with her undoubtedly fueled my determination for the last two days. Throughout the first six days, I steadily climbed up the ranks in the GC, going from 18th to 11th, consistently finishing each stage around the same place. I felt a surge of motivation on day seven. Though 10th place overall seemed out of reach, I had only about a 30-minute lead on 12th place. I knew who to keep an eye on, and I marked him. He managed to drop me near the top of the first paved climb, but I set a personal best 20-minute power threshold over the last 9 months. It was all-out racing for me. Another rider firmly in the top ten caught up near the finish and exclaimed, "dude, you're flying today," a wonderful affirmation that spurred me to my best stage finish at 10th place. Should I mention that the finishing town of Jericó is one of the most beautiful pueblos in Colombia? It felt good to perform well, even if I was still over two hours outside of 10th place in the GC.



Our last day was bittersweet as we joked about "what will I do at 6 am tomorrow?!?!" Annemiek kept saying it would be a social ride, and in some ways, it was. A neutral descent led to high speeds on hot, rolling hills along the Río Cauca. A lead group of six broke away after many attacks, leaving our group of 15 to maintain a steady pace. People were exhausted, and it was comforting to ride together. As we approached the finish line, the pace picked up. Thinking we were closer than we were, I made a move off the front but quickly reached my limit as three others passed me, leaving me in 9th place for the day. Eight minutes behind the winners, with GC positions secured and energy restored, we were all elated. Grabbing a popsicle from a vendor on a motorbike, we rolled into the town of Santa Fe de Antioquia, where the celebration began. Hugs, high-fives, and bubbly drinks flowed freely.


Transcordilleras is one of the great ones. The memories, friendships, and scenery will stay with me. Regardless of finishing positions, I think we all felt like champions. This race is tough, and the people and interactions don't make it any easier, but they certainly make it memorable. I can't wait to return, and mark my words—it's the kind of race that will keep drawing you back. With the route changing every year and Colombia boasting so many uniquely beautiful corners, I doubt I'll ever tire of it, even after attending 10 Transcordilleras. With that said, I hope to see you next year in Colombia!

Total Stats:

  • 637 miles
  • 73,600 feet of gain
  • 51 hours
  • 34,000 calories
  • Bike Setup:

Gear:

  • GVR- GRX Di2 48/31, 11-40t
  • Stages left-side power meter
  • Terravial Washburn 42c & 47c
  • Reynolds ATRx
  • FSA K-Wing 42c
  • FSA 110mm acr stem
  • Supa Caz bartape

Kit:

  • Oveja Negra Half frame
  • Oveja Negra Top Tube
  • Oveja Negra Large Seatpack
  • Osprey Duro 1.5L hydration pack
  • Pactimo Summit Stratos 12-hr bibs
  • Pactimo Summit Aero Mesh
  • Gore baselayer
  • HandUp Ventilated Lite gloves
  • Shimano SPhyre RC902 shoes
  • XTR pedals
  • Pro Stealth Saddle
  • Chamois Butt’r Ultra 
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M

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5'10" - 6'2"

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6'1" - 6'5"

 

RVR / RVR SLi

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S

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M

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ML 

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L

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M

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