As some of you might know, around four years ago, I stopped racing DH World Cups simply because I found that there were tons of other things to do: adventures, experiences, more bike disciplines, and a bunch of other sick and challenging events that for years I have been keen on participating. So since I stopped, I have been enjoying my time on all sorts of bikes, from Enduro bikes to enduro e-bikes, to my trail bike, aero road bike and climbing road bike, XC, and finally, the protagonist of this story: the gravel bike.
I have always enjoyed pedaling, probably more than a regular downhiller. This always helped me to be fit and strong and was part of my successful formula during my World Cup career. So, after I stopped, I started to spend a lot of time on my road bike, enjoying crazy challenges, looking for the longest road and gravel climbs in the world, and completing the Everest challenge. During this journey, a few other gnarly ideas came to my mind, and then I heard about Transcordilleras, where this story will take place.
Transcordilleras is a gravel race. A multi-day, self-assisted stage race. Quite a unique format, and something that I definitely had never done or experienced. And to be honest I did not know why I got myself into it but all I knew was that since my retirement, I really wanted to do a bike packing trip, so this was my chance.
Before the trip started, I could not lose the opportunity to do a custom paint project that, for a while, I really wanted to make happen. Last year we did the Chiva, (inspired in one of the most traditional "buses" from Colombia), and for this opportunity, I wanted to have a bike inspired by the Jeep Willys. Why? Willys are considered the most emblematic cars in Colombia. You will find them everywhere, even in the most remote places. So if I was going to do a bike race that goes across Colombia, this needed to be my weapon of choice! The WILLYCLETA!
I have to be honest; I was nervous as hell the day before the event. Why? 8 days, 850+ kilometers, and over 22,000k ascending? That's quite an effort for a former downhiller. Also, I have to say that my longest ride on a gravel bike before the event was just around 100K, and 100K was almost the average of each stage, with the longest reaching over 145km and over 4,000k of climbing in ONE DAY!!! This was going to be hard. But! All I could do was try.
Surprisingly, on the first stage I found myself finishing inside the top 10 from over 60 people, and at the same time, I felt strong and enjoyed it more than I expected. With this result, I sort of showed who I was. It was cool because the rest of the top guys and other participants started to be more friendly and talk to me. Suddenly I became part of the scene which carried on during the next week, where I was riding with the top guys as much as my legs could, learning day by day, making new friends, and loving the adventure. What a cool event.
It was funny to share the whole week and go for many many km elbow to elbow with former professional tour de France guys, Lourence Tan Dam, Thomas Dekker, Mauricio Ardila, and several other strong guys. Learning the dynamics of these events, the leader pretty much sets the pace, you simply follow, pee stops aren't concerned, and food stops as well. So different from everything else that I have done before.
But well! Good things come to an end. As I mentioned, 8 days race, over 850km, and we were already over 842km in and my mouth could already taste the beer at the finish! I had made it! I was about to finish the hardest bike challenge and the raddest experience that I have done on a bike when… My front wheel collapsed. I take full responsibility for this one. I thought these wheels were indestructible, and they might be, but combine a former downhiller, 82 kilos, and flying down all the fire roads during this week and over a month and a half before the event. No bueno! It was awful to crash like this. It's one thing when you are risking it all, trying something new, lines, etc., but I was simply cruising down this easy descent, and kaboom! The next thing I know was on the ground, unconscious, out of breath, and all scratched. Later I found out at the hospital that I had destroyed my collarbone and 5 ribs.
Things got even rougher when after the surgeary, I ended up staying at the hospital for 5 days since my right lung was compromised because of the pain on the ribs. The pain was so much that I could not breathe properly and my lung was starting to be affected. So the doctors decided to do a few more things and keep me under observation in order to avoid any sort of risky consequences.
Well! Luckily now I am way better and still recovering. A few more weeks ahead and a huge lesson for me and for everyone. EVERY DAY COUNTS! You never know when will be a bad day. It's impossible to avoid bad days, impossible to try to take precautions in order to be safe. JUST LIVE! RIDE BIKES AND BE HAPPY! And if rough times come, be brave and patient; soon we will be riding bikes again.