By Ulrich Fluhme
I'm about two thirds up the climb and finally get into a good rhythm.
No longer are other riders passing me. The drizzle has turned into steady rain. With the wind blowing fiercely, the rain hits us sideways. I can see as far as maybe 100m.
As long as I could, I stayed away from using my easiest gear, a 39/25. By now, however, I have to shift into the "rescue ring" whenever the road kicks into double-digit gradients.
The climb I'm struggling up is called "La Cuchilla". Neither its 11km length nor its altitude gain of 700m make it stand out among revered climbs. The maximum gradient of 13% is stingy but manageable.
What makes La Cuchilla so hard is its absolute altitude. The climb starts at the altitude where famous Col du Galibier tops out: 2,600m. When all is said and done, the crest of La Cuchilla towers a whopping 600m above feared Passo dello Stelvio, at the literally breathtaking height of 3,365m.
La Cuchilla is part of the long course of CRM GFNY Colombia, the fifth race of the inaugural GFNY World season. The global series of competitive granfondo races culminates in the GFNY Championship in NYC at the fifth annual Campagnolo Gran Fondo New York on May 17, 2015.
Riders who place in the top 10% of their age group, qualify for the racer corral in NYC. The 2015/16 calendar includes GFNY events at Mont Ventoux, in Italy, Mexico-Cozumel, Argentina and Colombia. All of the events provide road closures or police moderated intersections to allow riders the right of way along the entire race route, individual chip timing and rankings based on finish time.
Cycling visitors from abroad will quickly notice two things: the friendliness of the people and their passion for cycling.
Like in Italy, cycling is the country's number two sport after football. Consequently, the expo was held in one of the city's hippest parks, "Parque 93", surrounded by trendy bars and restaurants. The start and finish of the race took place 20 minutes outside Bogota in La Calera.
The police sirens are coming closer which means the leaders of CRM GFNY Colombia are descending already. They throw themselves down the flooded road, hitting speeds of 80km/h, which are easier to reach at altitude due to lesser wind resistance.
At the top of La Cuchilla, I take the time to stop to put on my rain jacket and decide to also add the facemask. The race is happening way ahead of me so sacrificing a few seconds is a no-brainer. Thankfully the descent is not technical because brakes don't tend to work fully in wet conditions like these.
Once back "down" at 2,600m, I'm looking for company for the rest of the way. We still have about 100km of the 148km to ride and the course from now on is more undulating than mountainous. The fact that the race hovers between 2,600m and 2,800m makes every bump that much more challenging.
On and off showers keep us on our toes. Whenever I get a chance, I take a glance at the breathtaking mountains and large lake that accompanies us for the next 50km. We can fully focus on riding because the course is entirely closed to traffic. In total, 400 police officers from nearby Bogota make sure that we get to enjoy an unparalleled experience.
I'm passing a few riders who apparently cooked themselves up La Cuchilla and now aren't able to join me. I keep riding some sort of tempo at the front to put in a solid effort on a day where I was defeated by the competition from the gun.
With 30k to go, I finally reach a group with a couple riders who are willing to share the work. We pick up a few more stragglers and finish together strong and tired.
I sure can't wait to get high again at GFNY Colombia on April 10, 2016.
Podcast: www.gfny.cc/podcast (Episode 18)
Uli Fluhme is CEO of GFNY World. He and Lidia created and run Gran Fondo New York.