The first of three parts on an oft-neglected topic of pieces on Colombia: Food.
Food. The cyclist’s greatest nemesis, and greatest friend. It’s no secret it’s a subject of great interest for much of the pro peloton – often, the saying is muttered “Eat to ride, ride to eat”. Why do I take such a big interest in food, cooking, and the techniques that follow? Bike racing is hard. Humans aren’t designed for intensive aerobic output for 24 hours-plus a week. It will suck the life out of your withering carcass without proper care. Before I started racing, I had creative outlets – photography, writing, design, et al. I found crushing myself on two wheels, and those fell by the wayside (see: lifesucking). Something functional to my newfound passion – but still stimulating – took their place. Cooking. Discovering others’ cooking. So, without further adieu, an initial introduction to la comida of my temporary (and beloved) home – Colombia.
Eating habits differ substantially from Americans. Like many Latin and European countries, priority is on lunch, typically the largest meal of the day. Many nutritionists say the American fondness for skipping lunch with a heavy supper is a source of our waistline woes. Following lunch, breakfast (Desayuno), tends to take some form of precedence. amongst racing cyclists in Colombia, a substantial waking meal seems to be standard.
Almost every mid-sized locale in the US has it. Wednesday Worlds. Tuesday Night Nationals. Ubiquitous weekly races, that some take far more seriously than others. Utterly Hobbesian in nature – nasty, brutish, and short. The Paisa version is very much the same beast – a little nastier, a little more brutish, and at 10AM on a Thursday. With six professional teams based in Medellin, and the majority of Colombia’s WorldTour contingent inhabiting the City of Eternal Spring, local racing becomes a more elevated experience.
This is the Chequeo. Chequeo means Check. I have no idea why it’s called a Check. At this check, Carlos Betancur showed up. Ostensibly to race the Check. So, we raced. 75 pro/elite cyclists in a city of 2.5 million, and by most local accounts, a small attendance day by Chequeo standards. Incredible.
My hot wife, crusher of local male masters racers, received a quick tutorial in Canon 5D camera usage, and produced the following images. Yours truly representing in Poler’s best urban camo Castelli kit.
Medellin, Colombia is cycling’s Narnia, a hidden world affordably accessible through numerous wardrobes. If being selective, a transfer via JetBlue at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International is the most agreeable with a bicycle.
Medellin from the balcony near the city’s Velodrome.
Writing about it feels like giving away the password to the hottest speakeasy in town during Prohibition on City Hall’s door. Except, unlike Yelping about a new Afro-Slovakian fusion dive bar in the Mission, I doubt even one in fifty who read this will make the inexpensive trip. Instead, they’ll book tickets for far-flung locales like Tuscon, San Diego, and Sedona (note: Aging snowbirds and racing cyclists, not that different at all). Nicknamed the “City of Eternal Spring”, Medellin is situated at 1,500m above sea level, and experiences an average temperature of 72F. Every. Day. This is equatorial Earth, where the daylight doesn’t change, seasons are more or less constant, and temperature is something of an unchanging beast. Curious about a typical training day in the city most gringos only know as the one-time home of the most powerful narco-kingpins on earth?
Las Palmas, halfway up as it tiptoes the rim of the Valle de Aburra.
The ascent out of Medellin’s most wealthy neighborhood, El Poblado, is locally legendary. The Alto de Las Palmas is, from the floor of the Valle de Aburra, a 15.5km long, 980m of elevation gain climb. It’s also a four-lane divided highway, and a major artery to the Department of Antioquia’s international airport, Jose Cordova (known to travel websites as MDE). That said, unlike most American highways, drivers on Las Palmas are frighteningly polite to cyclists – a surprising irony, given that one generally takes one’s life into one’s hands behind the wheel on the roads of Colombia. Here, cycling, secondary only to the omnipresent popularity of futbol, is revered. Donning a kit on a racing bicycle cements one’s place in the pantheon of sport, and even riding two-abreast on a busy road is not only tolerated, but applauded. This isn’t Amsterdam, Belgium, or the revered passes of the Alps – this is Latin America. (more…)
What if: Instead of taking another low-or-no-paying domestic US cycling contract to sacrifice the whole of your being to ride awful races in parking lots, suburbs, and places where spectators would normally run you off the road on a training ride…you went your own way?
Welcome to 2014 – the initial season of the ridiculously titled project, ”THE LOCALS ARE PAINTING MY NAME ON THE ROADS” (and to my knowledge, no one ever has).
Back for another winter in Colombia. Those of you who’ve followed along before know the story. This time, with my recently-acquired (and equally talented bike racer) wife, redefining the word “Honeymoon”. Also this time, we’ve opted to spend our days in one of the beating hearts of Colombian road cycling: Medellin. A consistent slew of awe, excitement, passion, insane food, and incredible people will be fed through the meatgrinder here, the Instagram, and various other outlets.
The Project is: THE LOCALS ARE PAINTING MY NAME ON THE ROADS, We’re fast on pavement, we’re fast on dirt. We’re disillusioned road racers with an axe to grind on the most unique, marketable, and interesting events and locations on the planet. We are not pros. We are the anti-pros. We’re interesting humans with stories to tell, and we know how to tell them. An aesthetically smashing creative team that happens to pump six watts a kilo on a given Sunday. We run on passion, excessively-stamped passports, espresso, adrenaline, street food, and good IPA. We’re Top Gear meets Anthony Bourdain meets Rapha meets pro-level racing. We can win a time-trial Friday, an enduro Saturday, and the local gravel race with 10,000ft of vertical on Sunday. We do not screw around, except when we do. Michelada at the C-Store stop on the local hardman ride after dropping everyone? Yes.
Partners are Castelli, Orbea Bicycles, Blendtec, and Reynolds. Expect to see their graciously provided products over the coming year exceeding design specifications.
They won’t let me race the Classics – so I’ll make my own, on the best equipment possible, preferably fueled by Liege waffles and Tripel.
In conjunction with the calendar, and in an effort to make the lofty (read: insane) race calendar possible, custom kits are now going to start rolling out the door. The first:
Blaze camo meets ubiquitous modern-day racing, with a dash of WW2 fighter ace-inspired kill cards and typography. Get ‘em while they’re hot, the presale runs until February 28th, with kits rolling out the door within six weeks – just in time for hunting season.
Recently, there was an engagement. Yes, one of THOSE engagements. My engagement, even – hell hath frozen over. Not only that, but I’m buying into three step-children. Boys. Mostly teenage boys (sidenote: my total aversion to having children is legendary, making this all the more amusing). Allow me to shoot the proverbial elephant in the room now – I’m 26, she’s 37. This has led to numerous hilarious encounters, especially given that the oldest, at 15, looks approximately 22.
I write this the day before my wedding, so things are a little hectic. When a pair of bike racers decide to get married, two crucial elements in the cyclist psyche engage: Impatience, and “Is this going to interrupt the race calendar?”. So, Kemi (note: part-owner, all-around badass racer on elite women’s squad DNA/K4) and I looked at the calendar, and the magic timing dartboard said “Two Months From Now”. February 8th, followed by a two-month-long training-adventure-honeymoon in Latin America (Colombia and El Salvador, if we’re being accurate).
I’d long since parted ways with my impromptu Colombian friend. That was the way it went there. By now I’d become accustomed to these on-the-road friendships and acquaintances. An oddity in my homeland, in South America a regular occurrence. Fellow riders. Soldiers. Bakers. Truck drivers. Tienda owners. What’s increasingly a function of the internet – giving something a like, a follow, was a much more tangible interpersonal experience in the Cafetero. The genuine interest strangers had in my everyday life was nothing short of a humanizing, grounding experience.