Guillaume takes on IncaDivide

Posted on October 08, 2019 by Joe Sullivan | 0 comments

One of our friends, Guillaume, tackled the infamous Inca Divide ultra-endurance race, described as “the highest, most difficult, yet most beautiful ultra-cycling race in the world.” This year, only 12 riders finished. This is Guillaume's story of the IncaDivide. 

New Year's Resolution

The IncaDivide is a self-supported ultra-distance race going through the Peruvian Andes. It covers 1700km with an elevation gain of more than 30.000m and climbing several times up to 5000 meters above sea level, making it one of the most difficult self-supported endurance bike races in the world. On January 1st of this year, I knew I wanted to achieve something crazy on the bike as a New Year's Resolution. This race was a way for me to step out of my shadow as a pure weekend warrior, and I had 7 months to prepare for one of the hardest rides of my life.

The next morning I began to train to arrive in Peru as ready as possible for the event. I went through very demanding sessions; winter rides in the snow, intense indoor workouts, and early group rides. In addition to getting stronger, I had to get used to the ultra-endurance life as well, with a few self-supported bike journeys to prepare myself. The first one was a trip from Brussels to Lisbon and back in only 5 weeks in April. During the summer, I spent a month in Jura and in the Alps to train to long climbs and high altitude. Beginning of August, I was finally ready, packed up my bike, and headed to Peru.

Race Day

After a week of acclimatizing to the elevation in the mountains in Huaraz, race day was finally upon us. The race started at 5AM after a very early breakfast organized by the official race hotel. The first hour of race was neutral as we left Trujillo in a peloton. After crossing the small town of Huanchaco, the race truly started as a strong tailwind pushed us to the bottom of the first climb of the race, taking us from sea level to 3200m elevation in just 150 km. And the least we can say is that it was a hell of a first day. Thankfully, this first day of riding was entirely on asphalt, allowing me to reach the first checkpoint of the race (CP1) on the same day, after a ride of 15 hours and only climbing! Not taking any risks with riding through the night, I decided to sleep there and have a good rest as the next days would be even more difficult. 

And indeed, the next three days were almost only made of gravel, always riding above 2500m and regularly climbing to 3500m. This first half of the race, the north loop, brought us in the Cordillera Negra (Black Andes, mainly dark and deserted mountains) and gave us the opportunity to cross amazing landscapes and very warm conditions during the afternoon. However, the nights remained quite cold and I often had to put my long sleeved jersey and leg warmers to cope with the low temperatures, especially in the long downhill sections. 

The fourth day brought me to the lowest elevation point of the race, indicating that the half of the distance had been covered. A good rest was necessary to enter the south loop in the Cordillera Blanca (White Andes, consisting mainly of snowcapped summits) to face one of the highlights of the journey on the next day, the Punta Olimpica tunnel. Starting from 1300m, I quickly reached CP2 and had to climb for ten hours straight to reach the summit at 4736m before finally starting the descent on the other side of the Huascaran National Park. Although it was one of the hardest things I’d ever done on a bike, it was all worth it giving the amazing sceneries and the view on the Huascaran mountain. 

Oxygen = life

After one day on the smooth asphalt, I was back on the very bad shaped gravel roads. The south loop consisted in higher altitudes as we were now always above 3000m and regularly touching the 5000m, meaning we had to cope with extremely low oxygen conditions. The constant roughness of the road, and just the amount of time in the saddle began to take its toll on me both physically and mentally. I kept talking myself out of quitting, knowing the finish got closer with every pedal stroke. A real boost to my morale came from the scenery at this altitude; where the landscapes are even more gorgeous as the colors seem brighter contrasted by the several white summits surrounding our route. 

As from the small town of San Marcos, there would be no shop nor hotel for the next 160 km, I therefore decided to stop there to sleep. In order to go as far as possible, I decided to leave very early, at 1AM and started a gravel climb of 6 hours to the Antamina Mine.

The finish is at the finish line

After this point, I spent the rest of the day at very high altitudes (above 4500 m) till the Pastorouri pass; one of the most epic scenery a bike ride can offer you. From the pass, it was only a long descent of 300 km toward the Panamerican road, a busy highway with plenty of crazy truck drivers. Just a last stop at CP3 in Carhuaz and I was on my way to the finish line. 

Before starting the race, I had no reference to how hard this would be, but I easily believe this is one the hardest races in the world. Indeed, it was not always rosy as I went through very difficult times during the race, both physically at altitude and mentally with the long hours in the saddle. The issue of finding food in between spread-out towns was not making it easier. But I eventually found the right motivation to keep on. I finally reached the finish line in 4th place after 7 days, 10 hours and 29 minutes. I couldn’t have dreamt of a better ending for my first ever ultra-endurance race. Besides the result, I went through an amazing adventure and met a lot of lovely people from all around the world. The organizers, Bikingman, say that they are one big family and all along the course and my week-long adventure, I felt included in this family. 

The moment I’m writing this, I’m in Faro, South of Portugal, a few days prior to taking part to my second ultra race. I think I’m getting addicted to these kind of adventures!


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