The excitement of being a freelance ‘sportograf’: On a average monday, minding my daily job, suddenly my phone beeps….. “ Len…Sportograf called: “we have a last minute invitation to cover “la Ruta Colombia, a new road cycle event in Colombia” – Wanna go??
This will never bore me, waking up on an average day not knowing that same day you will go to sleep with a booked plane ticket to Colombia “in the pocket”. Departure in 8 days. This joy of unexpected travel is a privilege not many people experience during their everyday life….
The privilege of being a ‘sportograf’!
Colombia… Pablo Escobar, drugs, robbings, guerillas… those are the things lots of people first start talking about when you mention travelling to Colombia. If only these people could see Colombia the way we have seen it during this trip!!
We arrived in Rio Negro after a 22 hour journey. The organizer arranged a hotel for us directly at the start/finish location which was more than perfect. After such a long journey there’s only 2 things you wish for…. A shower and a cold beer. 🙂
So after a quick shower we went outside to the little cluster of bars and restaurants next to our hotel. Within 10 minutes we got invited into a small bar by some local people who offered us some beers. Complete strangers inviting you that way might seem a bit strange to us Europeans but this was pure Colombian friendliness at its best.
The next day we explored the route of La Ruta Colombia, to look for good photospots, This turned out to be a an awesome surprise. We were constantly surprised by a fertile mountain landscape with numerous attractive looking farms, restaurants, bars and stalls with the most delicious chorizas, indigenous fruit and crafts. South American atmosphere at its best. The route varies between approximately 2200 and 2700 meters above sea-level. This was ,and still is, the training ground of former and todays Colombian pro cyclists like Herrera, Botero, Quintana, Chaves and all others. Living and training at this altitude gives these guys a huge advantage in developing their famous climbing skills. While we Europeans are gasping for breath after climbing 5 simple stairs, people here a fully adapted to this altitude and seem to have double the amount of red blood cells.. at least you get that impression if you see them ‘flying up’ those mountains on their bikes.
Although we are in a fantastic green landscape the typical south american atmosphere is everywhere.. Colorful buses filled with ditto indigenous people, youth on BMX cycles hitchhiking behind trucks, meanwhile performing all kinds of stunts. Farmers with weathered faces, big hats and machetes hanging at their belts and not to forget horse and carriage that give you a glimpse into the past. The route of “La Ruta” is 160km. 80km from Rio Negro to the Town of Sonsón and then back to Rio Negro again. Sonsón is a special place: A municipality in the Colombian department of Antioquia. For a long time this was a “forbidden town” where nobody dared to go. As is was home to, and controlled by, the FARC guerrillas who left it in ruins. The Colombian people have proudly restored the buildings and roads to the glory that it ones had and deserves. It’s fully understandable, organizer Pablo and his wife Melissa chose this place as a turning point in La Ruta Colombia. The symbolism behind it is overwhelming. Besides that, the scenery on the way to this town is really breathtaking, as is the town itself!
On race day we are extremely lucky with weather conditions. Clear blue skies and temperatures between 20-26 degrees, what more can we ask for.. The cycle passion in Colombia is striking. The successes of Colombian pro cyclist these last decades seem to have had a massive impact in Colombia. These last days we already where stunned by the amount of cyclists we encountered. Normally only something you see on a sunny day in Belgium or Holland. Cycling has clearly become immensely popular in Colombia.
This La Ruta was so much more than we ever expected. If you are an enthusiast cyclist and you get the chance, you should ride these Andes mountains at least once in your life…
This country has so much to offer: The food you will eat here is among the best we ever tasted, the registration area in Medellin was in the most beautifull shopping center we have ever seen (El Tesoro) with stunning view over Medellin and the Andes mountains, stunning nature everywhere with the most amazing animal encounter possibilities. Nowhere else have we ever seen a road sign that warns for slots…! 🙂 And when you are extremely lucky you might even spot a jaguar in these regions.. On Monday after the event we spend the day with Pablo and Melissa. We got to know them as a warm and passionate couple These people get tears in their eyes just talking about the love for their country and the love for cycling, La Ruta is their baby. They are proud of what they have accomplished and where Colombia stands today, and rightly so! Fully pledged their hearts and thereby conquered ours. If we could grant them a wish, it would be to have dozens of foreign cyclists participating this event the coming years. To experience this amazing part of the world. Convinced not one of them would regret it.
La Ruta Colombia … is it possible to surpass this beauty,
(by Lenny Verhoeven)