Take the Andes, a mountain range that stretches for an impossibly long 7,200km down the West Coast of South America. Chuck in 32,000m of climbing, crazy gravel sections, remote towns and villages, altitudes of nearly 5000m, huge canyons, glaciers and some of the best views on the planet, and you have a heady cocktail of elements that make up the craziest ultra-cycling race in the world. BikingMan Peru – The Inca Divide.
The ultra-cycling event is one of six throughout the year in the BikingMan race calendar. Starting with Oman, then Corsica, Laos, Peru, Portugal and finishing the epic season of races in Taiwan. The other five races all have a cut off time of 5 days for the cyclist to complete each grueling course and an average distance of around 800km. However, the Peru race has a cut off time of 10 days with a distance of over 1600km. This one is epic in the true sense of the word, and a race is not to be taken lightly.
The start line is at sea level, in the bustling town of Trujillo on the West coast of Peru some 550km North of Lima. 40 cyclists take part in this years Peru race. Riders from all over the world have come to test their metal against this very gnarly route across the Andes. Some have come with past experience of the Inca Divide course. Some come in fresh. But all of them know that this is going to be a serious ride, with many dangers along the way. These include altitude sickness, extremely difficult gravel sections, freezing nighttime temperatures and dogs…Many, many wild dogs that will chase you down and bite you if they can.
The race starts at 5 am and the cyclists head out of town and up along the dangerous Pan American Highway shrouded in a murky, grey sea mist. The Pacific to the riders left looking cold and uninviting, and to their right huge endless sand dunes create a barrier between the sea and the Andes Mountain range. Trucks, coaches and crazy motorcyclist roar past as they make their way North for most of the morning until they finally turn East and start heading through the more tranquil lowlands of the Andes.
By the time the cold night arrives, they are already up to 3500m. Still fairly close together, most riders stay in the same town. Nestling down for the night in some basic accommodation and getting trying to rest before the next day. A day that will be their first encounter of a long gravel section. However, just a few riders push on through the night with the intention of breaking away from the main pack and banking up some serious mileage in just the first couple of days. These are the guys that eventually finish in half the allotted time!
However our focus for the trip was to follow, film and photograph Jonas Deichmann, a four-time record-breaking ultra cyclists with some serious miles under his belt, such as the Panamerica Solo record ride of 96 days non stop, to breaking the Eurasia cycling record. However, due to the fact that after the Peru race he is to take on another huge world record, that of cycling 18,000km from Norway to South Africa, he would be taking his time in the Andes and saving his legs. This meant that we had the privileged position of a slower-paced film trip, where Jonas would be resting more at night, with longer food stops, etc. Perfect for capturing more of the scenery along the way.
The next few days saw the route winding its way through the ‘low’ lands of the Andes (around 2500m), with extremely rough and dusty single track roads, remote villages and hot day time temperatures. Even though this is the easy part of the race, the cyclists are still challenged by constant up and down gradients combined with very damaged tracks. Jonas seemed to chew these early miles up and spit them out. Always smiling and upbeat, even with long, dusty and hot days in the saddle.
However, as the race progressed towards the middle stages, the altitude and remoteness increased, including distances between sleep and food stops. Now riders started to scratch. Some due to altitude sickness or stomach bugs, a few due to crashes on the rough tracks and some just because they were merely overwhelmed by the enormity of the course that still lay ahead of them. The pack had by now stretched out over 100’s of kilometers, with the odd group and plenty of solo riders struggling on whilst Peru threw everything at them, including canyon roads with no barriers and steep drop offs and those crazy dogs that chase any type of moving wheel.
The first big highlight of the course is the infamous Punta Olympic National Park. Starting with a huge glacial valley, flanked either side by snow-capped peaks of up to 6000m, then road then winds its way up a series of switchbacks and tops out literally a stone’s throw away from glaciers and icefall, sliding down from the side of huge scary-looking mountains. This is some place to be riding a bike. Literally breathtaking, as before they enter a tunnel that sees the road descent back down out of the National Park, the cyclists are riding at an altitude of nearly 5000m.
The following days are just a mind-blowing ride through more national parks, more incredible valleys and canyons and stunningly peaceful mountain villages. Eagles swoop overhead, Alpacas graze at heights of 4000m and still, the road winds its way through seemingly endless mountain passes. The Andes just go on and on and on. Endless beauty and a cyclists dream.
Eventually, and with only 20 mins spare until the race cut off time, after the last dash back up the Pan A Highway during the night, Jonas rolls across the finish line back in Trujillo at 4.40am. Still smiling, and still hungry for the next cycling adventure.