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Whitney Allison uses Transcordilleras to 'turn world upside down'

Whitney Allison of Colorado and Griffin Easter of Utah emerged victorious at the eight-day Transcordilleras Colombia Rally, winning the self-supported women’s and men’s categories. The race began August 11 on the eastern side of Colombia in Paipa and covered 985km across three ranges of the Andes mountains, finishing in Santa Fé de Antioquia, just north of Medellín, on August 18. 

Allison racked up seven stage wins across the eight days, while Easter used his consistency with a week of second-place stage finishes to secure his overall title. 2022 Big Sugar Gravel men’s winner Russell Finsterwald was a favourite in the men’s division, but pulled out due to illness on stage 5.

Allison spoke to Cycling News before her journey, and said the endurance event an addition to her schedule as a way to “turn my world upside down a little”.

“I’ve been racing professionally since 2013, on the road originally, and then moved over to gravel after the pandemic, like everybody else. This just seemed like a good opportunity that’d be something totally different, learning something new about myself,” she said.

Allison, who has been part of the Life Time Grand Prix and finished second overall in last year’s Belgian Waffle Ride Quadrupel Crown, went into the high altitude, backpacking adventure with her husband Zachary Allison and expected the challenges of a normal gravel race. The rough terrain and high altitudes were there, but it was the extreme heat and abundant sunshine from the proximity to the Equator which turned the race into “a “daily survival march to the finish each day”.

“The courses were so climby/descendy/rocky that there really wasn’t much drafting and after Zack overheated enough to stop sweating on day 1 with no water for a couple hours, I don’t think either of us were comfortable ditching each other with so many unknowns,” Whitney Allison described in a social media post during an overnight stop.

“I think most Coloradoans respect the mountains and the wild emergency temperature swings they can have, so it was a bit strange to be so high up and still have it be warm. I wish I had packed a little more instant coffee and ibuprofen…the steep climbs were back-breaking.”

Besides the massive 23,650 metres of elevation gain across the week, Allison found that hydration and sun protection were the biggest beasts related to the mountainous terrain just north of the Equator. 

“We burned through what we thought was eight days of sunscreen in three days. I think I was reapplying 3x on most stages. The sun is so intense here and you can feel your skin just boiling,” the Colorado native said.

“Water was the issue, not food. It’s easy to carry thousands of calories if you want to but you can’t carry as much water. Having a filter came in handy a few times.”

By stage 5, the queen stage of 161km and 4,054 metres of elevation gain in Antioquia, she was trying to recover from a heat rash and just turn the pedals to finish the day.

“My body is deeply fatigued and I did not recover well. I had a total breakdown on the first 13-mile dirt climb, unsure I could make it. Bike math helped…knowing how many miles each sector was, when I would stop next, % completed, % climbed. And literally 9 hours of riding later,” she wrote on Instagram.

“Personally I’m now entirely covered in heat rash…between that and the sunburns I’m just a hot mess. The last three stages allegedly are less harsh and were definitely getting into more populated areas. Just trying to hang on.”

By the penultimate stage she allowed herself to relax somewhat, knowing she had the GC locked up for the women’s division, ‘minus a catastrophe’, and she could finally look around and enjoy the sights of cacao and coffee farms, rainforests and lush valleys.

The two made it through, usually only 30 seconds to several minutes between them at the finish line. The eight days of riding, plus stopping along the stages, added up to 59 hours, 41 minutes.

It was a week of suffering. The self-supported riders were provided navigation devices with live tracking and just needed to get to pre-arranged overnight accommodations each night. All personal supplies had to be carried by each rider, from clothing, nutrition and hydration to supplies required for bike repairs. 

“A win is always a fantastic way to start off the season and each stage was hard-earned. I’m inspired by what our bodies are able to do when needed and each rider had to work their tail off to find the finish line each day, especially with multiple days of phenomenal heat and slow gravel,” Allison posted to social. 

“Adding the complexity of an unfamiliar culture and country with a language you speak at the level of a toddler of, it was challenging on many additional levels.”

Allison told Cycling News she was eager to use the mental and physical conditioning from Colombia for the start of her ‘regular’ season, which starts March 3 at Belgian Waffle Ride Arizona and then moves to Nebraska for The Mid South on March 16.

“So for me, it’s also serving as a second training camp. The majority of my season is comprised of one-day gravel races. They switched it up for BWRs, like spring Classics, and all the races fall within a six or seven-week period. They fit quite nicely into the calendar.” 

SOURCE: CyclingNews   (go to source)
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