Home Blog Griffin Easter: Transcordilleras Race Report

Griffin Easter: Transcordilleras Race Report

Posted by Griffin Easter on March 1, 2024

Hot off an overall win at the Colombian Transcordilleras 8-day gravel stage race, 4iiii-sponsored rider Griffin Easter put together an amazing post-race recap to sum up the South American adventure. Make yourself a strong (Colombian) coffee and sit down for an entertaining read from the Opicure Foundation Gravel Team racer, about his trip to Colombia and the top step of the podium.

Photo credits: @aburracolombia & @transcordilleras

After a “3 hour” bus ride from the Bogotá airport that in reality took 6 hours, we arrived at Paipa in the state of Boyacá. Because we were late, it was a chaotic initiation into the race. We unloaded our bikes, began building and deciding what we would bring and not bring for the race. I decided to bring the puffy jacket, I did NOT need the puffy.

I was in Colombia and on the eve of starting the 4th edition of Transcordilleras, an 8 day bike packing gravel stage race. The theme of the event is within its name, Transcordilleras (the literal traverse of Colombia’s three Andean Ranges that travel North to South across the country.) The 1,030km (640 mi) route was not what scared me, it was the 21,500m (70,538ft) of climbing which did. I finally went to bed at midnight and set the alarm for 4:45am.

Stage 1 Paipa(Boyacá)-Soatá(Boyacá) 132.6km & 3,000m climbing

The primary feature of stage 1 was the Chichamocha Canyon. Ranked as the second largest canyon in the world to that of The Grand Canyon, we descended and climbed back out. The descent seemed like it lasted hours. When we reached the bottom Cristian Yepes was up the road on the climb with Brayan Chavez and myself chasing behind. As soon as we reached the bottom, I quickly felt the heat creep in and start to slow everything down. On the way down, I had lost a bottle, drank a bottle and had half a bottle left. I quickly realized if I was going to stay in the race, I’d have to nurse this bidon to the finish. I thought Cristian was gone, but after 15 minutes we could see him a few switchbacks above us. Another 10 minutes later and the heat as well as his earlier solo effort had taken hold. He was off and pushing his bike up the climb. Then I had to meter my effort. The heat and altitude are beginning to take its toll. Brayan in his element kept his same rhythm and danced away. I knew the race was long so instead of burying myself the first day, I decided to hold my cards. Somehow I nursed that tiny amount of EFS-Pro High Carb Mix up the climb, took 2nd on the stage and 2nd on GC.

Stage 2 Soatá(Boyacá)-Charlá(Santander) 136.5km & 3,541m climbing

The start of traversing the Cordillera Oriental. Marked as 45% paved and 55% gravel, that proved false. The day was actually closer to 95% gravel. After such a demanding stage 1, I wasn’t sure how day 2 would present; let alone what the terrain would dish out. Leaving Soatá, Russell Finsterwald set a solid tempo up the first climb. By the top we were a group of 6. Cristian Yepes, running a hardtail mountain bike, hit the descent and took off. We managed to hold his wheel for the first few kilometers, but eventually he disappeared. The rest of us were running gravel bikes and as it’s a self supported 8 day stage race, I decided I need to hold back in order to risk any mechanical problems. That’s not to say we were taking it easy. We entered San Joaquin and I needed to refill my bottles. So I asked the others how they were doing and got an, “All good.” reply. Nobody stopped. There was a long, hot and exposed climb leaving town. I was a little ticked and decided to give the climb some stick. I dispatched the group and was solo by the top. There was still 60km to go with Yepes up the road and I still needed fluids. After another long and demanding descent I entered Mogotes. I spotted a small tienda slammed the brakes and bought 1 liter of water, glass coke and mini coke. I smashed the glass coke, threw the rest in my pockets and got back on the chase. Miraculously, after another 30 minutes I spotted Yepes. We connected and kept rolling in terrains that had ups and downs with some inclines kicking up to 28%. The final section was another rugged chunky long descent and after trying as best I could to stick with Yepes, he again disappeared. I finished 2nd, but took the overall GC.

Stage 3 Charalá(Santander)-Vélez(Santander) 109.2km & 3,171m climbing

The heat still hadn’t turned down. It was clear that the high temps and humidity were a part of this year’s edition of Transcordilleras. The day started on another big climb. Between the 6 top riders we soon separated from the rest of the field. After descending the first climb we entered Oiba. Russell Finsterwald looked back at Brayan Chavez, Cristian Yepes, Camilo Salazar and me and took off. We flew through the town which was a maze of narrow steep streets, traffic, dogs, chickens, people, motos and out the other side of town I found myself glued to Finsterwald’s wheel descending a twisting, high speed, ever changing road conditions maze. We hit a long paved climb, looked back and had dispatched the others. Russell was on a mission. But so too were the rising temps. At the top we dropped down and midway through I was split from Finsterwald because a cow had jumped out in front and began sprinting downhill in front of me. He leaped off the road, slamming into barbed wire. I took that as my opportunity to pass. I eventually made it back to Russell. The next section was steep, slow, exposed and barren. I could tell Finsterwald’s earlier attack plus the extreme heat was catching up to him. On one of the climbs I dispatched him and was leading solo. However, not long after I began searching every bend for a tienda selling anything cold. I saw the oasis! I stopped and hurriedly bought water, a fizzy Manzana Postabon and Coca-Cola. As I filled my bottles Yepes came by glanced over at me and kept riding. I finished chugging the ice cold cola and jumped back on. I never reconnected with Cristian. He took the stage and I maintained my lead on GC. He sat in 2nd overall, it was clear he would be my adversary at this race.

Stage 4 Vélez(Santander)-Puerto Berrío(Antioquia) 175.6km & 2,082m climbing

Mini Unbound… yes that Unbound. The heat and humidity were at an all time high today. The beginning of the stage descended for almost 2.5hrs . The road down was “pavement” but beware. The road would change from paved, to cracked, to dirt, to construction, to crossing dogs, to muddy. After surviving the descent, we were a group of maybe 10. Eventually the ever aggressive Brayan Chavez negated the agreed upon stop in Cimitarra, and all hell broke loose. Cimitarra was the final town to top up fluids. In a chaotic language confused agreement, I stopped with Russell. The rest of the group kept rolling. As quickly as possible, we refilled and bought what we needed and got back on our bikes. As we got going, the group had stopped at another shop but Brayan Chavez and Camilo Salazar had rolled the dice and kept riding to try and get back time in the GC. No friends in a bike packing race I guess, lol. We saw the other group and blew past in pursuit of the 2 up the road. Yepes, being 2nd in GC was quick to remount and after some chasing linked up with Russell and I. At 91km we turned left and entered the never ending hell of dirt waves and humidity only rivaled by the Kansan summer Emporian Flint Hills. The air was dead, heavy and wrapped itself around every inch of your body. The speed was blistering and effort searingly painful. The gravel road was bone rattling with absolutely no rhythm whatsoever. The only way to ride was by turning a big gear and pushing into the bumps to try and smooth the road. We finally bridged to Chavez and Salazar, it was groupo compacto. But Russell had other plans. He was a man on a mission. On one of the steep ripples within the endless ocean he dug in and everyone else just watched. I was leading the GC and Finsterwald was far down on time. My goal was to try and win the GC, so my efforts each day were based on the overall race and staying consistent. Russell went up the road and we kept a steady pace for the next 3 hours. In the maze of hell, Chavez succumbed to the heat and his earlier efforts. Salazar, Yepes and I stuck together and sprinted it out. I took 2nd. Yepes was still 2nd and I was leading GC. Finsterwald won the day and put the USA on the board.

Stage 5 Puerto Berrío(Antioquia)-Guatapé(Antioquia) 161.9km & 4,054m climbing

La etapa reina (queen stage). With 13,300ft of climbing and the previous 4 stages fatiguing the body, I woke up creaky and tired. Fortunately, with help from former legends like Annemiek Van Vleuten an accord was struck and for the first 66km the entire peloton of 8 stage riders stuck together. It was a welcome roll out everyone could agree on. Russell came alongside and said he wasn’t feeling too good, but neither was I and I assumed it was the past days load catching up to him as well as me. We finally turned from the highway and the fun began. The climbing today was as it had been the previous day, but perhaps slightly less fatiguing. On the first climb a young Dutch rider named Twan Altorf bridged to our front group and attacked past. He was more than 2 hours down and not a threat to GC. He was never at the front so we assumed he would come back, he never did. The final climb to Guatapé was a 20km heat box. So hot the only internal conversation you were trying to block out was your inner voice shouting, WATER!!! At the bottom it was Salazar, Yepes, Hartrich and me. Salazar was the first to attack and I followed. Yepes and Hartrich couldn’t respond and it was Camilo and I for the next 10 minutes. Eventually, he too dropped and I was solo chasing Twan. I crested and TT’d to the finish at the foot of the famous Peñón de Guatapé. I never caught Twan and finished 2nd. Gaining more time on Yepes and Salazar (2nd and 3rd respectively).

Stage 6 Guatapé(Antioquia)-Fredonia(Antioquia) 139.4km & 3,012m climbing

From the hotel, Chavez attacked the group. Back to no friends in a bike packing stage race, lol. The pace was high and soon whittled down to 4. Brayan continued attacking until eventually he got away. He was hours down on GC and again not a threat. We stuck together and eventually swelled to a larger group of maybe 6 including Antonio Donado and Coulton Hartrich. The day’s largest test was at the final, a long climb into Fredonia. By that time the group was Camilo, Cristian and me. I could tell they were both cooked. On the final climb I went for it and attempted to bridge up to Brayan Chavez. He was too strong, however. I finished second, gained more time on GC and lost my wallet! Yes, at the middle of the stage we stopped for fluids. I reached into my pocket and at some point my wallet had bounced out. When I finished I called the previous hotel but they hadn’t found anything, so I decided to cancel all my debit cards. Thirty minutes later Austin Sullivan called and Jorge Padrones from Spain had found and picked up my wallet from the roadside. Like finding a needle in a haystack. Fortunately, I’d found my wallet, unfortunately there was no way for me to get money anymore. Zack and Whitney Allison, also racing, became my lenders and I can’t thank them enough.

Stage 7 Fredonia(Antioquia)-Jericó(Antioquia) 73.1km & 2,105m climbing

A short stage on paper, but with a 40km climb it was one not to underestimate. We descended from Fredonia to the Cauca River. From there, the only way to Jericó would be by ascending. We got away quick, Brayan Chavez, Twan Altorf and myself. After some time, we entered into Támesis, whose streets hit grades upwards of 20%. I put pressure on and we dispatched Chavez. Twan stayed in tow. From that point until the finish it was an all out epic battle of attacks and covers. Twan was on a mission, I wanted a stage win. He must have attacked me 16 times. Each one twisting the screws. We crested the final pitch and on the descent I attacked trying to get separation. Twan rode amazingly and stayed in contact. The final into Jericó was steep and chaotic. Twan attacked one last time, and I couldn’t follow. He won and I was 2nd. I gained more time on GC.

Stage 8 Jericó(Antioquia)-Santa Fé de Antioquia(Antioquia) 119km & 1,601m climbing

A day for the sprinters. The race organization neutralized the first descent. So we had time to enjoy the beautiful scenery. Atop the ridge, you looked down to the distant valley floor. Ferns, white herons, palm trees, lingering clouds, sun kissing the land, it was a scene from National Geographic’s pages. Once we hit the valley floor the race was on. Brayan Chavez wanted to jump from 4th to 3rd. Salazar wanted to keep his 3rd place podium position. The attacks were almost constant from Chavez but the course was too fast to stay away and gain back more than 8 minutes. A group of the top 6 riders broke away and we stayed away to the finish. Brayan played his cards well and took the stage. I finished 6th. But I had secured and won the overall GC, my goal from day one. I had won the 4th edition of Transcordilleras and one of the most incredible adventures of my life.

Closing Words

The common sentence after every stage was, “That was the hardest day on the bike I’ve ever had in my life.” The climbs were never ending. The gradient almost impossible to ride. Heat and humidity debilitating. Descents dangerous and demanding. Gravel bone rattling. But even with all the impossibly extreme conditions, the Colombian essence of life was more powerful. The tranquilo mindset and todo es posible en Colombia turns the hardest race in the world into the best times you’ll have for the rest of your life. It’s too early to say if I’ll be back next year, but Colombia has pulled me back before, I have no doubt it will again.

If you’d like to know more about Griffin and follow along on his cycling journey, check out his Instagram and Strava profiles.

Update for US Customers — Reese’s Law

Choose your region: