Stetina beats Ten Dam to win Transcordilleras Rally – Gallery
'We race each other, but we are all friends' Dutchman said after grueling eight-day race
"Nothing is impossible" was the poetic description Dutch rider Laurens ten Dam gave to Transcordilleras, while Peter Stetina called it "the most grueling route I've done". Both agreed the eight-day gravel stage race across the Andes mountains in Colombia, which concluded on February 27, was an incredible experience they do not regret riding, or racing, in any way.
Stetina won three individual stages and captured the overall title in the second edition of Transcordilleras, which, in the end, covered 1,052 kilometres and 51,231 metres of elevation gain Ten Dam won two stages officially, and completed the ride a handful of minutes behind his American rival and friend in second overall.
Two Colombian riders, Brayan Chaves Rubio, who competed with BikeExchange from 2018-2019, and Antonio Donado Calle, each won one stage and finished in the top five, though hours, not minutes, behind Stetina. Dutchman Thomas Dekker, a former road pro like Stetina and Ten Dam, was the unofficial winner of the final stage on Sunday, but he suffered a mechanical earlier in the week that did not allow him to finish an earlier stage, so ruling on a stage win had not been confirmed. As Ten Dam told Cyclingnews afterwards about his friend, "I'm not going to put in a protest."
The ingredients were rich for a week of suffering and sanctified bliss - blistering daytime heat, frigid cold in the evenings, humidity, high elevation terrain, do-it-yourself logistics of laundering, bike washes and meals at the end of each day's ride. There was even one road detour in the bucket of a bulldozer to cross a section of road wiped out by a landslide of dirt and debris before clear sailing, of sorts, for the final weekend.
"The last two days were not too difficult compared to the first six, because we were going out of the mountains instead of through them," Ten Dam told Cyclingnews. "In the end, we race each other, but we are all friends." They will face each other again on April 9 for the opening round of the Life Time Grand Prix series, the Fuego XC 80k that is part of the Sea Otter Classic in California.
Stetina did not hold back his assessment of the event on Instagram, saying, "The gravel is slow, chunky, and the climbing is INSANE, at high elevation too. The logistics of daily shower, laundry/drying in humidity, finding food and a bike wash takes up the rest of the day. BUT the experience was one of the most rewarding of my career and is better way to truly immerse oneself in a culture than by 8 days like this."
Friday's stage 6 took riders from the mountaintop village of San Félix across the Río Cauca valley into Antioquia, 145.6 kilometres wit 4,000 metres of elevation gain, and more in descents, with just 30 per cent gravel. It was Ten Dam called "landslide day" for a huge chunk from the side of a mountain destroying the road, and a large bulldozer used to try to piece together a path, or just help move riders and bicycles across the cavern.
Saturday was the "tarmac day", a 149km ride through Antioquia with a huge ascent midway of 3,000 metres to the western mountain range and to the city of Urrao. The grand finale on Sunday was mainly gravel, and more than 3,000 metres of descending into Sante Fe de Antioquia.
Cyclingnews has been following the progress of the 36-plus riders on the eight-day self-supported stage race with updates provided by Laurens ten Dam, who transformed himself to a 'pro adventurer' in 2019 after 18 years in the pro road peloton, including 18 Grand Tour appearances. He battled all week against Stetina, a veteran of a dozen years in the pro peloton and eight Grand Tours, but did not manage to overtake the American on the final descents or pavement. Here are the words of Ten Dam, and photos from Mauricio Ordoñez, the founder and director of Transcordilleras.
Stage 6 - Landslide day
Ten Dam: There was a landslide at kilometre 40. You know, the Colombians don't panic too soon, they were making a small road for the cyclists. It teaches you - there is always a solution. I expected to walk my bike myself, but at the end everybody could pass and continue racing. It was the biggest landslide I have ever seen. You gotta climb up and a bulldozer takes you to the other side. So that was the craziest thing happening in this race, of course.
The landslide day was stage 6. I was sure I was going to win that day, because the last downhill was on dirt and I had out-downhilled Pete already the whole week. The other guy who was there, I knew I could handle. So I was going full on the last downhill, you know the stage had 'my name written all over it,' I said to myself. I was like two or three minutes in front of Pete in the last downhill. And then, boom, I hit a sharp rock. There was a big cut in my tyre and I had to plug it at once. I plugged it twice, but it was still not sealing because the cut was too big and then I had to put in a new inner tube. And then of course Pete had passed me and he went to take that stage, while I was there 10 minutes later to change my tyre.
But that is also gravel. So no regrets. I had fun on that downhill until that cut was there, and 'psssssssh' [sound of air going out of tire], end of all chances.
Stage 7 - Tarmac day
Ten Dam: Saturday the stage was all tarmac. So after six stages of grueling gravel, the tarmac stage was there and I remember saying to Pete [Stetina] 'Fuck, don't you want to go back to the road right now?' It was so smooth, there was no back pain, and no pain in the wrists. We were laughing.
It was just four or five of us together to race in the final, so that's a totally different feeling than being in a big bunch and having all the stress. But you know, the tarmac day was nice, to be honest. Antonio Donado [Calle] stayed with us the whole day. He was so strong, the whole week. He's actually a partner of the race, but he does everything self-supported, so strict, he does everything himself. He almost doesn't carry anything. He won it.
Stage 8 - Pool and pizza day
Ten Dam: Today was a short stage, it was mainly downhill, a little bit of gravel but not too much. The group was quiet, seven or eight guys, and Thomas Dekker and I took first and second. So it was nice for him to take a victory too. It was one-two for the 'team' [Live Slow Ride Fast], and two stages for me. In the end, it's all about the experience.
The best thing about the race is happening now [Sunday]. The organisation rented a big house in Antioquia with a swimming pool. They are making pizzas for us, there's beers at the pool, nice music - what more do you want at a finishing party?
I was just discussing this to Thomas and Pete, that we should have this at the Tour de France. What more do you need than just being together? 'Live slow ride fast' is my slogan, and today this is exactly what it is all about. We rode hard in the morning, now we have beers and pizza at the pool. I cannot ask for more.
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Jackie has been involved in professional sports for more than 30 years in news reporting, sports marketing and public relations. She founded Peloton Sports in 1998, a sports marketing and public relations agency, which managed projects for Tour de Georgia, Larry H. Miller Tour of Utah and USA Cycling. She also founded Bike Alpharetta Inc, a Georgia non-profit to promote safe cycling. She is proud to have worked in professional baseball for six years - from selling advertising to pulling the tarp for several minor league teams. She has climbed l'Alpe d'Huez three times (not fast). Her favorite road and gravel rides are around horse farms in north Georgia (USA) and around lavender fields in Provence (France), and some mtb rides in Park City, Utah (USA).