What is it about Colombia that makes you want to come back every year? Even when you know you are going to suffer even more? The immense Andes are beautiful but humbling, the steep climbs are impressive but killing and the heat, let’s not even start on that one. It is the race that demands it all, physically and mentally.

In this year’s edition of the Race across the Andes, the distance of 1045 kilometers, with more than 20,000 meters of positive climbing, seemed like a great opportunity to do some gear testing. With the main goal being UNBOUND Gravel in June and the ultra race Tour Divide coming up right afterwards, Laurens was looking for a chance to do a self-supported non-stop gravel race. The Transcordilleras was going to be the ultimate test to make up his mind about choosing which bike, components, tires, lights etc. But not only a test of material, also a big test of the body. How long can a man ride without having to rest? How much sleep does he really need? What is the perfect balance between safety and fast?

Although this year wasn’t about finishing first, you can’t really take out the racer within. So, as soon as the race started, Laurens did his best to shake off his major opponents, not knowing exactly what they were capable of yet. Canadian champ Robert Britton did not seem to break, but instead took the lead, coming in first at Checkpoint 1, five hours earlier than Laurens. The first 19 hours were intense and hot, but just the beginning.

Coming down from the start at an altitude of 2500 meters, the altitude halfway through the route has reached a more descent level. Instead, the scorching heat became opponent number one. The temperature rose to 43 degrees Celsius, turning the region from Vélez to Puerto Berrío into a small oven, making it almost impossible to continue riding in the sun. It was at this point that the race was still very undecided, especially when suddenly light bolt Xavier Chiriboga from Ecuador showed up in first position. Due to a missed tracker signal, the man seemed to appear out of nowhere, but had been in front all this time.

At 480 km, Laurens had to lay down in the river several timed to get his body temperature down a bit. He even used somebody’s outdoor shower and nearly ripped of the shower head, just to realize the water coming out of it was heated up by the sun as well. Tactics needed to be switched and a much needed nap was taken in a deserted bar twenty kilometers further. This old bar looked like a emergency hide out with only one fridge in it and a lot of garbage. He saw indeed two cowboys passing by. After a small siesta, he continued to km point 560 to take a good nights’ rest of three hours. Little did he know, Robert was also feeling sad for himself and had already been down for four hours in the same village.

By now, you could argue that it was going to be a fight between Robert and Laurens. Xavier, who had not taken any sleep until then, finally cracked. Laurens decided to stick to his own plan the next hours, leaving both Xavier and Robert and got back to first position around km 600.

In sight of the Checkpoint 2 marker at 780 km, Laurens was still in solid first position. Having started his riding at 1.00 am in the morning, he felt remarkably good and even enjoyed the little party at checkpoint 2 at 2.30 pm. But this was way too early to go to sleep. He aimed at getting a hotel eighty kilometers further in Fredonia and got there, five hours later, at 20.30 pm.

The final stretch of 200 kilometers, what do you do? You haven’t slept for more than six hours in almost three days and covered about 270 kilometers since your last nap. He got into a hotel bed, but woke up after 45 minutes, needing to change his appliances to charge the batteries. Sitting on his bed, he saw the dot of Robert being just two kilometers away. He had a choice to make. Get to sleep again for another two hours, hoping…wishing Britton would do the same wise thing. Or accept the fact that it has been exhausting for a few days now, so why not for another, last bit. Should Britton go to sleep, he would have a safe margin and he wouldn’t have to ride his guts out. If not, well… LtD couldn’t take the chance of losing this race over two hours of sleep. The body still felt okay, so he decided to get on his bike again.

Leaving in the dark night, not far from his hotel, he soon came across a struggling Britton. Just as he thought, the man had not taken a nap either. He had ran out of water because there were no shops open at this hour. Laurens advised him to go back to his hotel to find enough water, soda and some bread to get going again. He took off, hoping Britton would follow his advice, but he was not certain..

Britton did not go back to the hotel, but kept pedaling. This man was not about to give up. Apparently he had found a small shop near the hotel to fuel up, one he had overlooked in the first place. As the dot was moving again his direction, Laurens now knew it was going to be a tight call and started giving it all. The distance between the two men grew from 8 kilometers to 20 kilometers.

One hard long climb 80 kilometers before the finish and from there a long ‘easy’, ‘Colombian flat’ road of 50 kilometers. Laurens had no real idea of how far Britton was behind him. He had been told through Whatsapp that the guy was still very close and no mistakes were to be made. With two spokes missing, LtD had to be careful not to get a total shutdown of the wheel. He felt chased, thinking every light behind him was a sign of Britton coming back. He rushed trough a muddy bit on the top of the last climb - and fell. Not feeling anything, he quickly got back on track, but got angry with himself for losing his focus. The last part of the course flew by like a hallucinating timelapse, where he sometimes mistook trees for persons.

The finish lies ahead in Santa Fe de Antioquia, a small village that has just woken up. A young women is sitting on a bench, eating breakfast. No cheering, no audience, no applause, except for the three men and women of the organization. Exhausted as he is, the park bench is Laurens’ best friend for the next hours or so. A beer is offered, but a single sip makes him almost pass out. He’ll live slow again tomorrow.

After 1045 kilometer:

Laurens finishes in 72 h 55 m 10 s.
Robert finishes in 73 h 43 m 36 s.



Photo credits go to Transcordilleras