Cusco, Peru, is a legendary place. It was the heart of the Inca Empire and is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The Andean Raid is an ultra-cycling event that starts and ends in Cusco, underlining once again how cycling events are also of great cultural significance.
The year 2022 saw the first edition of the Andean Raid and Laura Gallardo was the best among the women, completing 440 kilometres and over 9,000 metres of elevation gain in 39 hours and 27 minutes, of which 27 hours and 39 minutes actually pedalling on the saddle of her Rave SLR.
Not everyone knows that Cusco is a city with a population of 350,000 located in a valley of Peru’s Andean highlands at 3,400 metres above sea level.
“Getting accustomed to the altitude was the greatest difficulty of the Andean Raid. The start wasn’t exactly in Cusco but 500 metres lower – at 3,000 metres above sea level – where we immediately faced a climb that took us to 4,400 metres.
Then, after a steep descent, we climbed up again to the Abra Malaga pass located at 4,300 metres. All this going down and up again at such a high altitude required me to pedal while short of oxygen, which caused me quite a few problems. As much as I had tried to acclimatise in the ten days prior to the race, as Europeans, we’re really not used to pedalling at similar altitudes.
Then the climb to Abra Malaga, though constant, was very long and I won’t deny that the last fifteen kilometres were horrible, also because there was a significant change in temperature during the ascent. But, once I reached the top, the view from what the locals call the Sacred Valley of Huayopata, made up for the lack of oxygen and the aching knees”.
The extreme differences in temperature linked to the various altitudes were the other big challenge to overcome in the Andean Raid.
“In addition to pedalling way over 3,500 metres, I knew that the other obstacle would be the change in temperature and humidity, depending if we were on the Abra Malaga pass or in the middle of the jungle. In the span of a few hours you needed to change clothes completely: from a T-shirt you quickly went to a windbreaker. In this sense, it became really important to talk to the locals and listen to their advice”.
But – most of all – Laura Gallardo has a tip for all future Andean Raid participants.
“Make sure that you arrive well in advance of the race. I arrived ten days before to acclimatise as quickly as possible, even if, as I mentioned, a European will never get completely used to pedalling so far up.
I think that arriving in Cusco at least a couple of weeks earlier is essential to avoid suffering too much during the race.
It’s also useful to bear in mind that, in addition to the llamas that observe you with their funny faces when you pass them by, you can come across lots of stray dogs that are everything but friendly, especially at night.
Luckily, the good people of the area warn you about this as well, so you can find a safe place to spend the night and avoid being chased by the strays, who, strangely enough, don’t seem to be very fond of cycling”.