Though they gave medals to the top 5 finishers in the Pichincha Provinical Championships, this was my first true podium in Ecuador with a 2nd place finish.
My friend Miguel Rivera, who I met when he beat me in Tena invited me along for a trip to Riobamba to race the 3rd Annual Vuelta a la Sultana. Perhaps because of its centralized location, the race attracts the best riders from all over Ecuador.
Miguel lives about 40km south of me in Valle de los Chios which is in the direction of Riobamba, so I biked about 30km south to meet him on the Pana-americana highway and we left from there. The ride was harder than expected, and I had done really hard intervals that morning (and had a hard training week), so I started the weekend feeling wiped out. But I rested on the drive, which is really spectacular as you pass most of the major glaciated volcanoes of Ecuador along the way. The area is appropriately named Avenida de los Volcanes.
We stayed with Miguel’s college buddy that night after dinner at Pollo Ejecutivo on Riobambas mainstreet. The city was decorated for christmas and was much livelier than I recalled from my trip there in 2012.
After a good nights sleep, we woke up early and rode over to the starting line. We actually though it was at the train station, but the start was actually at a plaza near the Riobamba Museum. We thought we were running late, but “fortunately” provincial races in Ecuador are ALWAYS late. There is no point to warming up, because you are guaranteed to have to wait for a long while at the start line.
The lead group started off at a blistering pace as we rode through town. It was mostly flat for the first 6km, then we began a long, dusty climb which thinned out the pack. After my typical slow start, I caught up with the leaders and Miguel, and we began racing together for the most part. Occasionally one of us would get ahead, the others would catch up, and repeat. The course was absolutely stunning and though there was a lot of climbing, they were never overly steep. This allowed for some really fun racing. The single track descents were great, as were the views of Chimborazo, El Altar, and Tunguhuara. Unfortunately, the course was very poorly marked and we continually had to slow down at intersections and looks for tracks, hidden arrows, or ask spectators. This really messed with the flow of the race. We finally made it to the biggest downhill of the course, and my technical skills paid off here as I was able to take the lead of the pack. Unfortunately, being in the lead meant I had to navigate along. At another unmarked intersection, I asked some kids which way the course went. They pointed left, and apparently I was supposed to go right. My detour quickly led me back on the course, but I got off track several more times. When I finally crossed the finish line, I had no idea what was going on. Apparently I finished second, but the 3rd place guy (a local) told me I was disqualified for getting off course..I listened to him and Miguel and left in disgust before the awards. About an hour later, our friend Renato texted Miguel to let him know that I was indeed in 2nd place and had missed my podium opportunity :(.
The drive back was amazing. It was one of the clearest days I’ve ever seen in the highlands. Not a cloud to be seen, even on the 5000m+ peaks. We also stopped in for my first cuy (guinea pig) in Ecuador in a town near Ambato. It was actually quite good, as was the Budweiser (that was all they were serving) I washed it down with (apparently they now make it here in Ecuador). Overall, the course and race were really spectacular, but the organizers really need to mark the course better for next year.