Australian Dakar competitor Scott Britnell has posted to social media describing exactly what it’s like to be racing on the high altitude Altiplano of Bolivia.
The Altiplano (Spanish for “high plain”) is the area where the Andes are the widest. It is the most extensive area of high plateau on Earth outside Tibet, and the bulk of it lies in Bolivia.
For three solid days the competitors raced at altitudes of over 4,000 metres above sea level, dealing with the cold thin air that makes it hard to breath and also affects the bike’s performance.
Scott describes the experience:
“Stage 7 (forest day of the marathon stages): boy what a soul destroying day it was. 430km liaison on the Hwy, freezing cold and a very early start. Up at 3:00am and riding before 5:00am.”
“The entire stage was run at close to 4,500m ASL. I started the stage with some extra clothing to stay warm. Once we hit the dunes it was like being punched in the face. At that altitude the bike was so low on power I couldn’t even spin the rear wheel taking off after getting stuck in the ultra sort ultra lumpy sand.”
“The effects of continued fatigue and lack of sleep/recovery took its toll and I simply had to stop and take stock several times. I had to tell myself to get a bit of composure and pace myself. I simply had to ride my own race.”
“In the end I finished the stage quite late and just after dark with no lighting to speak of and tinted goggle lense!!”
“Happy to get into the makeshift military base bivouac, I got off the bike and just had to sit and take stock of the hardest days riding I’ve ever done.”
“Looking around, there were many people with the same bewildered look on their face. I smashed down some calories and went to bed. We all shared some bunk beds, but their wasn’t a whole lot of interaction between competitors. Everyone was just focused on what they would throw at us next. Glad to have survived Stage 7.”
The next day Scott set out on the second slice of the marathon, again with minimal sleep.
“The first 400kms seemed to go pretty well, but I started fade during the winding mountain passes. Very keen to see the end of the stage, and even more so, to drop some significant altitude during the liaison back to the bivouac.”
“But the day wasn’t over.”
As the competitors arrived in the bivouac at Tupiza, they were informed that the following day’s stage had been cancelled and advised to begin the journey towards Salta in Argentina.
“We rode for another 3.5 hours and checked into a hotel. After 18 hrs on a bike, it was good to have a shower, a can of tuna, and sleep on a mattress!”