In Search of the Summit: Part II

Colombian downhill racer Marcelo Gutierrez spent most of the last decade traveling the world and racing down mountains. In his new role as a Giant ambassador, Marcelo has been taking on challenges of the opposite nature: tackling some of the biggest road climbs in Colombia.

Giant ambassador Marcelo Gutierrez climbing El Crucero in Colombia

Earlier this year, Marcelo took on Alto de Letras, the most famous road climb in a country that is full of them. You can read about that adventure here.
For this second climb, Marcelo chose a mountain that is lesser known, but still massive in every respect. “El Crucero” starts in Casanare and climbs more than 90km from bottom to top. Total elevation gain is nearly 4000 meters (13,000 feet).

“It’s no doubt the longest in Colombia,” Marcelo says. “Compared to Alto de Letras, it’s sort of opposite. Alto de Letras starts quite steep at the beginning. And the last 20km or so, man that hurts. It’s steep as hell, especially at that point in a such a long climb. This one is a bit steep at the beginning too, but in the last 20km you can cruise. It’s beautiful. You can hold a good pace, and the views are amazing. So overall, the effort for El Crucero isn’t as hard. It’s an enjoyable climb.”
For this climb, Marcelo tested his limits on a new bike. Over the last year he had been riding the Defy Advanced Pro, an endurance-oriented road bike. For El Crucero, he made the switch to the TCR Advanced SL Disc, a full-on road racing machine.

“This bike is amazing,” Marcelo says. “It’s super comfortable, and of course it feels more aggressive.”
It has now been more than a year since Marcelo began mixing things up, spending more time on road bikes and no longer training specifically for World Cup downhill competition. He has welcomed the lifestyle change and says he enjoys seeking out new challenges. Along with the change to his schedule and priorities, he has also seen some physical changes.
“Some of my family and friends keep saying that I look thinner,” he says. “Probably since I’m pedaling so much more now the legs have gained some muscle. And I’m maybe a bit thinner in the upper body. I’m not quite there where I want to be, and I’m curious to know what I can do to lose some more weight.”

Giant ambassador Marcelo Gutierrez climbing El Crucero in Colombia

“But more than physical changes, I would say that when I spend a lot of time pedaling, like I have for these climbing challenges, when I go back to the mountain bike I feel a bit awkward at first. But then, after a day or two on the trails, I’m good to go. Also, since I stopped downhill racing, I haven’t done much sprinting. So maybe if I did a test, I’d be a little slower in the sprints.”
When climbing to altitudes topping 10,000 feet in Colombia, the weather can be unpredictable. On his ascent of El Crucero, Marcelo faced rain, wet roads, and cold temperatures. Still, he pressed on. As usual, he had a goal: finish in less than 5 hours. In the end, he met that goal with time to spare, finishing in 4:44:44.
Putting that in perspective, Marcelo said he was pleased to break into the top-10 on the Strava leaderboard but, more importantly, he’s happy to share his adventure and highlight a climb in his home country that most people don’t know about.

Giant ambassador Marcelo Gutierrez climbing El Crucero in Colombia

“It’s less famous than Alto de Letras,” he said. “For comparison, on Alto de Letras I got top-100 and there were quite a few big names ahead of me. With some of the climbs here in Colombia, you find names of pros like Rigoberto Urán, Nairo Quintana and those guys. But at Crucero, there is no one like that. But still, I’m a former downhiller, this is one of the longest climbs in the world, and I was sixth.”
Challenge met. And for Marcelo, that’s what it’s all about. “There’s no need to prove anything to anyone,” he says. “Just enjoy it. Challenge yourself. Put yourself through some difficulty. Time yourself. Then look for more difficult things. That’s what’s beautiful about life and the bike. You can have a good time, with good company, and go to places like this.”
What’s next for Marcelo? Stay tuned…

Giant ambassador Marcelo Gutierrez and his crew after climbing El Crucero in Colombia