Now that it's easier to visit Cuba, Austrian ultra cyclist Jacob Zurl is eager to see the country in record time. His goal: Race across its entire length in under 55 hours.
He plans to arrive in Cuba early next month and then start biking on December 16. "I want to show the different sides of Cuba," he told me via email. "I want to show the difference to our Western world, and show to ability of the human body."
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The route he's chosen to ride on a custom-made bike will take him 1,400 kilometers or nearly 870 miles.
To achieve his goal, he'll need a lot of speed. But Zurl, who is 27 years old, has proved his mettle before. He turned pro in 2010 and two years later set a world record on the Oberschöcklweg in Weinitzen, Austria, for cycling most vertical meters: 28,789 meters or 94,452 feet. Last year he won the Glocknerman, a lengthy nonstop bike race in Austria that passes over the country's highest peak twice.
In August he traveled to the Himalayas. There, he made it across the dangerous Manali-Leh highway, biking more than 530 kilometers (nearly 329 miles) in only 38 hours and 41 minutes. He faced high altitude, partially-paved roads, slush, and icy streams. Lonely Planet described the highway as having "nail-biting mountain passes." Normally that route takes two weeks by bike, Digital Journal reported.
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Cuba won't be easy, either. "he streets are very bad," Zurl noted. Going nonstop will be a challenge. But he's aware that the country is changing rapidly since diplomatic relations with the United States were restored over the summer. "If you want to see and feel the real Cuba, it's now the last chance to visit," he added.
Careful navigation will be a critical aspect of the plan there. Paper maps don't always reflect the reality. Zurl's support team needs to have accurate directions if he's going to make it in time.
That team will include a local driver and three fellow Austrians: freelance filmmaker Rudi Stangl, travel expert Manfred Weitzer, and Harald Reinbacher, who Zurl describes as "my person in charge."
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Two support cars will also be along for the ride: one for the crew and another to set the pace. This being Cuba, naturally the pace car will be a 1958 Chevrolet.