They have been named 'Chasquis' after the messengers that formed the running communication system of the Inca Empire.
Ten days ago 13 riders, sporting our Audax Monique jerseys, set out from Quito in Ecuador with the objective of riding self-supported to Cuzco in Peru. The first edition of Inca Divide is a beta test of a different kind, so it's time to check in on those who checked out.
Such a huge task has to be broken down into smaller parts. The first objective was Checkpoint 1 in Vilcabamba. It might be expected that with 3,500kms and 63,500m of climbing, the riders would ease into the flow of the race gently. But as all those who have done so will testify, put a number on and immediately logic is skewed.
The pack split early as the all-important feature of self-supported ultra distance racing emerged – route planning. A front group comprised of Marcel Esser (Netherlands), Rodney Soncco (Peru) and Gustavo Breitenbucher (Argentina) took the main road over the mountains.
Alex Wall (England) and Andreas Fabricius (Sweden) decided to take the ‘flatter’ gravel and mud roads of the Amazonian forest. A dangerous tactic given the unpredictable Ecuadoarian weather.
The road choice won out with Marcel Esser, aka “The Pace Car”, the first to have his survival map stamped at CP1.
Meanwhile Alex Wall admitted to crying at one point on a freezing descent with broken brakes and Jean-Luc Moncassin (France) had a bad fall caused by a collision with a stray dog.
The distance covered by the leaders was between 700 and 800 km with more than 15,500m of elevation gain. Not your average cycling holiday.
The key to ultra racing (so they say) is to just keep on keeping on, clocking the clicks like a metronome.
Gustavo Breitenbucher had hit out early, surprising everyone by rising at 1am on the third day to streak into the lead. Unfortunately for him his knees were not as strong as his head or his heart and he had to ‘scratch’ from the race the following day as the relentless climbing became too much.
And he was not alone - the weak point in Alex Wall's legs also gave way.
The warning signs are there. With the group stretched between CP1 and CP2 the leaders crossed the border into Peru but cracks are beginning to appear.
The stunning scenery helps as the riders battle the old unpaved Incan road network.
But even as the comfort of civilisation warms hearts and heals doubting heads, this race punishes again with it's unrelenting requirement to climb. Even out of the city.
With 2,000kms covered there are still 1,500kms remaining for the leaders (who are effectively 3 days and 300 to 500kms ahead of the other riders). This might be cycling voyeurism or inspiration. It depends entirely on your viewpoint.
Either way, stay tuned to the dots as the make their way south. It's like the Running Man or the Hunger Games (depending on your age) on bikes.