Dennis on the Road

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Tobago Int'l Cycling Classic 2005!

Jamiel reminded me today that in a few months we’ll be camping out in Motel 6’s in the Central Valley, racing in the February NorCal rain. Now, we are truly a world away. I’m writing this post on my laptop inside the perfect beach villa, listening to the waves lap the shore, looking past the outside bar, the pool, and the moonlit bay to the lights of the small town of Scarborough. Tobago is absolutely lovely, but the riding has been harsh as hell.

The team house in Tobago!

Stage One was a 20 km individual time trial. The first rider was off at 6:00 AM, by which time it was already hot. I had an early start time and was borrowing Rafael’s top shelf TT bike. The course started with a series of climbs, then rollers, then a tailwind flat stretch. From the start I felt great: arrow and comfortable on the bike, powerful on the hills and turbo on the rollers and flats. Midway I was feeling that I was having the time trial of my life… and just then the dreaded phssst phssst phssst. Rear flat. Due to a mix-up and a last minute arrival to the start line, there was no rear spare in my follow vehicle, and I lost over four minutes just waiting for another team vehicle to pull over and kindly give me a new wheel. I was disappointed, but much more upset about how dangerous the course was. There were police marshals only at intersections with traffic lights, and those were so congested that I had to slow down and pass between cars. The traffic only worsened for the later riders as Tobagons took this main artery to work or to drop their children off to school. At least two riders were hit by cars. This poor planning and disregard for rider safety is inexcusable.

The Rafmon/Mecalfab Heatwave Cycling Team! (both division 1 & 2 riders)

Stage Two started at 1:30 the same day. At the start line I had the first chance to take in the field. It was small, fewer than 70 riders, but it was powerful. Charles Dion (2-time winner of the SF Grand Prix) was there as was Ivan Stebic, a Serbian who has been tearing up the US pro circuit this year; two pro teams from Germany and one from Austria; national teams from Martinique, Grenada, and Aruba; and other pro and cat one riders from the states and Canada.

We rode 10 circuits, a total of 125 km. By this time the island was a furnace. For the first half of the race I helped to control the front of the field for the team. I made a half-hearted attack, gained 30 seconds, and flatted again. It was quite comedic. I had my wheel in my hand as the field passed, all of us laughing. Our team’s follow motorcycle was right behind us, I got a quick change, and soon I was back with the field. Unfortunately, as I rested at the back of the pack, there was an attack that became the winning breakaway. The heat made the race feel a lot longer than it was and split the field significantly. I ended the day somewhere in the middle of the field, and quite a ways down in the GC due to the flat in the TT.

Me after Stage Three

Stage Three was the next day at 8:30. 135 km over 6 circuits, including a significant climb. The attacks began soon after the start and our first time up the climb was incredibly aggressive. Lap two eased up a bit but the attacks resumed on the 3rd lap’s big climb. On the 3rd climb I dangled at the back of what was left of the field and couldn’t quite reconnect over the top. Descending by myself was crazy. The course was poorly monitored and every corner and intersection presented potential dangers. Imagine flying down a hill into a 90-degree turn onto a one-lane bridge with two deep potholes, a dog, and a car all competing for space. Again, I finished mid-field. Two of our seven riders abandoned on this stage.

The field on stage four (with me on the left in orange)

Stage Four was by far the hardest of the classic and one of the most difficult races I’ve ever done. On paper, it doesn’t look that bad, only 105 km. But the five circuits took us up a mountainous climb that nearly cracked me. Thank god for the tremendous support: Family, friends, and teammates of the Rafmon/Mecalfab crew were everywhere with cold water and Gateraide. The outcome was nearly the same as the day before so I won’t bore you with more details.

Climbing on Stage Five

Stage five was epic. We started with one loop of stage three’s course and then embarked upon a huge loop that circled the island. Somehow through the sweat, I was able to take in the views of the lush jungle and pristine beaches and bays. There were three seemingly eternal grueling climbs. One nearly broke me. Fortunately I once again had the support from the team. This time Rafael and Jason (who raced in Division Two that only had 3 stages) and Jamiel (who had to abandon on an earlier stage) followed in a truck. Ice cubes down the back of my jersey, music from the truck, and cheering kept me motivated. Those guys dealt with a very grumpy cyclist very well. Even after telling them to shut up and barking orders for the drinks I wanted, they stuck with me to the end! They also had the camera and captured a ton of great photos from this stage. All the climbing was rewarded with a fun and fast decent. The final 40 kilometers were rolling hills along the coast, my ideal terrain, and non-stop beautiful scenery. I soon caught two riders and the three of us put in a strong effort to finish.

The final 40 km. was along this beautiful coastline.

The finish of the final stage was exactly as I would stage it for a movie about a Tobago race. The line was in front of a local bar in a beach town; there was a steal drum band with about a dozen musicians playing; and a cold beer was in my hand the minute I clipped out of my pedals. Despite the exhaustion of five stages in extreme heat and mountains, having survived some of the most dangerous courses I’ve experienced, competing against a world-class field, I was on top of the world. Again, I finished mid-field (which continued to get smaller... even Charles Dion dropped out today) and 22nd overall.

And like every golf course has the infamous “19th hole” our race had the 6th stage. At our idyllic villa on the sea, we celebrated Carlos’ birthday (my host and father of my Trini-teammate). Rafael made a huge vat of curried duck for our whole team and supporters as well as other racers, friends and officials.

The rewards of racing in Tobago!


At 12:18 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi Den
I have just discovered a wireless connection so I thought I would catch up with you. I wanted to see how you were getting on. Upon viewing your web pictures I am happy to know you are having a GOOD time. Enjoy S.America. Are you there yet? My trip to the States was good but I am happy to have started life in Manchester. Really like the nursing program.Take care


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