Monday, July 20, 2009


It's always good to get to the start of the race early and for the last stage we got there with plenty of time in hand, at least three hours to be exact. That gave me a chance to sign on, check the standings, and find a nice place to park under a tree. At 9AM when the C category left, the temperature was alredy 86 degrees and the humidity was climbing steady. The weather report called for a hot day and it didn't dissapoint.

On yesterday's report I mentioned a rider who attacked through the feed zone while everyone was taking on water. One of his teammates and head honcho of the squad was interviewed on the radio and he said that the rider in question was kicked out of the team for "renegade behaviour" and more than likely he would be suspended by the national federation for the rest of the season. They do take their cycling serious down here and even though it just for fun, that type of actions will not be tolerated.

At 11:30AM what was left of the 47 riders who started the race on Friday took off under hot and humid conditions. Right before I left the safety of the shade where we parked, the radio announced the temps in the mid 90s with the humidity at a comfortable 100%. 8 laps of 9kms awaited us and as soon as the flag dropped, B-Loces went to the front and drilled it. That put several people in trouble right away and we hadn't even covered half of a lap.

The one and only hill on the circuit claimed its first victims and the pack was reduced to about 20 riders, with all the leaders in it. The pace and weather conditions were infernal again, and taking on water was a big priority. One thing though, water was shared between everyone which was a nice gesture since some riders didn't have teams or support.

On lap number three, a small group went off the front and on the approach to the hill, the rider who had won the first two stages and was the leader up until Saturday attacked to bridge the gap. I saw him attack on Saturday and once again I saw the guy stumped on the pedals with authority. He won the race last year and he wasn't going to go down without a fight. The yellow jersey did his best to defend but found himself isolated with only one teammate to help. Both guys did a super-human effort to close the gap, but not having enough riders to help was going to doom their efforts. At the front the group kept rolling through nicely gaining time as the second group became disorganize and we never got into a mindset of working together.

Did I mention the heat? If any of you out there ever decide to come to Panama and race (I highly recommend it) make sure you train hard, and in hot conditions. Better yet, make sure to have someone supplying you with water because otherwise it's going to be a rough ride. With two laps to go there was a crash, with three riders going down but everyone remounted. It was impressive to see the leader and his mate giving it all they had with no help, knowing full well that the lead was lost. When we got the final time check of 2+ minutes, it was just a matter of staying upright all the way to the finish. Of course it's a bike race and nobody just wanted to roll across the line, so the attacks began. Coming through the last 180 degree turn the talk was to let the up until then leader cross the line ahead of our group, but some knuckle head decided to attack the last 500meters. Not wanting to be left behind, I opened it on the right side and quickly found myself head to head with the King of the Mountains. This 120 lbs (soaked and wet) dude was more like Djamolidne Abdoujaparov, putting his head down and going all the way from the left to the right of the road, about a bike lenght infront of me, throwing his bike wildly. He wasn't aware that I had an 11 sprocket for today and when it engaged I went by him with full afterburners on. A nice smile from me as I flew by let him know that he was number one in my book.

13th place for the stage moved me up to 15th overall, finishing the race at 9:55 behind the leader. Shook hands with some new friends, was invited for the 10th time to attend the Vuelta Masters a Costa Rica in October and told the organizers that I would return next year, hopefully with a few friends tagging along. A great experience and a well put event, I'm already looking forward to 2010.

Next stop, a road race on August 2nd in the central part of the country. A lot flatter, but the heat and humidity will of course be out in force.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

And the mountain came

The "queen" stage (#3) was the talk of town when we arrived in the City of David early Saturday morning. Team B-Loces had won both stages on Friday with Kervin Rooper and the squad was algo gunning for the "Metas Volantes" (Intermediate Sprints) competition, pretty big goals if you ask me, but the boys were ready and willing to inflict pain on the rest of the peloton.

The Vuelta has had very good organization and coverage (radio, newspaper and tv), and it feels like an event that will continue to grow. Signing your name every morning is pretty cool and you run into riders who are nice and stop you for a brief chat about the prior two stages and what is to come and if you are lucky, like me, a brief interview by one of the local radio stations covering the race.
Traffic however takes a little bit to get used to but the police keeps things in check. With a prompt start at 9AM we set off to cover the 98kms from David-Bagala-Caldera-Boquete. The organizers quickly got the action started by throwing the first intermediate sprint at kilometer 6, who needs a warmup.

The pack rolled together with B-Loces keeping a stronghold at the front of affairs and I was happy to once again tailgun it, chatting with riders and trying to spot my dad's car, which was #11 in the race caravan. Here's where riding as a "foreign" rider paid off and the organizers let my dad race to the front of the caravan as long as I was at the back to supply me with water and Gatorade. Everything remained status quo until we hit the small town of Gualaca and the start of the killer climb to Boquete. Since I was here back in December and did the route several times, I knew the last 36kms were uphill, gradually at first and the last 9kms were going to be difficult to say the least, but the stretch from Caldera (Oven) to the Boquete highway was my main concern since the road is bumpy and it's extremely hot, so I place myself behind the B-Loces team and waited for the fireworks to begin.

As the peloton approached one of the many feed zones (the heat is just out of this world), and everyone slowed down to take on fluids, a B-Loces rider went off the front and the rider in second place went with him. This cause a reaction from the leader's team and it wasn't a pleasant one, since their own rider set off the front with the rider that they had to keep an eye on. A furious chase took place and finally the renegade rider was caught and he got an earful from each member of the squad. The effort however zapped the energy of the team and left them pretty much outnumbered by the time we reach the Caldera Dam and at that point the attacks came, thick and fast.

Up and over the dam, the peloton was reduced to 15 riders, myself included, and the calls for "agua" were more frequent as the sun and the climb slowly kept eating at us. The Sansom team noticed that they had the numbers and up the pace a little more, finally dropping the last B-Loces domestiques and leaving their leader to fend for himself. On the approach to the Caldera Highway and the section I was fearing the most, the race leader attacked like a wounded lyon. I have witnessed attacks before but this was something else, and watching the race unfold infront of my own eyes was pretty exciting. 12 riders were able to go with the leader and I slowly crawled my way back to the front group, thanks to the encouragment of my daughters and parents who were in the "team car".

More and more "agua" calls from riders and the support cars were doing magic tricks to come up with full bottles of water as the riders struggled (counting included) up this tortous road. The leader sensing danger kicked again and I found myself off the back, but a steady tempo and some greeting of teeth got me back in the lead group a few meters later. As if it wasn't enough, the race leader kicked for a third time and this time I had to let the 10 or so group go up the road, but kept them at around 20 seconds for a few kilometers and then, we made the right turn onto Boquete's road and the last 9kms.

Death march is the best way to describe it as riders from the B and C Categories were littering the road, weaving and zig-zagging their way up. I was passed by a few A category riders, but kept a sustainable pace all the way to the top, and finished in 16th place, 6:33 behind the new leader, Alfredo Morales from team Sanson. That left me 16th overall at 7:11 behind going into the last stage on Sunday.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Bienvenido a Panama

The day started early, and the rain finally let down after coming down all night. Good thing the race was about 25 miles south of my parents' house. On the drive there however, things took a rather strange turn when the main road to the City of David was blocked by residents of a small town that lost the water supply in the last few days. Welcome to Panama.

After some police intervention, the road was finally opened to the traffic and we made it to the start of the individual time trial with plenty of time. After about an hour of warming up and talking to several riders, who are under the impression that I can climb according to the word on the street, it was time to embark on the 5.9kms time trial. Panama is hot, but the City of David has to be one of the hottest places in the entire country. It was so hot the devil was under a mango tree seeking some refuge from the sun, that's how hot it was. I took off and quickly had the bike at 30mph and thought, "WTF is this!, I'm no TT rider". The local police department had officers covering every intersection and people were out cheering, but I was crossed eye and my lungs were burning by the time I made it to the turn around point and then the wind smacked me on the face. The return trip was probably the most pain I have ever felt on a bike, to the point that it took me a good 20 minutes to finally recover from the brutal effort.

Out of 47 riders in the A category (30-39 years old), I finished somewhere in the middle with a 8:33 time. The fact that several riders in full time trial gear finished only 10 to 20 faster than me gave good feelings for the second stage, a 61 mile trip from the City of David to the border with Costa Rica and back.

We set off for stage two under a nasty looking sky and it didn't take long for it to open with full force. It was raining so hard that it hurt getting pelted with the huge water drops, but according to my dad, it was a good thing that it rained and it "cool" things down. The first 30.5 miles were without much action since the B-Loces team (leader's team) set a nice tempo that dropped a few riders. But when we turned back the rain was not letting off and the attacks began left, right and center. B-Loces, Cubex and Sansom teams were sending riders off the front trying to make a break stick, but nothing looked too dangerous and the only thing that happened was that the pack was reduced to about 25 riders with the three teams aformentioned doing all the damage. The move of the day came from my mom and my daughters who handed me a bottle from the car as we were flying at about 40mph, in the rain.

My dad kept me telling what was coming up the road, but with 3kms to go, nobody was taking charge of the front and I was banking on the three teams that were showing the way to do their leadouts since they had the numbers, but it didn't happen that way, so I latched myself on the wheel of last year's Vuelta winner with 2kms and then all the festivities started with the sprint going in a zig-zag wave instead of a straight line. Getting a draft was difficult, so I launched myself off the right side, with four other guys and there were two groups of 4 each going side by side. When the dust settled the guy who won the tt in the morning picked up the stage, the guy I was trying to follow was second and I came in 10th.

Tomorrow is the "queen stage" and it finishes about 300 meters from my parents' house. It will be a dandy since the last 35kms is straight up. The weather again will play a role, so the plan is to stay near the front and see how the legs feel. I will do my best to post a report tomorrow night, but we have a party to attend, so it might be late.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Into the deep end

Arrived in Panama yesterday and somehow avoided the $100 charge for taking the bike on Continental Airlines. This time around, a better supervisor took care of me and got me in with no problems.

Today went out to check parts of stage three (Saturday) and ran into the Costa Rican contingent. Friendly bunch but everyone is keeping their cards close to their chests. And tonight was the team presentation. Never before have I gone to a race and had to shake hands with the UCI's ref!!!!. Each team went on the stage, each rider was introduced and one of the local tv stations did some interviews. I flew under the radar, picked my number, got the credentials for my dad's car so he can be my own "team car" in the caravan, way cool.

So, it looks about 60 riders in the category A race (30 to 39 years old), with some strong looking indivudals. Tomorrow morning at 8:30am we will set off on a 3.5 mile time trial, followed by a 60 mile road race and hour after the finish of the tt. Lets see how it goes, I feel good despite the crash on Sunday, so check back later on Friday night and see how the adventure is going.

Monday, July 13, 2009


If you haven't heard by now, I got a close look at the pavement right before the finish line at the Dawgs Days of Summer Circuit Race.

The day began with me getting lost on the way there. No GPS here, just good old memory and that got me a bit turned around, but a few turns and curse words and I was back on track in no time. While warming up with a few teammates, it was suggested that I should attack, but having spent the better part of the night before drinking beers at Dan's wedding, the thought of slugging myself wasn't a pleasant one and it was then that I found out the race was 30 minutes and not 60 as I had anticipated. Better read the instructions more carefully next time.

Off we go and is the usual parade of shaved legs guys going in circles, this time though, everyone was behaving through the turns. 2 laps into the "parade" and the lap counter says "9 to go". Soon after that a prime was offered and I gave it one of those, "why the hell not" type of tries, only to be bitch slapped by the headwind on the homestretch. A mental note was made.

Went into stealth mode tailgunning the pack for a few laps after my not so fruitful effort with the prime and decided that on the back side, with the wind at our backs, it was easier to move to the front on the inside, so with 5 laps to go I gave the theory a try and achieved positive results by easily gliding all the way to about 8th wheel. With 3 laps to go, there were still several riders in the pack with no real attacks taking off, other than the odd acceleration to nowhere that is quite popular in our category.

2 laps left and everyone decides to be at the front of the pack which was fine by me, the last 200m had a stiff headwind and I was confident the door would open for me to go through. Bell lap and as planned, I made my way towards the front of the bunch on the back side, having to ask a Coppi fellow to step to the side as his speed was going backwards as the rest of the pack's was increasing. Last right hander turn, there's some tension to my left but I'm still confident on the right side strategy. The speed is not top end because of the wind, but the front runners are winding it up. I sawa clearing and put the bike through it and then opened the throttle, full gas.

I'm thinking to myself at least a podium if not better as I'm reving the engine to full capacity, when all of the sudden, trouble infront of me. It's hard to recall but I believe two Latitude guys touched wheels, and one of them made an emergency landing in a spot where I would be in about 0.000000004 seconds. His bike skidded to my right and shot the only exit I had. He was rolling now onto my path and the ending wasn't going to be a pretty one.

Slow motion is great when you are watching sports on tv, but when you hit another fellow down racer at about 35mph (the last reading on my onboard computer), the effect is surreal. I grabbed two hands full of break, but the laws of physics have sealed my faith and the my front wheel hits the Latitude rider right around the mid chest area. Blurr is a good way to put it, because I don't remember how the bike and I got detached, what I do remember clearly is hitting the ground with my right shoulder and then the "thump" sound of my helmet made as my head impacted the road with force. I may have rolled, don't know for sure, but I ended up on my side, never blacking out, going dizzy or feeling funny. I scanned the road and spotted my bike about 10 feet away, three or four down bodies were joining me in the festivities and people were coming to offer aid. Jorge from Artemis picks my bike up as I sat on the curve to go over the damage. "Bike's fine" reported Jorge which was a good sign. My hip and shoulder had a burning sensation that I hadn't felt in about 8 years, and although they both were hurting, nothing was broken. A closer inspection of my helmet showed the two cracks and I was thankful I walked away from it with pretty much minor cuts and road rash. At least two of the other guys were taking to the hospital and I hope they are both OK.

This morning I'm stiff as hell, but thankful because it could have gone bad in a hurry. Going to the doctor in a bit to get things checked out and then will go for a spin tomorrow to see how I feel. Wednesday I'm flying to Panama and Friday is the first two stages of the Vuelta a Chiriqui-Masters. Costa Rica, Colombia, Belize, Puerto Rico, Nicaragua, Honduras and the locals are sending teams. I'm going at it "mercenary" style racing for my home province, but not really having a team to race with. It should be tons of fun especially the stage on Saturday which finishes about 300 meters from my parents' house. With yesterday's crash is going to be hard to tell how I will feel, but I will give it a "why the hell not" type of try.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Meanwhile, over at the tour...

Who would have thought that only after four stages, a good chunk of the contenders would be over 2 minutes behind on GC, and I got to be honest, having Big Tex sitting in second place, fractions of a second from yellow was not what I had predicted. Of course, is the Tour and predictions are worth nothing.

But talking to my friend Dave the other day, I did share this theory that I have. No matter what Astana is telling you via the media, things behind the scenes are not as good as they paint them to be. If you go back to stage 3 and the heavy crosswinds, two of Lance's henchmen (Zubeldia and Popovich) were at his side, every now and then sharing the workload at the front to increase the front group's lead. In the mayhem behind, Contador was left with Paulinho and Rass to drag him through the mess. Murayev is there because the sponsors wanted some local flavor and he will probably be used regardless who's leading the team. That leaves Levi and Kloden to freelance and hope for the best, since their form in three week tours can be a little iffy, especially Levi who's has gone balls to the wall since February. So a division for sure in a team that shouldn't have one. Tomorrow's stage to Andorra should clear the waters a little more, but both Contador and Armstrong are looking good and it might be a duel between the two of them at the end. Then again, is the tour and predcitions are pretty much worth nothing.

Saturday, July 4, 2009


I took 10 days off at the end of May and headed to Houston minus the bike to spend time with the family. The trip and rest were planned at the beginning of the season, so I was looking forward to it despite the fact that at that moment, I was feeling pretty darn good. Upon return from the Lone Star state, I had a horrible week on the bike, having to push and fight the bike for at least six days, and then all of the sudden, my body flicked a switch and things were back to "normal", feeling good.

Fast forward to two weeks ago and again, I felt strong on the bike, and used the trip to Colorado as a final tuneup for the races this coming weekend and the big Vuelta back home in Panama starting on the 17th of July. Trouble is that the trip back from Denver to DC added to the 510 miles ridden during the six days in the mountains took a toll and I didn't get to ride until this past Thursday, when I by mistake, went to the "Italian Store" ride and got my ass handed to me. Not that getting my ass handed to me hasn't happened before, but the fact that in just four days without touching the bike I would feel like crap had me thinking.
One thing I have noticed this year is that I'm not worried about if I ride or not and so far it has paid dividends. And now, on my third day back on the bike, the sensations are slowly coming back. It's taking a bit longer, but if the rest that I took back in May is anything to go by, I hope that the switch will be flicked this coming Thursday, right before the weekend races.

On a different note, I have finally decided to boycott Versus coverage of the Tour de France, I just can't stand all the Lance coverage. Although it's a big story, and he surprised me with his tt ride today,the amount of time dedicated to him by the network is just out of this world. True, he made them millions once he started his winning streak, but enough is enough. So Eurosport on the interent will be my source for images until I get to Panama in a week's time where ESPN Espanol will then take over.