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.