After 20 days in Boquete (in the mountains in western Panama), I can say that the riding and preparations for the upcoming vuelta could not have gone any better. The perfect equation, with hard miles, long climbs, plenty of rest and most importantly, good food.
My dad has this nasty 20 mile loop that has about 200 meters of flat roads. The rest of the time you are either going up or down, but mostly, up. Since the country is in the middle of "winter" or wet season, it rains constantly, sometimes 11 hours straight.
Yesterday I did the route of the third stage and it proved to be an eye opener. Last year's event used the same route, but this year, and thanks to them for doing it, the organizers have taken the last 6kms up to Boquete off the route. Citing dangerous conditions on the roads (drivers tend to get too close for comfort), the stage was shorten. If you ask me, some of the locals suffered badly last year and can do without those dreaded 6kms. But, that doesn't make the stage any easier. It begins in the city of David, which according to Google Earth, sits roughly at about 150 feet from sea level. From there, the route will take the four different master categories east, towards the small town of Gualaca, where the flattish roads will end the proper climb begins. Eventually, the race will climb over the Chiriqui Dam and head north in the direction of Caldera (Furnace). That's where the race will heat up, once over the damn. And then, and hopefully I will still be around, the final 7 kms towards the finish. By then we have had gone from 150 feet above sea level, to an uncomfortable 2204 feet in the spand of about 62 kms. All fun and games.
If I'm not too shattered, I hope to write some and post some pics...this year's race has grown with riders from US, Guatemala, Costa Rica, Colombia, Argentina and the locals taken part. Radio and TV will have coverage and the newspapers will give it plenty of column space. So 9 more days to go. The next two will be a test of the time trial setup, a final two days of climbing and then off to Panama City to pick up my fiancee and friend who's coming to race from Texas.