Sunday, July 29, 2012

Fighting 'til the end

Today was the last stage of the Vuelta, and for us, a short one, with only 4 laps of the 6 mile circuit to do. Again, the day in Boquete (our home base) started under cloudy skies, but after the 30 mile drive down to David, although cloudy, the rain was staying north of the city.
First thing was to take care of the award ceremony from yesterday's stage, since it was cancelled due to a thunderstorm. As you, dear reader, already know, FRESH went "uno, dos, tres" on the day and Glenn was wearing pink as the leader of the intermediate sprints competition and I looked superb in the white jersey of stage winner.
Dave was the first to take to the roads, and just like yesterday, he was feeling like a million bucks and although the first break in his category went off without him, he fought his way and joined the lead group to finish 6th on the day.
For the rest of us, the race took a unexpected turn when Glenn hit a pothole half way through the first lap and had dual flats. The chief referee and organizers were not allowing follow vehicles on the course, so it was going to be a war of attrition, and a matter of pure luck just to get through without a flat. Unfortunately for Glenn, his race was over and with that, his second place on GC. As we finished the first circuit, I was patrolling the back of the pack when I noticed that Glenn was MIA. When I told Kerry about Glenn, we decided that he was going to stay with the yellow jersey and I would try for the stage. But the locals and the Bosques Lodge team from Costa Rica were having none of it. The three attacks I tried were shot down. So Kerry saved himself and when came time for the sprint, he flew the colors of the team one last time, crossing the line in first place.
So we are leaving Panama with a yellow jersey, two pinks and five whites, second overall, second on intermediate sprints and third on the KOM. A total of 4 out of 6 stages and at least two of us were on the podium everyday. We had a great time racing and hanging out together and my parents were having a blast giving us a hand and taking care of bikes, food, drinks, laundry, driving the cars, etc. A true team effort.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

FRESH 1-2-3

This morning, while eating breakfast, the mood was a somber one. We were looking pretty tired and the weather outside was not encouraging, with rain. Thankfully the time trial was about 30 miles away and that gave us the hope that at least, the weather would improve.
The time trial course was part of stage 2, so we had an idea of what to expect, and we drove it on the way to the start/finish. A quick check at the start times and we all, slowly, got underway with getting ready for the 10kms time trial.
For the most part, we have raced on really smooth roads, although during stage 2 we were avoiding huge craters!!, and the police presence has kept us safe during each of the stages. So much that today's 10kms course was closed to traffic (more on that later). From the FRESH riders, I was the first to leave, at 9:06 sharp. The two radio stations that have broadcasted each stage of the Vuelta, in its entirity, were introducing each rider as we entered the start tent and the commentators would give the listeners a quick description of each athlete.
10, 9, 8...3..2..1 and off I went, settling into a nice rhythm. Most of you know I'm allergic to time trials, but something today was different. Dave, who's a stronger rider than I, was also on a good day, despite the fact that he didn't use any aero equipment at all. Our stomachs have acted up a bit since we got here, but today, the stars aligned and we were rolling, and fast. Kerry and Glenn started 3 and 4 minutes behind me, and Dave's category had him starting 46 minutes past 9a.
Each kilometer was marked on the road and as the Cervelo reach cruising speed, I spotted my 1 minute man ahead, and not long after that, the Costa Rican KOM was looking at my number (223) dissappear into the distance. At the turn around point, a few people had gathered to see the race. A tight turn, where all the speed was lost, careful around the flagger, out of the saddle and back to full gas. "Breath, relax, it hurts, did I miss the kilometer 6 sign?", the voices in my head started to argue.
Kerry and Glenn were heading towards the turn around point and both looked like were keeping a fast rhythm. When Glenn reached the turn around point, he had the fastest split time and we were told that the last 5kms were "easier".
The voices in my head agreed that it wasn't easier at all, but the pace was kept high and then I rolled over the 1km to go sign, just a little more suffering. I was breathing so hard, people at the finish could hear me coming. Over the line and it was over, no more suffering (at least until tomorrow). Rode by the van and handed my helmet to mom and kept riding to cool down, when I heard the radio announcer, "rider #223, fastest time (so far!)". Made a U turn back to the van and Kerry and Glenn were finishing their efforts. As we were going over each other's ride, it came over the radio: "Executive Bs, FRESH Racing goes 1-2-3" (Manny, Glenn, Kerry). High Fives!!!!!. The podium ceremony was suspended because a storm was approaching as the Masters As were still out on the road.
Dave finished his ride with a time only 3 seconds slower than mine (15:23), but the highlight is that Dave is racing with a Colombian rider who rode the Tour de France three times, the Vuelta a Espana 5 times and the Giro once. You better believe the level is high.
As the event was taking place, a local passenger bus was trying to get through despite the fact that the road was closed. The driver got out and started to argue with the flaggers and that's when a police officer arrived on the scene. He didn't waste anytime asking the driver questions, he just pulled out the handcuffs and made sure the rogue driver knew who was in charge. Justice, Panama style.

Friday, July 27, 2012

Massacre on the Queen Stage

Since we are staying in Boquete, 32kms north of David, where each stage starts and ends (except today's finish and the time trial tomorrow, we have driven half of the route of the "Queen Stage" everyday on our way to and from the race, and everytime we went by the town of Dolega, my dad would say, "once you hit this bridge, make sure you are at the front, because things will get ugly, right here". Was he right. The temperature today was somewhat bareable, and that was good since we are all starting to feel the effects of the race and the heat. Once again the 5 different packs rolled out on a neutral start until we got to the hospital in David where the official start was for each of the categories, spread 5 minutes apart. Executives A & Bs rolled out around 9:30am, and just like yesterday, headed west for a few kilometers on the Panamerican Highway, before making a right turn and the beginning of the climbing. 36 miles with almost 4,000 feet of climbing were on the menu and the pack was pretty controlled, although going a little faster than yesterday's start. The Friends (Mayhem, as we call them) went to the front after a Costa Rican rider set off trying to set the first intermediate sprint for their leader. After that, the pace was consistent but riders were already feeling tired and a group of As rolled off the front. As we approached the bridge that dad had warned us about, we made sure to be towards the front and it paid off, because the at the top, there was the second intermediate sprint and the pack exploded. Glenn took the sprint and we just kept rolling, in a group of ten riders. Since the yellow jersey was left without teammates, we had a chat and decided to help him and in return we would get the stage win. The pace was reasonable for a while but soon enough the three Costa Rican riders (KOM and Sprint leaders) got dropped. This was great for us and the pace went up just a bit to make sure we would not see them again. But, as the KOM (King of the Mountain) sprint was approaching, the Costa Rican rider wearing the polka dot jersey appeared from what seem, thin air. He accelerated and went for the points, with Glenn right behind. By then, Kerry and I were in a spot of bother and had to let the lead group go and kept a steady pace, picking riders dropped from each of the groups ahead of us. Dave was having a much better day today and was riding strongly, going steady all the way up. We went through three different towns and the school kids and their teachers were out screaming their hearts out for each rider that was slowly making his way to the finish. Glenn ended up second place, with Kerry in 4th and I was brining the rear in 6th. Dave finished 7th in the Cs. Once again, we had the support of dad and mom, driving both cars behind us and making sure that we had everything we needed and cheering us even though I think we each wished our bikes had an engine. When we gather back at the van at the finish line, we decided that this was probably one of the toughest days we each have had on the bike. Riders were coming in ones and twos and as we headed back to the house, we saw three guys still coming in, a good hour after we had finish. A complete massacre of a stage. Eating and hydration has taken most of the afternoon. We went out for dinner and there were some cheesburgers consumed. Tomorrow is a short 6 mile individual time trial. Hopefully another good day for us.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Wardrobe and Crashes

This morning was the jersey presentation for stage 2, and since the winner of the stage was wearing yellow (leader), the second place was wearing pink (sprints), Kerry was awarded the white jersey. The team's closet was growing since Glenn got the ball rolling by getting the yellow one yesterday. Kerry had such a good time, that he decided to give stage 3 a try. Under a potent sun and climbing temperatures, the 5 pelotons of the 9th Vuelta Masters a Chiriqui, pointed west, towards the border with Costa Rica to cover a rolling 50 mile course, with two intermediate sprints and a KOM. Our group took it a little easier at the start and we were pretty much noodling for about 10 miles when the pace went from nice to nuts in preparation for the first intermediate sprint. The Friends Team, from this point on referred to as, Mayhem, went to the front to do the leadout for their sprinter who's leading the competition, but their organization was, shall I say, questionable at best, and what followed was one of the nastiest crashes I have had to avoid in all the time I have attempted to race my bike. The yellow jersey went down hard to my right, and while FRESH Racing riders were involved in some evassive maneuvers, two riders went straight to the guardrail, at speed, with one of them catapulting over it after his bike collided with it, while the other went face first. Neither could claim victory against the metal barrier.
Unlike yesterday, the minute the word got around that the yellow jersey was down, the entire pack slowed down and waited for word about the down riders. The leader was making his way back through the caravan with a bloody right elbow, from other than that, he didn't look to have much visible damage, although I bet he was a little shaken after that. The heat was starting to reach alarming levels and making sure that we were taking on water was the job of my mom who today drove one of the two team cars. We would put our hand up in the air and she would pull out of the caravan and ride next to us to hand fresh bottles. We kept talking about the turn around point where things were going to get interesting and it didn't dissapoint. We started the Gariche Climb, which is about 10kms long at a steady 5% and the first attack took care of the weaker riders. The second attack took care of me. Kerry and Glenn latched to the back of the now, distant front group and put the hammer down. Meanwhile, in the Masters C category, Dave was having quite the time with the heat and the hill. I'm guessing the Cadel Evans ghost decided to make a stop at the race today. Riders from all categories were spread on the Panamerican Highway on the way back to David, some in worse shape than others, after the KOM sprint
I was in the hurt locker for about 10 miles, and I think my mom was suffering just as much just driving behind me. Dad had taken the second team car to cover Kerry and Glenn who by now were setting the road on fire. Finally I crossed the line and found the guys, to find out that Kerry had taken the stage and did the Forrest Gump salute made famous by Peter Sagan at the Tour, while Glenn was toping the podium with third place. Kerry picked a second medal and white jersey and both moved to 3rd and 4th overall on the GC.
Tomorrow is the dreaded Queen Stage, which is only 36 miles, but, it will go from sea level to almost 4,000 feet. Pray for us!!!!!

Wednesday, July 25, 2012


We have joked since we got to Panama that we would go better than Team SKY...they went 1-2 in the Tour and we came up with the phrase, "FRESH 1,2,3". But if you are around cyclists long enough, you know we are a very pessimistic bunch. Something is always hurting us, we haven't trained enough, slept well, ate right, etc. So when Glenn took off, during today's prologue, none of us were expecting fireworks. Things started a bit wrong for me when we discovered my front wheel had a wire in it and a subsequent flat, all before the state, thankfully. Dad made a change of wheels from the spares we carried and a short warm up followed, when I found the shifting on my bike a bit iffy and not up to standards. Again, dad kept his cool (and mine) and before long the bike was tip-top. After Glenn, Kerry was next and if Glenn was looking mean, Kerry was downright scary. I was up next, and was treating this as any other time trial, a short, violent effort that I rather not do, but it's part of the race, so be it, get it over with. And closing the FRESH Racing Team lineup was Dave, who without any special wheels or time trial bars, posted a very respectable time. As we came in after the short 3km effort, we started to exchange stories. It went something like, "I sucked", "I was going backwards", "the hill kicked my ass", etc. As we were gathering around the team van, dad comes running and announced that Glenn had posted the fastest time in our category. Nothing was official, and since we were so negative about our rides, we wanted the official word, so we made our way back to the start area and waited. And waited and then waited some more until the chief ref said, "Winner of the Executive B category, Glenn Terrel, USA"...the high fives were flying when he said, "in third place, Manny Samaniego, USA"...we all went, "WTF was that?". We went 1-3, two podium places and the yellow jersey. Not a bad morning for a bunch of complainers. After about three hours, the award ceremony took place (in front of McDs) and Glenn was presented the yellow jersey, along with a medal. Since he won the stage, he was also supposed to get a white jersey, but that was handed to the second place rider, from Costa Rica. I got my medal for third and spirits were high for the afternoon stage. The second road stage was in the afternoon and the mercury had risen to 100+ or "hot as shit". After a neutral roll out, we were sent off to a 54 mile jaunt around the country side. At first, the local teams were showing off with some wacky attacking tactics and Kerry, Glenn and I were just keeping a close eye on the rider in second place. Dave was in the C category doing his solo thing. Attacks came and went and nothing was sticking, so we settled into a easy pace and rolled for most of the stage. At about mile 48, on a patch of road that had craters, not potholes, the first crash happened. Two colombian riders went into the ditch. Soon after, another collision took place and someone yelled, "Yellow is down". Most of the riders started to call for a truce, but two knuckleheads decided it was a good time for an attack. Not knowing how Glenn was, the rider in second place rode up to Kerry and told him to get on his wheel because at that point all hell was breaking loose. I finally caught back to the group and went straight to the front, where the two attackers were getting an earful from everyone, so I joined the party and told them in very colorful spanish, that I was none to happy with their shannanigans. Finally, coolers heads prevailed and the pace went down, which allowed me to make my way to the back to find Glenn in good spirits and riding, although a little bloody from the road rash. As soon as the word got around that the yellow jersey was back in the pack, the hostilities resumed and the pack lined up for the finish, which was not well marked at all, and at the time of this post, we presume the rider in second place on the GC took the stage and both intermediate sprints, which technically should put him in yellow tomorrow. Dave had a close encounter with a "crater" and had a dual punctures, which caused him to have to change both wheels and then set off in hot pursuit of his peloton, which he managed to join again, but the effort took most of his energy. Tomorrow we are facing another 56 mile road stage, but the climbs will start to show their ugly face during the course. Although Glenn is feeling a little stiff at the moment, we are in good position on the GC and will keep an eye on the action and save as much of our powder for Friday's fireworks, which will take the pack high into the Panamanian mountains. By the way, Kerry's spanish is on the up!!! Ciao!!!

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Opening Ceremony

The plan for today was an hour ride around Boquete, then a little walk around town to kill some time, lunch and then drive to David City for the opening ceremony, technical meeting and team presentation. One thing you have to have in trips like this is flexibility, because whatever plan or schedule you have or want to keep usually has to be rearrange more than once. So with a 7:30am departure time for our ride, the alarms were set for 6:46a, the sky made it known that if we wanted to ride, it was going to be a wet ride. Change of plan #1...stay in bed a little later and wait to see if the rain stops. It did, for a little bit and then it came down hard. Change of plan#2...the little walk that was planned, became a longer walk, with rain, of course. Did some shopping with the guys and then picked two pizzas that dad had ordered for lunch. We headed down to David City for the opening ceremony, but not before making a little stop for a little more shopping. If you can not ride, you might as well eat, or shop...and we can do both pretty good. The schedule of events is approximate, to say the least. Everything was supposed to start at 5p, local time, but it was 6:30p and people were still making their way into the Hotel Ciudad David, the headquarters of the race. Finally things got underway with a presentation of the organizing team, sponsors and the referee in charge. Followed by a prayer, riders swearing (promised to race clean!!!), and then the technical meeting, where all the aspects of the race were discussed by the chief referee. Once all the formalities were out of the way, each team was then called to the stage where the announcer introduced each team, its members and country. Seems like they haven't updated my information from two years ago, because the "American Team, came all the way from the captial of the United States, Washington DC"...I'm not making this up, but as each of us got on the stage, we got the largest ovation of any team. we were blinded by cameras and at one point I felt we might be in need of a bodyguard, since it felt a little rock starish. Teams and riders from Colombia, Costa Rica, Mexico, Puerto Rico, USA (FRESH Racing), Guatemala, Brazil, Argentina and the locals from Panama will take to the roads tomorrow, beginning with a 3km prologue in the morning followed by a 80km stage in the afternoon. With the threat of rain always present, we will not be surprised if our best laid plans, will need a little adjusting. Off to bed!!!

Monday, July 23, 2012

Vuelta Masters a Chiriqui 2012

Last year Dave asked me if I was coming to Panama to race the Vuelta Masters a Chiriqui. "If you want to go, we'll go" I said, and the ball got rolling from there. Kerry asked Dave and later Glenn showed interest and next thing I knew, the four of us were planning a trip to the race. Since we knew almost 8 months out that we were coming, we began getting all the logistics taken care (flights, hotels, transportation) and of course, getting my dad onboard only took about a nano second. Time flew by and before we knew it, three of us landed in Panama City from Atlanta while one made the trip direct from Dallas. The first day in country was spent making the required trip to the Panama Canal and then, making the long drive from Panama City to Boquete, a good 8 hour car (van) trip. Upon arrival at my parents, the bikes were put together and we were ready to tackle part of the mountain stage to see what the roads and hills looked like. This year, in its 9th edition, the Vuelta Masters a Chiriqui will do 6 stages, with a prologue, two flat stages, a mountain stage, a ITT and a circuit race. Categories are age based. 30-39 years old will race in the A category, 40-49 in the Bs, 50-59 Cs and the youngesters, 60 & up will form the Ds. There's also an "Excutive" class, which is where three of us will race. Dave will show the team colors in the C category. Early Monday morning, we were up and greeted to a dark sky. The rain and wind had picked up overnight and the mood was a bit somber. We drove down and unloaded the bikes to cover the last 1/3 of Friday's mountain stage. In 15 miles, we climbed 1,800 feet, under a pesky rain, some strong cross wind and unusual to this part of the world, dropping temperatures. The guys all thought the climb (s) were hard enough and the downhills, even with the rain, managable. After the ride, of course, the sky became blue and the temperature rose nicely. The rest of the day we spent exploring the town of Boquete and eating, which, so far, we have done plenty of thanks to my mom's care. A short ride is planned for tomorrow (weather permitting), and then we'll go down to David City to the event's presentation, where we'll get our numbers, race bible and more importantly, to scope out the competition.