by Lang Reynolds
Greetings from Trinidad and Tobago! This year I was lucky enough to end my season with some races here in the Caribbean. After several delays that turned a 12-hour travel day into a 36-hour travel day (thanks American Airlines!), I finally landed in Port-of-Spain Trinidad and was greeted by sweltering heat and humidity and of course terrible traffic jams. Going for a short spin later that afternoon I felt like I was taking my life in my hands by riding in some of the craziest traffic I’ve ever seen. Add to that the fact that they drive on the left side of the road (one of the many vestiges of colonial British rule) and I felt lucky to get through the first 10 minutes unscathed. In reality, however, riding in traffic was much safer than its insanely chaotic first impression implied. The drivers are aggressive and fast but very aware and responsive – if you stake your claim to a lane or a turn and make your intentions known they give you space and respect.
The international composite team I rode for was a melting pot of nationalities with two Americans, two Danes, two Dutchmen, a Brit, a Colombian and a German. Everybody spoke at least a little bit of English so we could bumble our way through conversations with a lot of hand gesturing and sound effects, and I made sure to learn “ATTACK!” in every language.
The racing started with two local crits in Port-of-Spain which we used as team-building and heat-acclimation exercises. We also spent the weekend getting used to the more relaxed pace by which race organizers follow schedules. Known locally as “Trini time,” races would start anywhere between 30 and 90 minutes late, or whenever 11-time T&T Champion and National Hero Emile Abraham decided to show up to the race. You have to stay relaxed when prepping for races that perpetually run late, otherwise you just stress yourself out. The anxiety of our strict-schedule-based Northern-European teammates would have been funny if not for the scheduling needs of our Type-1 Diabetic teammate, for whom the timing of blood sugar and insulin levels in conjunciton with a race effort is an extremely serious matter.
After a day taking the “high speed” ferry to Trinidad’s sister island Tobago, we started the Tobago International Cycling Classic, a four day omnium followed by the Tour of Tobago, a one-day UCI-classified road race. These races were much more serious than the racing we did on Trinidad with strong teams from Austria, Germany, Canada, Cuba, the US, and many strong riders from across the Caribbean and South America.
Aside from the crazy heat and rather loose traffic control, the racing was pretty normal and not much different than bike racing I’ve done elsewhere. I had some good rides and managed to get into the winning breakaways on the first two stages of the TICC, which were both road races. I took a hard-fought 2nd place on the most difficult stage, an 80-mile circuit race filled with short, punchy climbs. I got in the break after just 20 miles and battled it out with riders from Germany, Austria, Cuba and the Dominican Republic. At one point I had to yell “English” to the guy giving us time gaps because there were so many different languages being spoken in the break. Here we are fighting it out up one of the many steep climbs:
I won’t bore you with play-by-play of the rest of the TICC and instead we’ll cut to the UCI 1.2 Tour of Tobago road race:
Don’t let the short, 68-mile distance fool you: this is definitely one of the hardest races I’ve ever done. It was either straight up or straight down all day, and although none of the climbs were more than 1,000 ft each they were all super steep and the total elevation gain was over 8,000 ft. Check out the course profile from my Garmin Connect data (which includes 10 miles on either end riding to and from the race):
A compact crank (gasp!) and solid front shifting are must-haves for this course (which I’ll be sure to bring next year). The field shattered within the first 20 miles of racing. The combination of grey, rainy weather and difficult parcours made for a brutal race with as much of a mental beat-down as physical; climb after narrow climb surrounded by thick jungle foliage lent a sense of deja-vu to every corner and prevented any perception of progress along the course.
There were also plenty of washed-out dirt sections with huge rocks and boulders for added excitment – one minute you were bombing a descent at 40 mph, the next you are going off-road on a road bike with sub-1kg tubular climbing wheels – I just closed my eyes and hoped for the best. With the slippery roads, guys were crashing everywhere! Between all the attacking, crashing, crazy descending, and thick encroaching jungle I felt like I was riding a small bike racing version ofApocalypse Now and expected to run into Colonel Kurtz just around the next bend.
I didn’t find Kurtz, but I did make it to Charlotteville at the far end of the island, where I was greated by a one-kilometer wall of 20% switchbacks that climbed out of the colorful fishing village clinging to the hillside. The second half of the race is a blur – I got dropped on a slippery descent after sliding through every turn and rode the rest of the way in with one of my Danish teammates. The rain stopped and the roads dried out as we rode down the more-populated Southern coast of the island, but by this time the fatigue of the hard course was setting in and the smaller climbs seemed just like the walls we had finished on the North coast. We finally made it to the finish and I don’t think I’ve ever been so happy to finish a race! I thought about quitting a lot because we never saw any other racers ahead or behind us, but when we got to the finish we found out we had finished inside the money spots in the top 20, so it was worth the effort.
Of course, every bike race in T&T is follwed by a party on the beach, or a “lime” as they’re known here. After a day spent sharing the international language of suffering on a bike, it was quite a site to see the whole peloton sharing the international activities of beer and beach, complete with awkward multi-lingual conversations and funny tan lines.