By Todd Wells, GT-Hyundai professional cycling
I love the tropics. Before Sea Otter, Meg and I took a trip to Rincon, Puerto Rico, for the Ultimate Dirt Challenge mountain bike race. Rincon is a small town on the northwest side of the island that is legendary for its incredible waves, but for a week it was taken over by mountain bikers.
I was lucky enough to find out about this race last year while chasing points for the Olympics and looking for races that were warm and dry as opposed to the wet and dreary Euro races. I can’t say enough good things about the promoters, Doel and Jorge. These guys put on the best race I go to all year. The event is one-third mountain bike race, one-third dirt-jump exhibition and one-third rock concert. All the athletes are taken care of and everything is paid for. It’s like a real sport.
This year there was much less pressure since I’m not fighting tooth and nail for every UCI point. Meg and I got there on Thursday and were lucky enough to sample some of the local rum and the race-sponsoring beer, Medalla Light, before heading to our beach resort accommodations for the week. When was the last time you showed up at a race, got picked up by the promoter and taken to your hotel on the beach? We almost got kicked out of the resort before we even checked in because when we pulled up in our two cargo vans the dirt-jumper guys rolled out of their van wrestling with beer cans spilling everywhere and preceded to beat each other in the lobby. The security guards weren’t impressed but let it slide.
On Friday, Sager and I went to check out the course and spin out the legs but not before jumping in the clear green/blue Atlantic Ocean. The course was the same as last year but the temperatures were much higher, almost 100 degrees with about 90 percent humidity. After the ride it was back to the resort for some more beach time. Meg had been lying out all day and looked like a lobster by the time we got back. She couldn’t understand how the island sun had burnt her since she put on SPF 5 sun block. Ha.
I can’t explain how cool it is sitting on the beach watching the sunset with your wife and being at work. Having Sager on the trip was great as he is pretty sarcastic just like Meg and me, but when it comes time to eat the guy is a pain in the ass. He doesn’t eat anything unless it’s composed mostly of dirt. No meat, no fish, no eggs, nothing.
I managed to stack it up during a hot lap of the course and cut up my knee and elbows. My knees had some scrapes and it looked like redlines from an infection going up my leg. We walked to the hospital to have it checked out but the line was too long so we just came home and it was fine the next day.
The race was super hot and Sager and I managed to ride together for the first half until the heat got to him and I was able to get a small gap. We signed so many autographs after the race my hand hurt. I even signed some little kid’s GT BMX bike. The dirt jumpers did their thing after the race for a crowd of about 5000 and Chris Vandine threw some type of 360 back flip on his full-suspension bike. He got a face full of dirt on his first attempt but managed to pull it by the end.
Monday was a rest day and we were planning on snorkeling but the waves were too big so the dive guy said it was a surf day. I had tried surfing many times but had never caught a “real” wave. It ended up being my day and I caught two waves and it was awesome! I was so psyched. Everyone got some waves either on the boogie boards or surfboards.
I had to hurry back from surfing so I could meet up with Doel’s friend, Jaime, who was taking me golfing. We played a pretty cool course right on the ocean in the northwest corner of the island. Jaime is a scratch golfer and gave me the local lines, but putting on that Bermuda grass proved quite the challenge. They do things a little different in Puerto Rico and there were some horses out grazing on the course as well as people trail running.
We were supposed to stay on the island and do the Tour of Puerto Rico starting on Thursday with Doel’s road team, Medalla Light, but the Puerto Rico Cycling Federation president didn’t want any gringos riding on the Puerto Rican teams. He didn’t care that the teams didn’t have enough riders to fill the roster or that some of the racers had been riding for less than a year. He just didn’t want any U.S. guys on the team. Sager stayed down and did the race with some team from Trinidad but Meg and I decided to head home early and rest up for Sea Otter.
Having Chris Wherry in town has been a bad influence on me. We eat too much food and drink too much wine, but it seems to work for him and I’m hoping it will work for me as well. I got some good training in with the FLC guys before Sea Otter and even almost got acclimated before I left for Monterey.
I usually bag on the Sea Slaughter for having bad traffic and crappy weather but this year it was a first-class event. The traffic problem was all but nonexistent, results were given in timely fashion and the weather was great. The crowds were bigger then I have ever seen there and the course was super fast.
Without going into too much detail, I managed to get on the podium two out of four days and was sprinting for a podium spot on one of the other days, so I can’t complain. We had a huge team dinner with all the Mongoose, GT and Hyundai people and everyone is really excited about the program for the ’05 season. I even got to see Gully doing his Hutchinson thing; I wonder what he’s doing right now….