To London via Philly: Davila hopes Sunday’s race will help send him to Olympics

After winning Mexican national championships, Jelly Belly's Davila pinning Olympic hopes on good result in Philly

PHILADELPHIA (VN) — When Luis Enrique Davila lines up to race the TD Bank International Cycling Championship in Philadelphia on Sunday few people will know his name. He’s no favorite.

But the thin, quiet Jelly Belly rider — who’s as polite as can be and has a careful, deliberate style of English — is just a week removed from winning the Mexican national road crown, which has thrown his name into the Olympic discussion. Things matter more now.

Mexico can only send one rider to London, so starts like Philly, and soon, the Nature Valley Grand Prix, are increasingly important for him.

One gets the feeling he’s just a nice kid. On Saturday he was quiet on the bike, and took the time to carefully clean his shoes next to the team trailer, while taking measure of the fabled Manayunk Wall.

But chances are good he’s not afraid of the Wall. The Mexican national championship race was brutal. The field torched 22 laps of 7.5 kilometers, with about 2,200 meters of climbing. If there had been more climbing, he probably would have won by a greater margin – Davila is a lithe, graceful climber. But he played the hand dealt.

A break got away early, but he hawked it down with 12 laps to go. At four laps to go, another group attacked, and again he marked them, this time at two laps left.

First he bridged. Then he attacked as soon as he caught them. “When I passed them they were just looking at each other,” he said. The rest is history.

That win, and good showings here and in the next month, can land him that spot in London.

“Now with the nationals, I think I have a good chance,” he said, noting however that the Philly course’s climbs may be too short for a guy like him to get clear.

“It’s going to make it tougher. I prefer long climbs, but I think I can still do well on this. I’m really hoping to have a nice ride on Sunday, so it can give me a step ahead of the other two guys [vying for the Olympic bid].”

His team has been supportive – that much is evident from a training ride on Saturday. They talk highly of the slight climber, the quiet kid who, frankly, seems like he doesn’t have to pedal as hard as everyone else.

“I feel good. A little bit nervous, but at the same time confident,” Davila said on his shot of making the London Games. “With all the team supporting me … they always are cheering me on and making me feel good.”

Jelly Belly teammate Alex Hagman said he always tells the same story when someone asks about Davila. In a team meeting earlier this year, everyone was talking about goals and dreams for the season. Davila, meanwhile, likened the Jelly Belly crew’s three leaders to components of a bicycle. Sean Mazich was the rear wheel, Ricardo van der Velde steered the crew as the front wheel, and Brad Huff was the frame, holding everyone together.

“I tell you what. We were all dumbfounded,” Hagman said. “That first of all, his English so good that he could communicate that, and his insight kind of set the stage. I think we all knew Luis was going to be a standup guy on the team,” Hagman said.

“And now that he’s won the Mexican national championship, we know he can fly on a bike. I’m definitely rooting for him – once an Olympian, always an Olympian, right?”