Stage 3&6 recap by Blake Anton, stages 4&5 by Cassius Anderson. Photos by Blake Anton
In 2021, the Tour Por La Paz was relatively flat. The final 2 stages had some solid climbing, but all-in-all, it wasn’t too hard and was a great way to start off the year. For whatever reason, for 2022, the race decided to make the absolute hardest course I have ever seen or heard of, and unfortunately published the routes after we had bought tickets. Stage 3 was a monster. Initially, it was 36 miles with 9,500 ft on climbing. The entire stage was literally up the side of a giant dormant volcano (there was a 1500 ft descent after the first ‘easy’ 2500 foot climb, but after that, it was all up, up, up at an average gradient of 9.5%. A couple of teams (ours included!) protested about the stage weeks before the start and in order to make it easier, they added like 10 flat miles onto the stage to make it ‘easier’. On paper, the new route was 46 miles and 9,800 ft of climbing. My strava after the stage was 46 miles with 10,800 ft of climbing with a finish at over 8,000 ft. https://www.strava.com/activities/6671405613 Anyways, the race started and the first ten miles flew by. Then we hit the ‘easy’ first climb and all of us except Colin and Aria got spit out the back as the first climb had a bunch of nasty pitches the whole way up. Colin had some issues with his chain getting jammed between his two chainrings, so Aria gave him his bike and took the spare from the car. The mechanic had to remove Colin’s chainrings to get the chain out and then got his bike back to him and Aria. He didn’t quite make the lead group because of the issues but finished just outside the top ten. Aria, Jim, and Cassius all made time cut, while Joey, Wyatt and I sadly did not (along with about 40 other riders). I think I did my highest 4 hour heart rate I have ever done and finished like an hour and twenty minutes behind the race winner. Depressing. I’ve done probably 25 international stage races and this was the first time I have ever been time cut! After a good lunch on the top of the mountain and a quick JB weld fix to our bus’s radiator we took off to Quetzaltenango for the night.
Stage 4 looked relatively straightforward on paper. Make it over the first 3000 foot climb at altitude and hang on over the additional 4000 feet of rolling terrain until the finish. However, we all know racing is never that simple. Following a summit finish and a cramped hotel stay fueled by Big Macs and alfredo pasta, Colin, Aria, Cassius (me), and Jim set off at approximately 9:15am the next morning. The peloton leisurely rolled through to the outskirts of Quetzaltenango, where the dusty highway climb glared upon the riders. The main group surged ahead leaving Cassius and Jim dropped, but respectively finding groupettos to eventually make the time cut on the day. Colin was able to stay with the main pack over the top of the first climb with Aria keeping calm and catching up on the fast winding descent that followed. They both stayed with a punchy front group through the beaten up undulating Guatemalan highways. Towards the end of the stage, the inevitable attacks came with a group of 2 up the road and Colin took off solo in an attempt to bridge up with 10 kilometers to go. The run in to the finish was fast with 2 violent speed bumps and a roaring crowd of Guatemalan locals. After spending the final kilometers in the wind by himself, Colin was caught inside the final 50m for a top 15. Aria came in humbly 5 minutes behind, with Cassius and Jim topping out a respectable finish for the team.
Stage 5 was by far the most relaxed of the tour. The race began in the small town of Patzicía where stage 4 finished. The parcours was interesting with an immediate 1000ft plunge on a steep 2 lane highway, into six relatively easy laps of a rolling circuit and finishing up the highway climb back to Patzicía. The first few laps were as expected with the usual attacks going, until the break of the day went about 3 laps in. Team Iowa Colombia (best team name ever) made sure to keep it in check with riders on the front pacing all day to ensure they kept the leader’s jersey. With the 6 laps being rather uneventful, Cassius and Jim helped bring Colin to the front in the remaining 2 kilometers before the climb. Colin was almost able to stay with the front group until they turned up over the crest of the climb. Aria, Cassius, and Jim followed about 1 minute to 1 minute 30 seconds back. Colin held on for a strong finish in the second group on the road. Another quick technical run in to the finish saw a big crash after just going under le flamme rouge on a speed bump directly in front of Cassius. He was able to swiftly avoid the pileup safety finishing behind Colin and Aria. Jim promptly rode in about a minute back. Overall the tour was great fun for the team where we made some memories and friendships that will be held forever. Adventures like these are what bike racing is all about and as a team we were all happy to finish relatively unscathed and enjoy the super bowl later that night!
Our unofficial stage 6 was facilitated by our great director and local Gus and our bus driver from the race as well. In 2021 we hiked Volcan de Fuego and had an absolute blast. To continue the tradition, we hiked the active Volcan Pacaya this year, which had a rather large eruption in March of 2021. Unfortunately, the actual summit was closed as all the trails had been destroyed in the 2021 eruption, but we got in some stellar views and hiking in. Afterwards, we went down to the old capital city of Antigua where we got some great pizza and walked around the beautiful town. After a great week in Guatemala, we’re off to the Dominican Republic for another adventure!