Going into my first stage race ever, I wasn’t really sure what to expect. When they announced the stages a couple weeks prior, I was definitely a bit intimidated to see that we would only have a single stage under one hundred miles. I was nervous and excited all at the same time, but was eager to meet the team and embark on a week of what would undoubtedly be a hard week of racing.
After a late arrival, the day before the race was spent sleeping, assembling our bikes, and getting acquainted with new teammates. Our team consisted of John, Dave, Brad, Cole, Cassius, and me (Alec) so we were confident we could perform well over the course of the week. It was reassuring to have such a wealth of experience amongst the group, as I was becoming a bit antsy while the first stage drew closer.
On paper the first stage didn’t seem too difficult; 110 miles of mostly flat highway to the small town of Barahona. As a fresh category 2 cyclist, this type of racing was way outside anything I have ever experienced; with a full caravan of vehicles following the entire race, and the police (mostly) closing the roads, this felt like real racing. What ensued the next four or so hours was a huge shock to the system, and while almost entirely flat aside from some “rollers,” the heat made for a brutal day on the bike. Fortunately John would go on to win the stage in very convincing fashion, spending all but the first 10 miles in the breakaway, and much of that time riding solo. Cole finished second in the field sprint to round off the podium, and with John in yellow, we prepared to defend his lead during stage 2.
John on the podium after a very successful first stage.
Stage 2 was another point to point from Barahona back to Santo Domingo, so essentially the same as day one, but in reverse. Our main goal was to try to keep John’s lead in the general classification, and this was my first taste of actual team tactics in a race. The race started off very hard and thankfully settled down after about 45 minutes once the break of the day went. We thankfully had Cassius make the early break which meant we could relax in the peloton and let the other teams chase. Unfortunately, due to lack of cohesion in the break, Cassius eventually made his way back to the group meaning we now felt responsible to help pull the remaining breakaway back. John, being the only Spanish speaker in our group, convinced two other teams to assist us in the chase and so we moved to the front and began ramping up the pace. The next couple hours can only be described as pure fun, as it was some of the most dynamic racing I’ve ever done. The main highlight of the day was rolling through the numerous small towns and seeing all the locals cheering us on as we rolled by. The race ended with some heavy tropical rain and John missing a split in the peloton. We absolutely emptied ourselves to try and bring the move back, but we fell a bit short. While John did not retain his GC lead, Cole managed to make the move and after finishing second in the field sprint found himself in the leader’s jersey. We’ll take it!
Cole retaining the yellow for the team.
I knew this race would come with a number of high and low points, and for me stage 3 was one of those low points. I guess you could count the 110 mile flat highway stage as a “rest” day but the other US team, Best Buddies, had other ideas. Cole was tied for the GC lead with a rider on Best Buddies, so they spent most of the day controlling the front. This meant we could try and relax throughout the remainder of the stage. While most of the stage was fairly mellow, a crash about halfway through took me down, which was frustrating, but after only spending a handful of the seconds on the ground, I determined I was fine and got back to the group with the help of Brad, 10/10 guy. Unfortunately for me, that wouldn’t be the worst part of the day as I was caught behind another big pile up with about 20 miles to go. Physically I was alright, albeit much more bruised and with additional road rash, but mentally I had reached my limit. Crashing naturally comes with the territory and I know that, but after what can only be described as a boring stage, this one took a heavier toll on me. I was so close to getting into the team car and cashing in on the trip, but somehow managed to limp through traffic to the finish about 30 minutes down on the field or so. Meanwhile, Cole had a rear flat tire with very little distance left to the finish. Somehow, our team director, Gus, managed to blast through the traffic behind the race in time to get to Cole, change the flat, and get him back to the peloton with time to spare. Cole, our unofficial sprinter despite what he says, finished well in the field sprint and retained his hold on the yellow jersey. It was a solid silver lining to the day. Only four more stages to go, with probably the hardest still to come.