Tuesday, January 3, 2017

2016 race season wrap up-TAKE TWO and Happy New Year!

This post should be labeled Happy Holidays and while I wish everyone a very Happy Holiday season,  my 2016 race reporting is (surprisingly) not done yet!

Shannon and I made the last minute decision to bookend 2016 with another stage race.......in Cuba!

New race season stats:  1100+ miles and 100+ hours of racing.  Holy crap! 

We learned about the Titan Tropic at Interbike in September.  Titan Tropic is a second year event and this year would be the first year Americans were competing.  Who could pass up an opportunity to race bikes in Cuba?  Not us!

Coordinating and preparing for an International stage race on such short notice was a bit challenging, however every opportunity to travel and compete in events like this feels like an opportunity of a lifetime.  I was incredibly grateful to be traveling to Cuba and I'm pretty sure I was beaming the entire week!  One of my favorite aspects about International stage racing is the anticipation of arriving to a new country.  This definitely takes me out of my comfort zone because I'm a planner and preparer, however I have learned to embrace the unexpected during these trips.  In some respects, knowing that I have to be flexible with my normal 'plan' takes a bit of the pressure off!  The adventure component of this trip increased to a 12 with the passing of Fidel Castro.  We arrived on Day 7 of Cuba's 9-days of mourning.

San Marti airport in Havana was small and security was lax.  There was a crowd of people outside the airport and we quickly found the race representative coordinating our transfer to our hotel.  We were also greeted by Havana's Old Cars.

The outside of San Marti Airport
 Our hotel in Havana became Titan Tropic race central for a few days
 Our first afternoon in Havana we went for a townie ride exploring the city.  I was surprised by how safe and clean the city was.  While there weren't bike lanes, the cars for the most part were respectful. 

One of my favorite things about stage racing is that your fellow racers become family by the end of the week.  Titan Tropic was no different. 
 We found the ocean.  The sunset was amazing.
 The pre-race meeting was very official.  There was an English translator,
however it seemed some of the information got "lost in translation".
On transfer days-days we raced to a new location-we loaded our belongings up
into this truck to meet us at the new destination
The race provided us with bottled water for the week.  
I get thirsty and got to know the water distributors well.  
Race bikes resting in the racks before the first day.
Gearing up for a week of exploring Cuba by bike! Shannon and I raced in the Mixed Duo category.  We have to stay within 2 minutes of each other throughout the race and work together to go as fast as possible.  What this looks like is Shannon carrying most of our gear to keep me light and fast.  I draft off him when appropriate and he even gives me a push to help me accelerate-usually when I'm trying to grab hold of a group to draft.
Home is where you ride to.  In this case it was Soroa, Cuba.  Another thing I love about stage racing 
is the anticipation of finishing and seeing our home for the night.
This tree is 600+ years old.  It was breathtaking and much more beautiful in real-life
The Americans know how to recover from a long stage in Soroa. 
Giving my bike some love....
 Just another morning gearing up to race my bike with rad people in Cuba!
 The Americans performed quite well.  Tinker Juarez finished 5th overall and Kevin Hines 10th!
Some of the Americans.  We always welcomed morning clouds.
They would give way to the scorching sun midday.

Locals cheering for us from horseback.
Horses were the primary mode of transportation in the remote parts of Cuba. 
Scenes from the saddle:  a local smoking Cuba's finest export
More scenes from the saddle:  Ox are used for most of the heavy farm work.
The finish in Vinales
Accommodations in Vinales.  Despite the snoring, I actually slept quite well in the tents....
Vinales was also my first experience with dump ditches......
Tree ornaments.  I'm pretty sure nothing dried the entire week with the humidity. 
Our bathing accommodations made from palm leaves
The famous mogotes in Vinales.  Vinales is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.  

Smiles for Miles

This photo captures the reality of a stage race; I'm pocketing a Honeystinger waffle in my cheek.  Proper and consistent fueling is key to successful stage racing! 

This is quite possibly my favorite photo EVER! 

On Day 4 Shannon succumbed to stomach issues.  He vomited multiple times throughout the stage and couldn't eat for 24 hours.  I had to push/pull/drag him to the finish.  The Titan Tropic medical team took excellent care of him, giving him a liter of fluids for dehydration and Rantadine for his stomach.  He was able to race strong and defend our lead for the final day of racing.  

Me pulling Shannon for once.  

Just riding along....in Cuba! 

Cuba has excellent dirt! 

After just over 21 hours of racing, we finished 1st place Mixed Duo.
Teamwork makes the dreamwork.  
We finished on the beautiful white sand beaches of Caya Jutias.

The most beautiful finishing venue ever! 

Here is a video that Titan Tropic by Gaes made summarizing the week.  
Shannon and I can be seen at :18, :28, 2:12

.....and here's a video that Shannon and I made.  Check it out!  

I traveled to Cuba wanting to race hard, but also wanting to experience and learn about the Cuban culture.  This was our 4th stage race racing Mixed Duo.  Shannon and I have the teamwork pretty well dialed.  With the exception of the occasional snafu; like when Shannon almost took me out by hooking my handlebars, or when he ran me over when I crashed, we worked together flawlessly.  I think we are even better racing partners than we are riding partners because we shut up-there is no time for husband/wife bickering- and focus on working together to go faster.  Sharing the race experience is very special to us.

I found Cuba to be a charming country to visit.  Cuba is beautifully diverse, both the landscape and the people.  Cubans are proud of their country and very welcoming of Americans.  While I gained a better understanding of the country, there is still so much I don't understand. 

What I know for sure is that this experience whet my already damp palate for more international stage racing.  Cheers to 2017.  May it be full of health, travel, bikes, and adventure!