Cycling in Nicaragua
A bike race in Managua -
1. 6:30 wakeup by the kids, goodbye to Kristine
2. 6:50 walk out the door pick up taxi on the way to the bus station
3. 7:20 Take a “microbus” to Managua – these microbuses only leave when they are full and cost $2. When I arrived, there was only two or three people out of the 12-15 that can fit on the bus. I sat down thinking oh no, this is going to be forever before we leave, then a person came, then two, then another, and before you know it (< 5 minutes) the bus was full and we took off. Very fast driving. The distance is only about 60 miles, but with horses crossing the road (we had to stop for one), cows, mule-driven wagons, barely functional vehicles littering the highway, the drive consists of weaving, slowing, speeding, passing very quickly before the oncoming semi-truck arrives to meet you head-on. Absolutely beautiful drive with no less than 5 volcanoes that you pass including Momotombo (over 5500′ tall)
4. 8:30 Arrive at the bus station in Managua. Hop into a taxi going to Rotunda La Virgin where the bike race is. When I tell the taxi driver that I am going to the bike race, he seems excited and says something excitedly that I don’t understand. This taxi driver was very quick and used the traffic signals as suggestions to help guide us to our destination in less than 10 minutes (It would have taken me 20 if I were driving)
5. 8:40 Arrive at Rotunda La Virgin, disembark from the taxi, and look for Shannon O’Reilley the presidente of the Nicaraguan Cycling association. I find him and introduce myself and he shows me his shiny silver Scott bike that I will be using. I then meet Fernando who speaks a little english and is the national road and mountain bike champion of Nicaragua. He will be my teammate in the race. Then we go to get my bike setup to fit me. Then we go for a ride on the course while the other races are going on – we just pull over towards the side when they come by.
6. 10:30 and the race was underway! I’ll just include my racer report that I sent out to my team earlier this evening:
For the race today, I borrowed a bike and shoes from Shannon OReilley, the president of the Nicaraguan Cycling Assocation. The race was a 1.25 km course with two 180 degree turns. The start/finish was at the top of a downhill which took you shortly into the first 180 which was a VERY large roundabout called “Rotunda La Virgin” complete with a statue of the Virgin Mary and for the Christmas season all kinds of camels, sheep, and wise men. The roundabout itself was probably 1/10th of a mile or more. When you exited the roundabout you came back up the start/finish hill but on the other side of the road. The hill wasn’t that steep but it was into a strong headwind (20mph?) so that going super hard across the top you were only going 16-18 mph. Then you went into this headwind all the way to second 180 degree turn which was a normal 180 (not a roundabout) so it was pretty sharp. Then you had a 20mph tailwind and we easily were topping 35mph through here on the first couple laps.
Two riders on different teams attacked on the first lap, and my teammate, Walter, joined them to form a small three man breakaway. They got a little bit of a gap, but the pace was just way too fast on the downwind part of the course. We caught them at the start of the second lap. My other teammate (the national road and mountain bike champ) attacked on the hill and got away solo but another rider bridged to him and then again because of the tailwind we caught them both at the start of the third lap. So for the first two laps, the pace had been super fast when we started the third lap and made it around the roundabout starting up the hill into the headwind. I attacked as hard as I could thinking that people would be tired and I at least wanted to put on a show as the token “gringo” in the race. I had a 20 second lead for the next 7 or 8 laps but then I could tell my gap was shrinking. It was awesome to hear everyone on the side yelling “allez”, “allez”, “allez”, and one boy yelling “allez gringo, allez gringo”. I knew that I wasn’t going to be able to stay away from the chase group behind me which included one of my teammates (Walter) who had bridged from the third group to the chase group so I eased up and then there were four of us off the front. We used our numbers perfectly with Walter attacking first and forcing the strongest sprinter in the race to chase. I hopped onto his wheel and when Walter was reeled back in, I launched a counter attack and only the Shell rider could follow. So the two of us got away and worked together with me pulling up the hill into the headwind and the Shell rider pulling on the tailwind section. We worked together for the last five laps and then I was able to outsprint him.
There was somebody taking pictures, and I am going to try to hook up with him on Saturday before we leave to buy a few for $1 each. Also this website has some pictures from the race including the podium picture: http://www.ciclismonica.com/Circuito2009/circuito.html
7. Wow – what an opportunity – thank you so much Shannon for loaning me your bike and helping me have this opportunity to experience cycling in Nicaragua. Thank you Raly USA teammates – Walter, Fernando, and Allan!
8. I was impressed with how many “jovenes” youth were racing today. That’s a good sign for the future of cycling in Nicaragua! Hopefully, I will be back to race again and maybe next time I can bring some of my teammates from the USA.