Click the first image for the large view and photo descriptions.
While zig-zagging through traffic at 70+mph down a highway that’s filled with scouters, motorcycles with two or three people on them driving down kind of the side of the road, along with trucks and other cars just good enough to run, like ours, you start wondering what makes people in countries so far apart, such as China or the Dominican, to have an utter disregard for safety. They’re not seeking a trhill nor enjoy being on the edge of life and death but rather it’s just how it is. In most facets of what they do, the do just what needs to be done to work and get by. Of the four different vehicles that I’ve thus far been in, they all had the check-engine light on and barely started. This particular one had steam coming out of the air vents too. But they all got the job done. (And if you don’t have motorized transport you just ride your horse down the highway of which we just passed.)
At least here in the Dominican they do respect traffic laws a bit more, such as stopping at red lights, at least during the day as at night you just go because you don’t want to stop as you might get mugged. I doubt you would get stopped though even if you ran a light right in front of a cop. On the drive from the airport upon arriving here, one of the guys who spoke English said that you can do whatever you want in the Dominican, like Wild West whatever you want. No one’s going to tell you no. Somewhere in the middle is probably good. And if you have money you can get whatever you want.
Between the way people drive, the roads, and a bit of disorder to say the least, it’s going to be an interesting bike race where all three of those need to be of descent quality to have a race that you’re not going to die at.
The penultimate stage of this race includes a long, steep, and hard 45 minute climb (probably more) that’s followed by more climbing to the town of Constanza high up in the mountains of central Dominican Republic. It’s a super cool area that I had been looking forward to the entire week. The pictures below don’t do it justice but shows a glimpse of how big and steep these mountains are and how they’re covered with small farms, houses, and villages. This is the Dominican I love. It’s out there away from it all with incredible beauty and simplicity. Shacks with multi-million dollar views elsewhere in the world.
Shacks with multi-million dollar views elsewhere in the world. Driving back to Santiago from toward Constanza.
This is the stage that would pretty much decide the GC and with too many skinny climbers from South American countries that are probably about as clean as the gutter on the side of the road here, (More on that later. The crap you see… can’t say that someone who’s dirty is the smartest guy in the room.) I decided to get in the breakaway before the climb hit since I knew I’d probably get dropped in about the first five minutes of the climb given my current fitness or lack thereof. It was super windy and it was going to be a challenge to get a decent gap on the field but the three of us managed to build our gap to over three minutes. We dropped the Movistar Equidorian guy in our break making for just myself and an IRT rider (new American Conti Team). It was pretty sweet being at the front of the race on a big mountain day as fans and the media were all about you. We eventually got caught by the leaders and I was able to stay with them for a little bit but they were flying. While I was still first on the road I could hear the chaos behind. There were the race vehicles but then there was a herd of 20 or 30 motorcycles all wanting a close up view of the action. When I finally got dropped I thought I was going to get run over. It was steep and I was a bit spent so wasn’t going very fast. By the time the main group caught me there were only like 10 guys left. I was with them for a bit and got dropped again and found my way in a small group a bit off the back of them. It was much more relaxed being away from all the craziness ahead.
That craziness eventually caused the UCI Officials to stop the race because there was dangerous traffic coming down the mountain along with the herd of motorcycles causing mass chaos. Apparently the guy in the lead was hanging on to a motorcycle since the commissarie couldn’t get through the moto’s to officiate. On top of that, apparently a rider got hit by one of the spectators trailing the leaders. They stopped the race half-way up the climb where we sat for probably 20 minutes waiting to see what was going to happen. At first we thought we were done and that we’d just ride back down the climb to busses to go back to the hotel but then it was decided that we would ride easy (except it isn’t easy riding a steep climb in 90 degree heat, I was a bit cracked) to the top of the climb where we would start again with our time gaps. Apparently before we got to the top the police were trying to stop traffic and ended up shooting two people who wouldn’t stop. I guess it was wrapped up before we got there but just part of the craziness here in the Dominican. From a cow pasture above the little town we stopped in to change and catch the buses back to the hotel. As always the photo doesn’t do it justice. The view was incredible here. How about a loo with a view? Check.
It would have been crazy to start the race at the top of the climb as it was a crazy twisty fast descent and fortunately the first riders to the top kept going down the other side whether they were told or not. I stopped at the top since right behind was all the regular traffic that included a lot of trucks that the officials didn’t stop. I wasn’t about to go down this descent with the road filled with trucks and other crazy vehicles. It proved good as when I found a gap in traffic I started down but quickly came to stopped traffic where I’m not sure what happened but some cars were parked sideways in the road with a bunch of drivers and truck drivers out almost dueling it out. It was good though because the stopped traffic gave me the whole road.
We ended up going down part of the descent and the race commisair and team cars had stopped and were discussing what they were going to do. They wanted to start the stage there but they didn’t stop the first riders so they kept descending down and some ended up riding all the way to the finish since no one told them to stop. They ended up cancelling the stage but we had to ride another 10 or 20k down to a small town where there was a road back to our hotel. We finally got our team cars and were able to change and get some food and water but had to wait probably an hour for the busses to show up to take us back.
The whole thing was beyond ridiculous but it was in a really cool place so I didn’t care. I got to take in the sights. The mountains were super steep and endless. They were covered in tropical green jungle along with farms interspersed in the valleys and on the steep hillsides. There were also a number of greenhouse type contraptions which were probably more to keep the mid-day sun from over scorching the produce. The houses we past were definitely small run down shacks but the people around them were always out doing something or conversing with each other and really excited to see you go by. I really wish this race had more than just the one stage up there. Maybe someday I’ll get to go and just ride and explore. It would probably be perfect for a mountain bike as there looked to be tons of small farm type paths going up the mountain sides. At least in other places I’ve found the people that live in these areas to be really interesting and different from the people you meet down in the bigger cities. They live simple lives and know nothing else and they are seemingly happy doing it. We should learn a little bit from them.
Seemingly the race gets more and more chaotic as we go so we’ll see what the last few days bring.
The ride to the race on the second day through the crazy city streets of Santo Domingo had our group seemingly zig-zagging around trying to find the start. It’s never good when you come across another group of riders, who left the hotel a bit before us, coming toward you from the opposite direction. The ride home from the race proved even more interesting as David and I left just after the group of riders who were headed to the hotel by bike. It was pretty entertaining though because everyone on the side of the road would point the way when we came to an intersection where we didn’t know which direction the group went.
In one of these intersections on narrow one lane roads with tiny poorly built shacks closely lining the streets I went the wrong way and had to turn around back up hill. As I did I snapped my chain. Probably the worst place ever to snap a chain as the street was filled with bystanders and we were clearly two stranded foreigners in not a good situation. Luckily it was only a mile or two from where we left but we had to get back before our team car left otherwise we’d truly be in a bad situation. It was half uphill and David snapped his derailleur cable 10k into the stage so was still stuck in his 11 so he wasn’t going to be able to push me up the hill. He somehow got some kid to push me which got me to the next block where I then grabbed the back of a pickup truck. Then a guy on a motorcycle, maybe police or military or something, gave a hand and let me hold on to the back of his bike to the finish. We made it but then we had to sit on a cramped bus for probably 45 minutes in traffic back to the hotel. One of the themes of the trip we’d best learn to enjoy instead of complain about.
After two of probably the most boring stages ever, we finally headed inland across the island which brought climbs along with regular two lane roads through small villages and tropical jungle. It would be a really good place to just ride and explore. Maybe with a gun in your back pocket though. We finished in this small town called Samana which was where we stayed when I was here two years ago. It’s a neat little town on this big bay that leads out into the ocean. The town seemed pretty much the same except for this stretch of new houses along the main road close to the water. They looked like they should have been on Cape Cod.
View from the hotel in Samana on the North side of the island. Those colorful looking houses definitely weren’t there two years ago. Must be trying to make it more of a ocean town destination. The area was pretty incredible.
Looking back on that day and where we stayed and everything, we had it pretty well. Two days later found us back in Santiago at this hostel type hotel where there were four beds for ten of us. The team is from Santiago and the riders are from here but they wanted to stay at the hotel meaning they wanted us two to a bed, and small crappy beds at that. The race I guess assumed they would go home so didn’t give us enough beds. Somehow they thought that was alright but if you saw the size of the room and bed you’d be like what the heck, that’d be for one night. We’re to be here for three. I found a guy I knew from here that helped us out two years ago and he got it sorted out thankfully. Not the best setup but it works. This race will make you feel like you’re a king at every other race you go to.
Way too many people in our room. This was common the three days we were there. At first they wanted to put 8 of us riders in there and two staff. There were four beds. I got it sorted out…It was cramped as it was.
Last Monday David Guttenplan asked me what the airport code was for Santo Domingo, Domincan Republic. The next day I had a flight booked leaving two days later. Nothing like a real last minute trip especially when you’re in full winter training mode. With a quick component swap from my ‘cross bike to road bike and a quick pack, I was off. We found our way onto team “Feberaro de 27th” (the Independence Day of the Dominican Republic) which is a local team from Santiago. With this team though we had to arrive in Santiago, a two hour drive from Santo Domingo, along with the unbenounced requirement that we get a Dominican license as it’s a local team. With getting the license and an utterly large amount of disorganization along with an early morning wake up to catch my flight from Oregon, I slept a total of 12 hours in 3 days with only a few short naps. Not the ideal prep for any race let alone one like this. Being tired or awake and motivated makes all the difference when you’re in not the most comfortable of situations.
View from our hotel room in Santiago. Riding in the rain on crazy city streets with tubulars didn’t sound like a good idea so we rode the trainer. First time all winter.
To top off the lack of sleep, for dinner the one night we were in Santiago I had bread for dinner with protein powder. Not exactly the ideal form of nutrition in any circumstance. The following night’s dinner though made up for it as the hotel restaurant had a buffet dinner with pretty good food that included a good selection of deserts that I fully indulged in. Our next sweets aren’t going to be for a while. The thing with being here is you don’t know when and what your next meal is going to be so when you have pretty good food, eat up. (The one morning literally all they had left to eat was white bread with ham and cheese that looked like it had been setting out for two days. I had oatmeal and protein powder.)
That night was the only night of the fancy food as every meal since then has been pretty much the same. Always white bread, lots of rice, pasta, lots of not tasty plantains, and chicken depending on the day and is always marginally sketchy. And if you’re lucky in the morning you get some concoction of eggs. After one night of that David and I made the genius purchase of Asian pineapple sauce, hot sauce, and bbq sauce to take the meals up three notches.
Standard fair for the week whether it was breakfast or dinner. Lunch was non-existent. We bought some pretty clutch condiments to take the blandness up three notches.
The first two stages were incredibly boring flat and long highway stages that took us almost 200k the first day and about the same the following. I guess the highways are easy to close and provide the best pavement around but that still wasn’t great. The pavement itself wasn’t horrible but you’d get these huge nasty potholes that if you weren’t keeping an eye out for would give you a flat for sure and potentially worse. The worse did happen for a rider from Novo Nordisk/Team Type 1 of which I haven’t heard many of the details but that he was motor pacing back to the field after having stopped for a number two (probably due to bad water/unhygienic eating conditions) and hit a pot hole and is not in good shape to say the least. Let’s hope he pulls through.
It makes you think what the heck we’re doing down here and if the risks are really worth it. Yeah it’s fun and an experience to see the World but my biggest thing is not being in control of your own situation. If you’re base jumping off some massive mountain, you’re pretty much in control of the chute you’re using, how you packed it, your experience level, what weather you jump in. Whereas if you’re riding down the road there’s almost nothing you can do about the idiot driver who’s not paying attention aside from not riding on that road (why a lot of my rides are on dirt roads where I don’t see anyone for hours). And during a race there’s nothing you can do about the guy who crashes in front of you or someone who doesn’t point out a car on the side of the road and just ducks around it while you’re stuck in the gutter behind him blind and hopefully can react in time.
It’s been windy pretty much every day along with at least a few nasty sections of road if not more so hopefully everyone keeps there head up and pays attention throughout the rest of the race. I’m always pretty risk-averse but am definitely more so here. Lets hope everyone else learns to be as well.