CayeWhat? Cayey, Puerto Rico: Stage Racing in the Heat and Mountains of the Cordillera Central in August

Mad respect is what I have for my homeland's mountains and valleys.
Well, mostly the respect was earned by it's incredibly steep
mountains, specifically the mountains of the small 'pueblo' of Cayey,
Puerto Rico.

I had a good friend register me for this race without knowing anything
about it. All I knew is that it was Friday, Saturday, Sunday. I
assumed it was  a typical Northamerican style Stage Race with TT, RR
and Crit. WRONG! Three hilly road races anywhere fromj 100 to 120km in distance were in store for me. In 95+
degree heat and almost 100% humidity. These were  not the conditions I
have become acclimated to in my years of living far from home on
mainland, US.

A trip back home to visit my parents always tugs at my heart, so I
flew into San Juan with my bike in tow. During a pre-race car
reconaissance drive of the first day's course I knew I had better have
packed my climbing legs. This was one windy, hot and hilly, steep
course. I had no idea that day number 2 would be much, much worse.

The race was superbly organized and the Elite Women line up right
along the Elite Men (teams from Colombia, Dominican Republic, the US,
Aruba, etc. come to race this clasic race now in it's 12th year. All
races were preceded by us ' parading' through the small pueblos
saluting the townsfolk who all came out to cheer. Thousands of
spectators each day we raced. Not only did we parade through town, we
also got a speech from the mayors of the towns, the local priests and
nuns blessed us and the course via loudspeaker and the local
'celebrities' also had their say on our behalf. You cannot count on a
pre-race warmup, because any warmup you do is obliterated by the close
to 45 minute post-parade and final departure of each day.

When the guns went off each day for the official start of the stages
it was a balls-to-the-wall all out sprint between the Colombian men and
Dominican Republic mens teams, all vying for good positioning for the first
few 'metas volantes', or intermediate sprints. All of these were
always at the top of some rise or hill. There was very little flat
riding on all three days.

On day one, the course went from 120 ft in elevation up to 1200' then
back up to 1400' then back up to 1800' with a fun wicked swiitchback
descent to a last little punch up to 1120'.

 I caught the women's race leader on the last climb. The heat
definitely was a factor for me and i was fighting chills and
goosebumps for close to 20 kms mid-way throught the 100km stage. After
catching the leader on the last climb, she attacked, separated and as
I was about 1 km from the finish, I could see her ahead, and a young
Dominican rider catches me and I blindly followed, knowing the finish
was close. Be it exhaustion, confusion, heat...whatever.... I followed
the Dominican rider as he made a wrong turn literally 300mts from the
finish. By the time i caught my error, seconds, really, and veered
back on course. the 3rd placed rider passed me and pipped me at the
line. ARGH!

I learned a hard lessson: you cannot stopt paying attention end of
race because exhaustion  and fatigue can be costly.

On day two, the climbing went from 80' up to 1280' back up to 1040'
back up to 1800' and last final push up to 1980'. The descent down the
mountain is know as 'la Piqui~na" ( the itch) a 180 degree switchbacky
descent that was as scary as it was exhiliratingly fast.

the way to the  finish was a 20km flat, fast, with a tailwind sprint
into the town of Salinas. I was able to work with a group of men
riders and had forgotten that going up the final climb my bike had
made a very loud noise. Now, hammering in rotation towards the finish,
trying to minimize my time loss to the womens' race leader who was up
ahead, i heard this kerklunky noise again. ignored it and kept on
hammering. No sooner did i stop pedaling after the finishing sprint
than I heard a very loud CLUNK! I had one spoke wrapped around another
in my rear wheel. Wow! had that thing come undone during the final
descent, I would have been toast! The Universe was looking out for me.

On day three, I'm sitting in 3rd place overall in GC and I had one
more event to try and move up in GC. The course consisted of  12 laps
of an 8.7 km course. Half of this course was flat and undulating and
the other half was big ring, small ring, smaller ring grinding climbs.
Brutal! Again, the heat was I think one big factor for me, but I was
determined. Unfortunately, I had 5 riders working against me, working
me over in our group of six. It worked, with 200km to go, I chased one
rider down and that was all the gas I had left, finishing 4th in the
stage and remaining in 3rd overall in GC.

I learned some really good lessons about racing in the heat and about
paying attention during the last parts of a race when fatigue can
confuse. However, I was so proud to be racing in my homeland. In fact,
an invitation was extened to me to represent my country in the 2010
Centroamerican Games in Mayaguez, PR and possibly the Panamericans in
2011.

I'm just beaming with Puertorrican pride!
I have to thank my friends Jaime 'Chago' Collazo who organized all my
traveling to and from races  and to Jaime Pujols who became my go-to
guy for all feedzone needs. I got so used to being with Jaime Pujols
that I actually felt a bit discombobulated and out of sorts the day
after the racing was done. What? no Jaime picking me up? no Jaime
handing me cold water from the SUV? Both Jaime's have a very special
place in my heart and their Tropigas Cycling Team was so accomodating
to all my needs. I never once had to worry about food, water...Jaime
even washed my bike!!! I love those guys!!