Race: 5 days (2 Road Races, 2 Crits, 1 mega Road Race)
Location: Tobago of Trinidad and Tobago, Caribbean.
Distance: 50/70/30/30/80 miles.
Riders: 86 riders (Many Nations, very International)
Team: David Reece, Cameroon Foster (Guest Rider), Lewis Ball (Guest Rider), Declan Hudson (Guess rider) and myself.
‘So… Tobago hey… it’s that like on the other side of the planet’. Most conversations about this race started will this question/statement!
To fill you in, while on our family holiday in America a week before flying out to the Tenerife race, I got a call from my teammate David Reece. The team hadn’t been accepted for the race in China that we had wanted to do but there was now a new opportunity to go to Tobago to race a 5 day stage race. Well why not?, the only issue was that I had to think through starting Uni for a week and then disappearing. I would go to University at the end of September for Freshers’ week (the well-trodden week-long drinking festival for the novice student); then do one lecture on the Monday before flying out to Tobago for 8 days.
Freshers was a blast, but I can’t publish those stories, definitely not on here!
On the Monday after my lecture my Mum picked me up and we went home. I packed until about midnight before we got up at 5am, off to Gatwick. We had bagged some reasonably priced flights on BA which took us to St.Lucia, and then onto Tobago - about 10 hours and 2 hours respectively. We arrived late their Tuesday afternoon and had to immediately building up the bike and get it ready for the race the next day. We got to bed about 11pm having been wake for about 24 hours. The first race started at 8am the next day which meant a 6:20am start for us. I’m sure the Sky team would never subject themselves to this – I do believe they are the poorer for it (at least in terms of experience, clearly not poorer financially!)
On the ride out to the Stage 1, the first race, we all realised our first challenge - HEAT and HUMIDITY! It was 27 degrees at 5am in the morning and by 9am it was 35 degrees and climbing. I’ve been fortunate enough to inherit a ‘ginger gene’ from my dad which meant I was going to be the colour of a strawberry for the following few days! On way out we all tried a few efforts realising for me that level of heat without acclimatizing for it was sapping everything I had - it felt like trying to breath in jelly through a straw - nice. The course was rolling and I struggled all day managing only to take 30th or so, having one of my worst days on a bike ever. Cameroon a few places ahead and David a few behind. With Declan's move off the front getting caught with a few miles to go. As you can imagine my mood wasn't great. But head up, I went for a swimming in the Caribbean sea to cool off.
Stage 2 was 5 laps of a 12 mile circuit with a very nasty climb in the middle of it each lap. I was feeling a lot better which was a surprising turnaround – ‘less jelly, wider straw’. The course was fairly uneventful, rolling for the first 6 miles, and then you were hit by Orange Hill. The climb started at the top of a rise, turned left up a back road drag. I was still in the big chain ring, the whole group still together of 86 or so and we were 3 meters wide……….then it got messy….it turned right over a rain track in the road that you had to bunny-hop over! and then rolled onto then 2 nasty uphill kicks at about 25% gradient for 200 meters. At the top it dropped straight into a descent that was short but really steep, taking you from 16 mph to about 45 mph before going straight back up again in a U shape, this time hitting a mega 33% gradient to crawl over the top. In the space of about 1 minute the speed changed from 13 mph, to 16 to 45 to 8 and then back to 35 as you rolled down the other side onto the descent. Needless to say after one lap the group was down to 30 riders from 86! I had hung in there and stayed with them. After 4 more laps the group was even smaller and I bagged 19th and was alive (always a bonus). Declan, Cameroon and Lewis had struggles with the heat and mechanical and didn't have the best of days. David was a few moves behind mine taking a top 30 placing on the day.
Stage 3 and 4 were both similar – lots of laps, lots of corners. Stage 3 was 50 laps of a gritty circuit which I was able to get round but I suffered. It was almost an exact rectangle with 4 slow 90 degree corners and 4 straights to sprint into. 200 corners later and I was on my knees and was the last finisher that day (about 31st). Stage 4 was about 60 laps of a 1km loop with a rolling hill which was fine as it was a little more flowing but the heat had come back to get me reaching a massive 43 degrees in the race. With only 5 laps to go there was a big pile up and the race was halted, in common fashion for the week. But THEN ! just to add some spice we had a tropical downpour introducing the prospect and actual reality of aqua plane-ing; as the course was covered in white road markings it made it really spillary (is that a word – I think you get what I mean?). It poured for the 5 remaining laps meaning that the bunch split apart completely. It came down to who was prepared to risk everything I wasn’t. Most of the remaining riders took some air out of their tyres – a number of the South Americans didn’t! I lost my nerve and only came away with 19th in the end (alive again though!).
Then came the day of reckoning! Stage 5 was positioned as by far the toughest - an 80 mile loop of the island with 10 climbs and estimated finishing time of over 4 hours. We had to leave our place at 7 am to ride 40 mins to the start of the race and then start at 9am. The race was thankfully on a cooler day - only 30 degrees with a low of 27 degrees! (arguably autumnal). However in the first 20 mins I jammed my chain and had to get off before frantically racing to try to catch back on as the bunch rolled along at 28 mph, unfortunately passing David who I later found out had just had a puncture at the time and no one was able to give him a spare wheel, day over for him. I did eventually just as they started the climb – a tough start but others were already falling off the back. It was going to be a tough day. After hauling myself to about the 1:30 hr mark I was able to roll off the front on gradual part of the climb followed by 2 others in pursuit of the breakaway. This turned out to be a brilliant move as my group, the break and the peloton would break up on the following climb but at least I had a 2 min head start on the peloton. The climb was at about 30% gradient for 800 meters and is the steepest thing I have ever ridden, Cameron was on of the riders to turn back at this point with the majority of the peloton, apparently many people climbed off of their bike, simply turned around at and headed back! For the following 3 hours I rode by mostly by myself or at times with the odd few riders. During this time other riders did occasionally move on through or I overtook - there were no flat sections so working together was both impossible and pointless. I dropped my chain again and was unable to restart on the climb so had to walk until the next flatter section to do so. I was in my own world - no one even saw it, you were so alone. A group of 7 riders came past me; they were simply flying up the climbs and descending as if they had nothing to lose, on what were the worst kept roads I think I have seen. I got to the end eventually after being chased by a few stray dogs as I went through town. It was honestly one of the hardest races I have even done. So many more things happened that add to this story but I don't want to bore you. I ended up with 15th in the end. From 86 starters and only about 34 finishers! I finished 23 mins after the winner. What a mess - I could barely stand and had to get 3 chocolate bars and an ice cream on the way home. The race took me about 4 and 1/2 hrs and with 40 mins to and from the race start meant I was on the bike for the best part of 6 hours. Declan was able to finsh 30th in the end, very impressive for his first ever race abroad, especially considering everything else that day.
My positions were as follows over the stages 32nd/17th/29th/19th/15th and 24th overall, 27th in the Sprint competition, 29th in the KOM competition, and 5th best Under U23 overall.
That evening we attempted to go out to the club with the local riders but we're were all far too tired to attempt anything. In the end we called it a quiet night in and the next day went on an amazing glass bottom boat trip around Crown Point (the end of the island that we were staying on). We saw the Caribbean reef, and an island shelf with different sea temperatures separated by just 5 meters of sand. I picked up a little piece of coral to take home, that now sits on my shelf at Uni.
We flew home on Tuesday evening, landing on Wednesday afternoon and I get myself back into Uni. Quick turnaround and off to the ‘Wet and Wild’ (Watersports) event, where we (my flat) made up a new snorkeling club as a reason to be out. We out-chanted the rowers and the swimmers all night. The clubs you can create to attend social drinking!
I will now take a glorious two
weeks off before hitting up the winter build back into the season next year.