What Variables Factor Into Holy Saturday Classic?

Tonight, the nation waits in anticipation as the 2013 Holy Saturday Cross Country Cycling Classic draws ever nearer.

And in this, the 85th running of the biggest race on the cycling calendar, there are constants and there are variables. The arduous road is the greatest, eternal constant. And so, the determining factors then become the variables: the field of competitors; the condition of the riders; and the stock of foreign riders.

Early this morning, 7News got a chance to size up those variables by catching up with some of the riders working out for the last time before the race. Daniel Ortiz has that report:

Daniel Ortiz Reporting

This morning at around 5 a.m., most of the Belize City riders made a light ride to Hattieville Village and back. It's part of the last preparations for the athletes, as they try to maintain peak condition for Saturday's Race.

Team Santino's did a slow ride, just to keep the riders loose.

Hon. Santino Castillo - Manager, Team Santinos
"Well, it's just a 30 mile ride, taking our time hour and a half, hour 45 minutes loosening the guys' lega, nothing intense. Relax them; get them ready; at this point in time, if you don't have it you can't get it again. It's just to keep the muscle loose."

And while this morning was wet and chilly, most of the athletes agree that the blistering Belizean heat is an advantage over the 20 international riders participating this year.

Hon. Santino Castillo
"This cool weather favors the foreigners, especially the Americans. We want it as hot as can be and as windy and breezy as can be, that will also take care of the weaker riders, the breeze especially but the hot sun will favor us."

Ron McKenzie - Independent Elite Rider
"I believe that the rain benefits the foreigners because it brings the cool weather, but for us Belizeans it's better with the sun hot. I prefer the heat and the heat plays a major factor to the foreigners, because the Americans aren't so use to the heat."

Justin Williams - Cash Call Cycling Team, Los Angeles
"It's better when it's sunny, less crashes but I like it in the rain because half the guys give up when it starts raining. Everybody has their head down so you just ride out in the front and be safer, but either way is good for me."

And the Belizean cyclists will take as many advantages as they can get. Team Santinos is trying to position Marlon Castillo to win his first Garland, against a tough field.

Hon. Santino Castillo
"Plans have not changed, I believe that Marlon Castillo is our best chance, I'll take it a bit further, I believe he's Belize's best chance. We have surrounded the team around Marlon, including the 2 foreigners, and the intention is to ensure that none of the big names get away from us; keep those big names together and the only way we'll allow them to get away from us, is if Marlon is with them. They're a lot of people that are going to stick Marlon, we know that but at the end of the day, I believe that the distance will take care of many of those riders. I believe by the time we get back to the 20's on the way back lot of riders will be taken care of by the elements being the road and the sun, and the big names will still be around."

Justin Williams
"Well it's a long race, so I think the race is decided later on in the day. Obviously, you don't want the favorites to go up the road without you but just to keep eating, drinking, keep the body nourished in general, just as good as you can have it and toward the end, hopefully you took care of your body better than the other racers, and you have a little bit more in the tank."

The cyclists are anxious because they the canceled races and chaos within the Cycling Association has affected their conditioning.

Ron McKenzie
"I believe you just to try and keep your eyes on the prize. Having limited races results in a lost in motivation, somewhat; you lose your dedication a bit but we must realize that if we don't train then when that big day comes, we can't succeed and no Belizean will win. So we just have to keep that in the back of our minds. Despite the trials and tribulations, we just have to keep going."

Hon. Santino Castillo
"We're not race ready. A team prepares itself not only by training, but by racing and these guys abroad, the Guatemalans, the Mexicans, the Americans they race every week; every week their racing. We are barely racing, so while we're training and we may be ready that way, we're not race ready. So, they'll have an edge on us where that is concern and I hope that after Cross Country, and the Belize Cycling Federation is elected, that we'll have more regular racing or else it defeats the purpose."

Geovanni "Froggie" Leslie - Elite Rider, Team Santinos
"I've been out from cycling for maybe 8 or 9 months, or call it 2 years because I've miss 2 seasons because I've seen that it wasn't progressing the way it should. So, I didn't see myself wasting any more time riding, but I just picked up my bike in January and said that I'm tired of the races being given away."

And while Leslie believes that last year's Cross Country was a giveaway, he and other members of the riding fraternity feel that this year, they will have to battle harder than ever, given the fact that they haven't been training hard enough to compete with the international cyclists.

Geovanni "Froggie" Leslie
"I think we only have about 5 guys that are in top condition and 5 guys that I've seen been putting the miles in since January, who can contend with the foreign competition. So I just feel that the association once again is doing us a low and is trying to embarrass us."

Hon. Santino Castillo
"When Marlon was being interviewed and they asked him who is his biggest treat was, he said the foreigners. A lot of his friends, collegues, cyclists criticized him for that, but that is the truth. They'll be about 20 foreigners in this race and they're not 20 Belizeans who are as good as those 20 foreigners. It's simple as that."

Geovanni "Froggie" Leslie
"Look what they did to us Belmopan Classic. Only 2 came and one of them basically destroyed the field, so imagine what 15 - 20 guys will do. Only about 4 - 5 guys will be around when time when the going gets tough. Last year, the time the race was won in and years before that, the person that won the race last year with the time that he did - just so people can get an understanding of how far cycling has gone in decline. The years coming in, he would have placed in the 40th position, meaning he would have finished half hour to an hour after the first man has passed. That means all the cameras and everything would have left, and then the winner would have rode in. That's just so people could understand how far behind we are in conditioning."

Many cyclists believe that at this time, Belizean Cyclists continue to train only out of love, because, financially, it isn't adding up:

Hon. Santino Castillo
"Once you get into cycling, that comes with a territory. You have to spend. It's not a cheap sport at all, and in return the athletes have to train and deliver the results."

Ron McKenzie
"It's quite a lot of money; it's quite a lot of money and riding and winning the race, does not pay back. So it's just something out of love; we love it and so this year we'll see what it brings."

Approximately 80 riders are scheduled to participate in this year's race. There are about 15 foreign riders participating, including at least three former champions.

Channel 7