We're used to one day cycling races, which are many times known as "classics." Those are staples on the Belize sporting calendar - especially the biggest classic of them all, the Holy Saturday Cross Country Cycling Classic. But, in the wider global cycling community, stage races are what dominates the sport. And Belize's first tour in a while was held over the last four days. It started on February tenth and finished yesterday - with Mexican rider, Yapur in the lead, and Joel Borland trialing by just nine seconds. Would Borland be able to make it up on the western Highway? Our team was on the road:..
Stage 5 - fifth and final stage - of the Digicel Valentine Tour 2016 - San Ignacio to the Benque border to Belize City - a total of 90 miles.
Mexican Juan Manuel Yapur is the overall race leader - as they pulled off at 9:00 am all 48 remaining cyclists wanted to prove that they could win a stage.
As we head towards the Western border, we can see that this will be no walk in the park - heading into a north wind.
Giovanni Lovell attacks the peloton early - and the peloton responds in kind.
As they turn at the western order Nisan Arana leads a group of 5 that includes Ron Vasquez, Erwin Middleton, Peter Choto and David Henderson - and about 30 seconds later the main pelethon led by Richard Santiago makes the U turn.
Passing through Succotz, is Luis Alberto Balam, Mexican making sure he keeps his team mate and race leader in touch.
In a light drizzle at Succotz Hill - Ron Vasquez takes the King of the Mountains points while Peter Choto crosses in second place followed by Nissan Arana
Coming down San Ignacio hill - Tarique Cano of team SMART leads the way, but due to the weather and the treacherous condition that the Hawkesworth bridge would be in, the race was neutralized for a few moments, in the interest of rider safety.
After the re-start, at Go-Slow Ron Vasquez again takes the hills points, followed by Peter Choto, Jessmar Guerra, Herman Requena, Tarique Flowers, David Henderson, Ron McKenzie, Giovanni Lovell, and Tarique Cano. This nine man breakaway is already over a minute ahead.
At Dead Man Curve, the nine-man breakaway led by Ron Vasquez extends its lead to two minutes, thirty six seconds.
At Roaring Creek, Garbutt's Service station Tarique Cano wins the sprint points, the break is now reportedly almost three minutes in front of the main peloton - at this time led by second place Team Digicel which is in management mode - and in no hurry to catch the front runners.
Around mile 42, the breakaway of nine, is working like clockwork and it features Ron Vasquez of team western Spirit, Jessmar Guerra, Tarique Flowers and David Henderson of Benny's Megabytes, Herman Requena, and Tarique Cano of Team SMART, Ron Mckenzie of Westrac Alliance, Peter Choto of Team C-Ray and Giovanni Lovell of team Digicel.
Around mile 35, the breakaway led by Herman Requena at this time is now 3 minutes 25 seconds in front. At La Democracia, the nine riders remain on the front but reports are that the chase is now on.
Around mile 29, Mexican, Luis Alberto Balam leads the chase trying to make up time for his team mate and race leader Juan Manuel Yapur.
Meanwhile back at the front, Herman Requena drives the break forward. At Rockville, the breakaway is still nine men strong, but the chase group is in the hunt, at only a minute and a half behind.
At the Hattieville police station, the breakaway is still in front, but now less than a minute ahead of the chase. Around mile 13, the breakaway has been caught, and we now witness three riders trying to escape, Giovanni Lovell, Mark Staine and Tarique Flowers.
The three form different teams are working together, sharing the pace equally. But when it comes to sprint points at mile 10, Giovanni Lovell surges forward and takes the points followed by Tarique and Mark.
Around mile eight, the same three riders remain out in front, but the chase group is only 50 seconds behind at this time led by Nissan Arana, followed by Joel Borland and race leader Juan Manuel Yapur.
At Burdon Canal Bridge, the lead trio appear to be struggling but they maintain that fifty second gap. Around mile 4, Mark Staine of team SMART attempts to go all alone, can he make it? Is it possible? We would soon find out?
At Mile 3, Staines is hunched over his handles giving it all he's got, while the chase group is in his rearview, in full flight.
But, alas, at the finish line, at Leslie's Imports, Staine has been caught and it's Brandon Cattouse easily beating out American David Flynn who finished second and Byron Pope who pulled up third.
Juan Manuel Yapur
"It was a really long race. I was really lucky because they had lost a lot of interest between the teams. I don't have a team to defend, so we start waiting for anything. My partner Benito did a really great job as soon as he can. But at the end of the race I was by myself. I was very lucky and I am very proud to be here. I love you guys in Belize. I really enjoyed to be here and this is one of the bigger race of my life."
Joel Borland, 2nd Place
"Today my strategy was that Yapur was 9 seconds ahead of us and I knew that he didn't have a team. With the big breakaway with Giovannie and Tarique Flowers, the two best riders in that breakaway. We know that Tarique was ahead of Giovannie about 20 seconds. At that point when the breakaway got about three and a half minutes, we had confidence in Lovell that he could have dropped Tarique Flowers, but with alliance missing out in the breakaway they put in a lot of work to bring it back along with Chris Harkey and David Flynn. When they came back together, Giovannie attacked again, but same Tarique Flowers he took with him. So again, we wanted to give him that chance, but we also chased to keep it within a minute, because we know that if he couldn't drop Tarique, then Tarique would have won the tour overall. It didn't worked out that way. It ended up bringing back again and I tried attacked at the roundabout, but Yapur is a really strong rider. I have to give him respect. Although of his age, he was right there watching me like a hawk."
So, after five stages Yapur was the winner of the Digicell Valentine Tour after he beat Joel Borland by nine seconds in the overall standings.
The King of the Sprints went to Brandon CattOuse, and the King of the Hills went to Ron Vasquez.