Cross Country Pedal By Pedal Review
The 2017 Cross Country is over - and again, Belizean will have wait another year to see one of our own wear the garland. This year, first second and third went to foreign riders. And if you're scratching your head and asking what went wrong, Kwame Scott has reviewed three hours of footage to give you the answer. Here's his report on the Classic that was another heartbreaker:.
At the sign in we saw, 2017 Belmopan Classic Winner Oscar Quiroz followed by teammate Ron Vasquez, the winner of the KREM New Year's Day Classic and team Digicell's brightest hope Joslyn Chavaria Jr.
And here's Belize's best finisher in 2016, Joel Borland. Belize's current national under 23 road champion, Giovanni Lovell, Masters Rider Kenroy "Smokes" Gladden, American John DeLong of Ken's Bike Shop, 50 year old Fitzgerald Palas Joseph, Guatemalan Adler Torres, Veteran Quinton Hamilton, and David Henderson Jr.
At the start we had 80 competitors, and these comprised 63 Belizeans and 17 foreigners - including 7 Mexicans, 6 Americans, 3 Guatemalans and one Jamaican.
The 7 past champions were called to the front of the line to be acknowledged. In its 89th running the 7 past champions competing are Americans Chris Harkey who won in 2003 and 2004, Bill Elliston who won in 2005, Guatemalan Alejandro Padilla who won in 2016 and is the defending champion, Belizean Shane Vasquez who won in 2006, Giovanni Choto who won in 2012, Darnell Barrow who won in 2013, and Justin Williams who won in 2015.
The ceremonial ride through the city looks good in the early morning light - as the suspended red flag signals that the race is not yet started.
Heading through Lord's Ridge Cemetery, the riders are warming up for the official start at Leslie's Imports.
At Leslie's Imports the starting gun sounds and the red flag disappears, the clock starts and the race is official off.
Our Cameras caught Jessmar Guerra of Imani's and Darren Anderson of Benny's trying to make an early escape
But, it wouldn't happen, not today, and as we pass mile four they're all bunched together. And then the defending champion Alejandro Padilla makes a move on the left, and he attracts the attention of Justin Williams and Chris Harkey - three champions testing their legs early - and the entire field follows.
At mile 8 after the station prize Alejandro Padilla launches a counter attack, he is followed by his team-mate Giovanni Macario, along with Brandon Cattouse and Oscar Quiroz of Team Smart and a few paces behind is the entire hungry pack.
At mile 10, John Delong Wins the station Prize - but the entire peloton is still pretty much together.
Now let's listen to some sights and sounds in the peloton. As we head towards Hattieville, Mark Staine Jose Choto and Shane Vasquez are trying to is trying to make a run for it.
At the Hattieville Police Station, Jose Choto and Mark Staine sprint for the $250.00 station prize - and, well, we leave that one up to the judges.
At Rockville, Sherman "Pest" Thomas takes the $300.00 station prize and the main peloton is in full flight.
At La Democracia, Mexican Rudy Rincon beats out Adler Torres Joslyn Chavarria Jr, Shane Jones and Ernest Bradley.
Around mile 35, some 7 riders are trying to break away, these include American Phillip Trupelli, Ernest Bradley, Kent Bob Gabourel, Guatemalan Adler Torres, Oscar Quiroz, Brandon Cattouse and Keon Robateau.
Somewhere around mile 39, young Shane Jones of Westrac Alliance breaks clear and attempts a solo run. His facial expression displays the effort being put in.
Somewhere around mile 43, the 2012 Cross Country Champion Giovanni Choto of Team Imani's breaks out of the pack and catches up with Shane Jones - so we now have a two man breakaway.
As Choto cools down for what he hopes is another long run.
Around mile 46, the two leaders are getting serviced by the neutral service. In Roaring Creek at Garbutt's Puma Service Station, Choto beats out Jones for the prize.
While some 20 seconds later, a group that includes Ernest Bradley, Kent Bob Gabourel, Quinton Hamilton, Chris Harkey and 4 others are trying to close in.
After a number of attacks and counterattacks, around Teakettle, Guatemalan, Adler Torres launches a very dangerous attack as we can see everyone is caught trying to recover.
As we make our way to the leaders, we can see the Shane Jones has been dropped. So, the lone rider out front now is Giovanni Choto of team Imani's.
At Brick Wall, the 2012 champ is obviously struggling but digging deep. As we pass Warrie Head, Choto is concerned and takes a quick look back.
As Choto rolls through the village of Ontario, he's still on a solo flight, but some 30 seconds behind him, here comes Guatemalan National Team Rider Adler Torres.
In Blackman Eddie, Torres catches up to Choto so we now have a breakaway of two, once again. But as we approach Unitedville, Torres decides to attack and Choto can't hang on. So, Adler Torres now embarks on a solo run.
At the bottom of Mount Hope, Torres win the prize donated in memory of Rhett Reyes, while at the top he clears $1,300 dollars and oh look how smoothly he clears the peak.
Almost a minute behind, Giovanni Choto comes into view - he appears to be struggling but his big brother, Jose Choto is the first out of the pack across the top of the hill. Now let's look at the main pack of riders as they try to get across the infamous Mount Hope.
At Central Farm, Torres enjoys a one minute lead over the chase group. At the halfway point, it is the solitary figure of the Guatemalan leading the race across the Hawkesworth bridge and around Columbus Park.
Some 25 seconds later, a chase group of 18 comes across the Hawkesworth Bridge led by Ron Vasquez and Brandon Cattouse. Almost two minutes later, the main peloton of riders swings though the turn at San Ignacio, around the park and heading back to Belize City as fans cheer them on.
On the return journey as we approach Floral Park, the leader Guatemalan Adler Torres is looking more dangerous by the minute.
At Go Slow the Guatemalan National Team Rider is taking refreshments from his team car. Around Ontario - one minute 44 seconds behind, Justin Williams and John De Long are trying to catch up.
At Dead Man Curve, the race leader appears to be opening the gap between himself and the two chasers, Williams and DeLong.
Some 30 seconds behind Williams and DeLong, a group with 16 riders are in the hunt: They are Nissan Arana and Keion Robateau of Westrac Alliance, Tarique Flowers of Benny's Megabytes, Kent Bob Gabourel of Culture, Rudy Rincon of Quintana Roo Mexico, defending champion Alejandro Padilla, Brandon Catotuse, Ron Vasquez and Oscar Quiroz of SMART, C-Ray, Western Spirit, Giovanni Lovell, Ernest Bradley and Joel Borland of team Digicell, 2005 champion American Bill Elliston, Chris Harkey and Patrick Raines of Ken's bike shop, and Liam Stewart, an unattached rider.
As we roll through the beautiful village of Camalote, the race leader Guatemalan Adler Torres comes in with quite an impressive resume which includes stage winner at the tour of Guatemala, and Vuelta of San Carlos in Costa Rica, silver medalist Central Amercian Games Road Race, many podium finishes in the Vuelta of Guatemala, Vuelta of Mundo Maya, and the Vuelta of San Carlos. Hailing from Guatemala we would assume that he's accustomed to much longer and more hilly terrain. Also, he would be accustomed to the type of heat and humidity that Belize is known for.
As we pass the Belmopan airstrip, the raceleader is re-fuelling as he eats and sucks on power gels and hydrates.
His cadence is as smooth as can be even after racing about 90 miles so far as he scoops up station prize after station prize.
At Cotton Tree, Adler Torres continues to lead. Justin Williams and John De Long have been caught so the chase group of 19 is two minutes behind - as cycling fans whisper a prayer for Belize.
Around mile 38, Torres finally appears to be human, as the gap is now coming down. He looks over his shoulder and bites his lip - as the chase group is closing in on him.
Around mile 36, he's finally caught, so we now have a brand new ball game. Please note that defending champion and Torres's team mate Alejandro Padilla has been in the chase group all the while, getting a free ride.
Around mile 34, the lead group seems to be working together but for how long? Around mile 23, a group of 8 have separated themselves from the others; these include Mexican Rudy Rincon, Brandon Cattouse and Ron Vasquez of team SMART, Guatemalans Alejandro Padilla and Adler Torres, Geovanni Lovell of Team Digicell, American Bill Elliston, Westrac's Nissan Arana.Chris Harkey and Patrick Raine's of Ken's Bike Shop.
The attacks are fast and furious as we see Lovell testing the legs of his competitors. At Rockville, Nissan Arana easily takes that prize while Rudy Rincon Brandon Cattouse Chris Harkey and more importantly Alejandro Padillo and Oscar Quiroz are trying to catch up.
Somewhere around mile 19, there's a second attack, a successful attack once more from Guatemalan Adler Torres - he has broken clear and riding into a strong headwind could be a plus for a known hill climber.
Torres still leads heading into Hattieville, the chase at this time is being led by Ron Vasquez.
Coming out of Hattieville, we can now see the casualties of this brutal race, as Mexican Rudy Rincon has been dropped as well as Nissan Arana. While Oscar Quiroz drives the pace, still trying to catch up to the leader Adler Torres
Around mile twelve and a half, believe it or not, Adler Torres has been caught - but by who? He has been caught by American Patrick Raines, and, yes, the defending champion Alejandro Padilla.
The chase, meanwhile, doesn't seem to be working too well, as there are now five chasing three. The five are Brandon Cattouse, Ron Vasquez, Giovanni Lovell, Bill Elliston and Oscar Quiroz. Meanwhile at the front, the lead three are now thinking about the big prize.
As we approach mile 11, it's 28 year old Alejandro Padilla on the pace, followed by 47 year old Patrick Raines, followed by 27 year old Adler Torres. Now, this is a sight most Belizeans wouldn't want to see: two Guatemalans and an American headed for victory in our biggest one day sporting event.
So the way the configuration is set up, much like last year, it's two against one: two Guatemalans and one American.
All three riders are obviously sharing the pace line. They also seem to be reasoning about what might unfold at the end of the race.
The discussion continues over some miles. After more than 130 miles, this is beginning to look more and more like the winning breakaway.
As we pass Burdon canal bridge, the lead trio remains comfortably out front, they are now almost certain that one of them will wear the garland.
As we head into the city, the lead three remain unchallenged. American Patrick Raines easily takes the thousand dollar station prize at Leslie's Imports and the steady rotation into the city continues.
Unto Central American Boulevard no new wrinkle to report, and you can hear a scattering of applause, on even thought it's three foreign riders.
And, at the finish, Padilla has separated himself from the other two and crosses all alone to faint applause. Raines freewheels in for second place 21 seconds later - after having cut a deal with the Guatemalans - followed by Alder Torres at Third.
Ron Vasquez pedals in one minute 40 seconds later to finish fourth. Brandon Cattouse rounds out the top five.
Padilla finished in five hours 53 minutes - two minutes slower than he did it last year.
There were five foreign riders in the top 10, and 9 in the top twenty - of a total of 17 total foreign riders.
Cross Country 2017 commentary & analysis
There is, and can only be, one Holy Saturday Cross Country Cycling Classic. I say this because I hear many people saying, “Let’s have one with the foreigners and one without.” If you asked all the cyclists in Belize, I bet that almost 100% would vote for foreign participation. Any Belizean who won a Cross Country without the foreigners would be ridiculed, and would himself feel empty. Local riders want to compete and beat the foreigners. That Pandora’s Box has been opened and can’t be closed.
Now, let me give you some insight from someone who has been in this sport from 1980, and who is on the road training daily with the Belizeans. First of all, the foreign competition invited this year was sub-par to the riders we have invited in the past. Remember, only the Cycling Federation can invite FOREIGNERS, and they do a good job ensuring that the playing field is level by no longer inviting the TOP QUALITY RIDERS. These riders they invite SHOULD be beaten.
This year, 64 Belizeans lined up and 18 foreigners. Of those 18, you can discount the entire Quintana Roo and Cancun teams, with the exception of Rudy Rincon. The remaining 6 riders were just making up numbers, and didn’t even finish. The 4-man American team invited are all Master riders, way past their prime. A rider’s best years are from about 26 years to 33, maximum. Three of the 4 Americans are over 40. The 2nd place finisher, Patrick Raines is 48; Chris Harkey is 46; David Flynn is 43; and John Delong is the youngest at 38. Contrary to rumors being circulated, these men are not professional riders, and all have full time jobs just like some of the Belizeans do. In fact, many of the Belizeans don’t. The Jamaican Anthony Taylor is 57, for crying out loud, and did not finish this year. Bill Elliston, who won in 2005 when he was 36, is now 48. The difference is, these men TRAIN. They don’t dodge or cheat their training, and that is because many of them live in cold cities where training requires much more dedication. Of the 3 Guatemalans that came, Giovanni Sam played no role, and did not even finish the race. The only 2 foreign riders that may be above the level of the Belizeans are the Champion, Alejandro Padilla and Alder Torres; and it is not that they are better than us; it is simply that they were coached better, and had more conditioning than the local riders, because they put in the TIME required.
Belizean cyclists are lazy and, with the exception of a handful, cheat their training. On Saturdays and Sundays when most cyclists worldwide do their endurance rides, and when in past years Kenrick Halliday, Alpheus Williams, JawMeighan, Michael & Charlie Lewis and past Belizean champions were doing many rides to Cayo and back in preparation for the Cross Country, and one of the main reasons they won, this new bunch are content with “wahn lee 60 miles,” less than half the distance of the Cross Country. They also party way too much. Cycling is about dedication and sacrifice. We want the reward without the sacrifice.
Finally, I believe the race could still have been won; but was badly coached. The SMART Team, whom I was personally supporting, had Brandon Cattouse, my favorite cyclist, Ron Vasquez and Oscar Quirós in that final break. When that break solidified, after catching Alder Torres on the way back to Belize, I would have SPELLED IT OUT crystal clear to both Ron Vasquez and Oscar Quirós, “You will ride for Brandon, no questions asked.” However, they all wanted to win, and as a consequence lost the race.
When I had my team, I made it clear to them who were the 2 riders in each race: Option 1 and Option 2. I then made the call after the race developed, assisted for many years by Fitzgerald Palas Joseph, who at 50 rode a great race today, because he trained. When Marlon Castillo crashed in 2013, he was Option 1; I then told the team to ride for Darnell Barrow, Option 2, who won the Cross Country that year.
I agree that a National Team would be nice; but it is a very expensive venture. Government would have to be prepared to shell out quarter million dollars yearly, minimum, for a 10-man team. Despite that, if they ride selfish, they still won’t win. Alejandro Padilla won today because one teammate, Alder Torres was willing to sacrifice and settle for the lesser position, giving Padilla the victory and all the glory. That is a hard thing to do; but has to be done if a Belizean wants to win. Many Belizean teams are just wearing the same jersey, and until they learn to be a true teammate, and TRAIN, the results will be the same.
(Sports Ed. Note: By Santino’s own words, “The only 2 foreign riders that may be above the level of the Belizeans are the Champion, Alejandro Padilla and Alder Torres…” May be? Considering that both gentlemen are Guatemalans, and one was already the defending champion, could it be that the Cycling Federation vetting team shares some fault in our 2017 Holy Saturday repeat heartbreak?)