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Chuck Coyle's Racing Chronicles: Vuelta Mazatlan
 
By Staff
Date: 6/6/2003
Chuck Coyle's Racing Chronicles: Vuelta Mazatlan
 

May 26, 2003: Monday

After getting up 3am to make the flight from Denver to Mazatlan via a short breakfast layover in Phoenix, my teammate for the week, Jobey Siciliano, and I finally made it to the Plaza Gaviotas hotel which is located right in the middle of where you want to be in Mazatlan and right across the street from the ocean.  By noon we were sitting oceanside having lunch by sea, not a bad way to start a trip at all.  The rest of our Hermosillo, Senora based VH-Norson, Tecate Lite team arrived that evening, got us all registered and we were good to go.

Just before sunset Joby and I sat up on a rooftop patio and watched surfers taking advantage of a point break that was just up the beach.  It is incredible that thousands of miles earlier these 3-foot waves were huge 50-foot swells coming off of Alaska; the self-generated power of the earth is an amazing thing sometimes.

It is also incredible that this morning we were thousands of miles and a world away from all of this.

May 27, 2003: Tuesday

Etapa 1

Today’s opening stage was a 4k point-to-point ITT that went right along Mazatlan’s spectacular coastline.  Although you don’t appreciate it at 185bpm, the views from the course are absolutely incredible!  There are a few small islands about ¼ mile off shore and pelicans are everywhere skimming along the top of breaking waves, surfing the updraft that is created.

When I raced in Hermosillo, Senora earlier in the year I did not bring any aero equipment and really regretted the decision.  I was not going to make that mistake again and although I was not about to travel here with 2 bikes I did bring clip-on aero bars, TT helmet and a disk wheel.  This is not as fast as my normal TT bike but it is much better than nothing!

Since the course was so short we had enough time in between our respective start times to pass my wheels around to a couple of the other guys on the team.  Most of them have never used a disk wheel and were really fired up just to get the chance to ride one.

Just before I started it was nice to see a familiar face in the crowd, Jesus Zarate (ex-Mercury rider).  He is now racing for the Equipo Chocolate-Mayordomo, a Mexican candy bar manufacturer.  He is such a good guy, not to mention incredible rider, I was glad to see that he is doing well and still stomping it on the bike.

My race went OK; I am still trying to figure out how to ride a good TT, some day I will get it right.  I started out a little too hard and was really paying the price by about the ½ way mark.  I managed to recover, catch my minuteman and finish strong with a time of 5:18, about 10 seconds off the podium.  This has put me in 12th place GC but by gaining only 5 seconds I would be able to move into the top 5.

May 28, 2003: Wednesday

Etapa 2

We have set up an agreement with a tiny restaurant that is just around the corner from our hotel called Palapa (a palapa is a traditional wood and palm roof that is common on many buildings).  The food that we are getting is hand made by a family for us; our OJ is even freshly squeezed!  They are cooking all of our meals and the team will pay for them at the end of the trip, 30 pesos per rider per meal  (which is about $3).  It is so cool that they are not worried about us skipping town without paying and it is interesting that no one other than Joby and myself think that it is a little bit odd.  I think that it has something to do with the amount of respect that people generally seem to have for each other here or possibly the lack of respect that many have in “the North”...

This morning after breakfast we put in our dinner order for after the race, this way the food will be all prepared when we walk in at 6 o’clock.

Today’s race was a 115k-road race that is a rolling out-and-back course that heads north out of Mazatlan along the ocean and then back south along the same road.  Our plan was to set up the lead-out train 2k from the finish and have me go for the stage win.  An added bonus of the stage win is that with any time bonus I could move up in the GC… that was the plan anyway.

 The racing was good with plenty of attacks coming whenever the pace dropped below 25mph.  The only negative to the racing is that the Mexican powerhouse, Equipo Tecos-Mercurio has 15 guys entered in the race and they have the horsepower to chase down any move that they are not completely happy with.

About an hour into the race, with the pace holding a steady 30mph in the gutter I managed to hit one of the worlds biggest topes (those little turtle like reflectors on the side of the road) and got a rear flat.  I thought that our team car was in the caravan but they had stopped to help someone else out and I had to sit on the side of the road for over 5 minutes before they finally came along to give me a wheel change.

The big bummer was that one of the commissars stopped with me and would not allow our driver, Santiago Lopez, to pace me back up to the pack.  It was early in the race and with 65 miles left to race I was super worried not only about not getting back to the pack but about missing the time cut as well. 

I put my head down and ITTed as fast as I could and even though I was keeping my speed up around 30mph I was still losing time on the field.  After an hour of only closing 2-minutes, one of the support vehicles came by and gave me a short but super fast tow, although it was not for too long it was enough to get me motivated to go hard again.

This was one of the scariest tows I have ever gotten (…uh…not that I have ever been towed before).  I was holding onto the open window of the passenger side door and the driver put the hammer down.  We were ripping along at 55mph and I was praying that I was not going to end up under the truck instead of next to it.  To stop my bike from wobbling I pinched the top tube between my legs and was holding onto the bar on for dear life.  It was 95 degrees out and 100% humidity I was completely covered in sweat and my knees kept slipping around on the top tube.  I was too concerned with making up time so I dared not chicken out and let go.

After about a minute we started to catch some riders who were dropped and the driver motioned for me to let go of the door.  The main peloton was still a way up the road but catching riders was good for my motivation and I continued to drive it along.

I passed bunches of little Mexican riders who were not able to hang on to the field in the crosswind and some jumped on my wheel for a free ride home.  By the time we reached the META (finish) I had passed about 35 riders and finished in a groupetto of at least 15.  My hopes of moving up on the GC have gone right out the window but my teammate David Solomon from CD Obregon in Senora finished 2nd on the day and has moved up to 3rd overall.  Since I finished so far down today I now have the freedom to go on the attack and I may not get chased, we’ll see tomorrow.

May 29, 2003: Wednesday

Etapa 3

Today was a point-to-point road race that started 125k north of Mazatlan and came straight down along the coast with the last half of the race being on the same course that we raced yesterday.  The race started with 9 neutral laps around the town square, just to give the people who lived in the town a little show.

On the last of our parade laps I managed to hit a pothole and once again immediately flatted.  I cut the course to where the car was parked and after getting a quick change from our mechanic and with only having to chase for 1k I regained contact with the field.  I was worried about flatting again and did not want to have another day like yesterday.

With a stiff side/headwind coming off the ocean, whenever the pace picked up the field would go single-file along a cement barrier that separated the highway.  The barrier was a challenge in and of itself.  The cement portion was about 3 feet high with a thick fencing which stood another 3 feet on top of that.  The wall was not the only problem; every so often the fence was broken and hanging out into the road.  There were a few occasions where my knuckles were actually hitting the fencing; needless to say I was a little nervous about it.

About ½ way into the race one of the riders on Equipo Canel’s Turbo got a little too close to the cement wall and ended up sliding along it NASCAR style.  I was about 3 bikes behind watching the sparks coming off of his left pedal as wondering if he was losing skin on his hands as his bars also scraped along the cement.  This guy must have some fantastic karma because he managed to push off the wall, right himself and not fall or take anyone else down, although he did get an earful from everyone around him.

Once again the racing was very aggressive and I managed to get into the only break of the day but even we only managed to stay away for 20 minutes.  Equipo Tecos-Mercurio were more content to send most of their 15 riders to the front and they just rode a hard tempo all day.  The final 20k were very fast and the lead group was whittled down to about 25.  I was sitting on Jobey with David on my wheel doing the whole bar-banging routine trying to stay up at the front.

With 3k to go, 2 guys attacked and got a small gap on us; we were caught off guard and Jobey was forced to chase them down.  We caught them with 2k to go but Joby had burned all his matches.  Immediately two more Tecos riders jumped but I was ready for them and slipped in 3rd wheel with David still glued to mine.  We were place perfectly but the first guy ran out of gas and his teammate wouldn’t take over since we were still over 1k out.

David got a bit anxious and I was getting boxed in and our lead-out train completely fell apart.  David was trying to sprint from a k out and I was getting swarmed from every direction.  In retrospect I should have put the hammer down as soon as the first guy cracked but my hesitation killed our chances; live and learn I guess.

I am a little nervous for tomorrow, it is a long day that finishes with a 20-mile climb and the last 4 miles are supposedly heinous.  Hopefully I will get in a small early move that gives us a nice gap before we start going up; it never hurts to dream.

May 30, 2003: Thursday

Etapa 4

Today was one of the more difficult rides that I have done in a while.  The race was only 80 miles with a big climb at the end.  I thought that it would be no problem hanging in and at the base of the climb help get David into a good position and then spin my way on in to the finish in the groupetto.  Rarely do things pan out as planned.

The race ended up being slightly up hill all the way with the last 2/3 turning into what felt like a death-march.  There were the normal attacks that started up just after the neutral zone ended.  I even went on the move a few times but I quickly figured out that the only way people were going to get out of the peloton was out the back.

About 20 miles in we hit the first of 3 “starter climbs” that were all about 3k long, one right after another and insanely hard.  I positioned myself at the front about 7 wheels back for each, where I would not have to worry about people gapping or surging.  This worked out well, I had to climb hard but I did not have too much trouble holding the wheel in front of me.  By the top of the 2nd climb the main field was becoming much smaller and the attacks completely stopped, guys were starting to get tired, scared or both.

My main problem today (other than I am not a great climber) is that I had no idea what the course was like, how long the climbs were or where the META was.  By the top of the main climb, which was over 20 miles long and you had to climb in your 2 easiest gears, I was solamente, riding in no man's land.  I was about 90 seconds behind the second group on the road and there was no one in sight behind me.  I like to think of this situation as being one of the weaker climbers.

I say this because there are the pure climbers (of which there were about 10) who were riding for the win and who were also way up the road.  Then there is the 2nd group (of which there were about 15) who are good climbers but are not strong enough to ride for the win, this is the group that I am about 30-watts shy of being able to ride in.  On the plus side there were a ton of guys who were farther behind me than I was from the leaders (did that make any sense?).

When I reached the top of the main climb there were some guys on the side of the road cheering and I yelled at them “Cuantos kilometros?” referring to the finish and they answered, “Venga, venga, un poquito mas” (go, go only a little more).  I then passed another rider who basically said the same thing.  On a side note, Jobey and I are the only Americans here and we must stand out something fierce (or word has gotten out about us) because almost everyone talks to us very slowly and very loudly in Spanish.  Not that that is much help to me because my Spanish is atrocious no matter how slow you talk to me.

The finish ended up being at the top of the NEXT 5-mile climb.  When I was descending down from the main climb I was certain that I had somehow missed the finish but I finally saw part of the caravan about 10 switchbacks up the road.  When I was about 5k from the top a police officer decided that he was going to be my personal escort up to the finish.  He was just chatting away to me out of his passenger window, I had no idea what he was talking about but I just smiled and every once and I while I would say “como?” (what?) and he would repeat whatever he had just said and then continue on.  I guess that he thought that I was just too winded to talk back.

3k from the finish we passed by a huge group of school children who were begging for our empty water bottles, they were all chanting “botalo, botalo, botalo.”  I was completely out of water so I tossed a bottle on the ground near them, what a mistake that was!  I was swarmed Tour de France style from all sides.  The kids did not care if I ran them over; they only wanted the coveted bottle.

I finally finished and got the scoop of what happened in the race.  David had a great ride and finished 5th on the day and managed to get himself into the leader's jersey by a slim yet comfortable 30 seconds.  This means that our work is cut out for us tomorrow, we need to keep the field together or have David in the break.  As long as he finishes with the front group we will be able to win the overall.

May 31 2003: Saturday

Etapa 5

Toady was the day of truth for us and we went in feeling confident that we could defend the leader's jersey.  With only 5 guys within striking distance we knew what we had to do to keep the jersey.  The course was a 3k hotdog out-and-back loop along the main boulevard that parallels the ocean.  The field was sure to break up from the stiff side wind and the yo-yo effect that was sure to happen at each turnaround.

Our team was very attentive straight from the start; I think that everyone was a little overanxious to help out.  I was only following the moves that had one of the 5 danger men while some of the other guys were chasing down anything that got a gap on the field.  There is nothing wrong with this except that they were burning up valuable matches that they might need later on in the race.

Again the race was packed with attacks and I was just trying to keep myself near the front.  Then the worst-case scenario for us happened.  The group was in the gutter and we were absolutely flying along, it was everything I had to just hold the wheel in front of me (and I was 3rd wheel!).  After 2 laps I found myself in a select group of 6 that contained 4 of the 5 danger men and our GC man, David, missed the move.

I sat on the back of the group, not working, waiting for the team to bring our group back or bridge David up.  A few laps later we had established a good gap on everyone and David was without any teammates and was losing ground fast.  This was a tough spot for me to be in.  Since I had David chasing I was not obligated to do any work in the group, which meant that I had a free ride to the finish.  I was also feeling great and knew that I had a great chance to win the stage.

The team was calling for me to drop back to try and help David but I knew that there was no way we were going to bring the break back.  I managed to swallow my pride, be the team player and sat up to help him out.  He was over 1-minute back and 2 groups behind us.  When they caught me I pulled for 2 laps as hard as I could and then tried to sit in and take a break but no one was willing (or able) to help and David was too wasted to work.  I kept pulling and we caught the second group on the road but we were not taking any time back on the lead group.

In the end we finished over 1-minute behind the lead group and David dropped to 5th on GC.  Everyone was a bummed out but I think it was a good learning experience for everyone.  In hindsight maybe I should have just sat on the lead group, David would have still gotten 5th but we may have gotten the stage win as well.

All in all it was great racing, and the guys on Equipo VH-Norson/Tecate Light are great.  There has already been some talk about them coming and doing some racing in the US and of us possibly coming back to do some more racing here.

If anyone is able to make it down to Mazatlan in the near future, be sure to visit Pura Vita for the best mango smoothie you have ever had, go to Joe's Oyster Bar on a Saturday night for dancing until 4am and be sure to eat all of your meals at Palapa’s, it is the best $3 you will ever spend.

Vatos Locos Forever,

Chuck


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