I’m not feeling very wordsmithy. It’s hard to express things creatively when my nerves are frayed. The racing here isn’t physically exhausting, but it requires a degree of mental resolve I haven’t experienced before.
It started nicely enough. Another night crit was on deck for the third stage, so Cesar and I took the day to go on a downtown Port of Spain adventure. After cruising around for an hour looking for a bakery, we ended up at the downtown square and Cesar’s gluten sense picked up the trail. A few cheesy pastries later and after telling multiple sketchy-looking inquiring locals our bikes cost $600TT (a little less than $100 US), we cruised down the square where I got distracted by the street food - par for the course. While a local college student chatted us up, I had my first experience with the local dish known as “Doubles”.
Doubles are pretty basic. Two pieces of cumin-flavored dough are pan fried, and some soft-curried chickpeas are slapped between them. Going rate on the street is between $.25-75 per, and it’s about as much food as three street tacos in the US. Filling and delicious, a wonderful curry-cumin assault on the senses. Apparently there’s lots of different varieties…I intend to try a few more while I’m here.
The square was soaked up for another few minutes, and we ripped through traffic back home. The race in the evening was held around the Queen’s Park Savannah, essentially a massive grass field surrounded by what the Triniboganians claim is the “World’s Largest Roundabout” near downtown Port of Spain. Start time was set for 8 PM, but…this is Trinidad.
We sat around for two hours waiting for the start. I regretted leaving my camera in the room. The police plodded to close the inner two lanes of the road for the race while our legs cooled, and our guts rumbled with hunger. Meanwhile, the TTCF took its time to get things rolling with the eccentric announcer making bizarre jokes as the amateur racers completed single-lap contests around the 5km course. I was skeptical, to say the least - our protection from the outer lane of thick traffic was a line of intermittent cones about the size of a large Big Gulp cup. In the dark.
Racing started, and my fears were confirmed. This was going to be much like the Speedweek shenanigans I’d encountered in the spring. Guys with no place contesting the GC for the race were riding like men possessed, chopping every corner with little regard for themselves or others. A good chop by a Jamaican sent me into one of the aforementioned cones, but after locking up both wheels and sliding for a meter or two, I managed to keep things upright. We were screaming along at almost 40mph on the straightaways with a few guys ripping outside the cones to advance, and the corners were jam-packed with so much divebombing you’d think it was Pearl Harbor.
The danger intensified as random cars wandered onto the course. There was the occasional fender intrusion, but the true crescendo of insanity was encountering a 40-foot boat on a trailer exiting one of the last turns. Had it been a mere twenty meters back, a massive pile-up would have ensued. We were lucky. Emile Abraham, sitting in first, had his crew at the nose of the race. As the sprint went off on the last lap, I sat back and let the fireworks go - no sense in going for a hospital trip on the second day of racing. All of our guys stayed upright, a success in my book.
We rolled back to the hotel moderately shellshocked, but figured the day after (our first road race) would be a much safer affair, as they typically are - and in the daylight. How very, very wrong we were.