Our second day in Trinidad & Tobago started…early.
The first stage, a prologue of sorts up a “1km” (closer to 700m) hill in the coastal oil refinery city of San Fernando had a listed 7 AM start. This necessitated a 5 AM bus ride from Port of Spain down the highway, leading to a lot of groggy bike racers. Compounding the predawn stupor was a glancing blow from Tropical Storm Isaac, leading to occasional torrential rainfall throughout the night and morning. What made for a mesmerizing white noise concerto during slumber morphed into an annoyance on the bike and in the bus.
Bikes were loaded onto flatbeds like freshly caught fish at the docks (thankfully Roger has been shuttling mine/Cesar’s Pinas in his car), and we were off. The prologue course was very wet and fairly steep. Luckily, I’d had the foresight of mounting some Vittoria Paves in the States before flying down - phenomenal shit condition tires. Experiencing Trinitime again, the stage didn’t get rolling until about 8, and start times were something of a fluid beast - all I knew was that I was 33rd in line to go. The race came and went. Short, intense efforts have never been my specialty, and I finished 30th, clocking somewhere around a 2:20, about 20 seconds off the lead. The road was pitched and soaked enough that any sort of acceleration out of the saddle made for a spinning rear wheel. Cesar nabbed 11th, and our other Colombian, Jaime pinned a 4th place finish as well as the U23 leader jersey, putting us in good position coming into the evening’s criterium. The finish would’ve given up a nice view up the coast to Port of Spain, but Isaac had other plans.
The evening would serve up a boulevard U-turn criterium in San Fernando, but first we had a 12-hour chunk of time to burn. We rolled through town towards the hotel where we’d spend the day, conveniently located up the street from the friendly neighborhood arms dealer. Sometimes (rarely) I value my life, so I left the camera stashed when the temptation arose to snap a photo of aforementioned establishment. The hotel was warm. And by warm, I mean “slightly cooler than a sauna”. The aroma of rotting garbage in the lobby, coincidentally the only location with a WiFi signal, made for an interrupted day of VERY important (oh, wait) Facebook and Skype use. Our German teammates took to calling our six-bunk room Guantanamo (bonus seatless toilet for ease of use). I thought about finding a battery and some jumper cables for a truly tasteless impromptu photoshoot, but Cesar and I decided to take a trip to the local supermarket.
Detour: The beverage selection. Fruit-flavored soda is popular, a la Fanta, as are more earthy selections. Like the pictured Mauby Fizz. I’m going to go out on a limb and call it an acquired taste, because I find it pretty damned revolting (which is fairly appalling, given my garbage disposal-like eating habits). The flavor is something like carbonated Jagermeister that’s had a cedar plank steeped in it for a few months with a solid helping of emulsified dirt. Anyway, I look forward to trying the coconuts and cane juice from the street vendors, because the soft drinks in bottles haven’t been anything to shake a stick at yet. Coffee is decidedly an afterthought. There’s a few knockoff Starbucks, but it seems like brown water and powdered instant stuff is the norm here, the latter of which is sufficient for the 9 PM criterium stimulant bender that’s been necessary. Beer is on the spendy side, but the island-style lagers are tasty, and Guinness Foreign Extra is amazing. It’s like a standard Guinness you’d buy in the States, but actually good - and 7.5% ABV. Akin to a solid imperial stout, but without the massive body, making it way too drinkable. Horny Goat Weed wine…I might give it a try when I need to feel extra virulent or something. Maybe. Instead, it was good for a laugh at the grocery.
12 hours, several cups of coffee, a couple beers, a few waterboarding sessions and approximately 47 photos with a crew of Nigerian refinery works who were stoked on us being in their hotel later, we cruised to the crit course. A fairly basic setup - 1.5kish long down a divided highway with a U-turn at each end. Our shredtime was pegged at an hour plus two laps, so nothing too hairy compared to what I’ve been subjected to this year. The race was fairly mellow, though a small break went up the road late in the race with Henner, one of our Germans, ending up third out of the sprint and putting around ten seconds on the field.
So it goes. On tomorrow’s episode, Cesar and I go on a downtown Port of Spain adventure, I discover bliss in spicy chickpeas coupled with fried dough, I get chastised by a 17 year-old, and we almost get crashed out by a boat - during a race.