Things got hairy. With shortened and canceled stages on Tobago, race direction thought adding a mild Cat 3 climb to our first foray upon return to Trinidad would be something akin to a concession prize.
The bike had other plans. As the peloton rounded the Queen’s Park Savannah, its stem began swinging wildly around the steerer without any regard for its pilot’s desired trajectory. Back through the caravan, seeking assistance in the form of a four-mil hex key. Shock or chagrin on my part was absent when the hunt for the key became akin to a search for the Fountain of Youth - after all, this was Trinidad. Grinning, I fell off the back, gingerly navigating the Dogma up the switchbacks of Lady Young Road, losing time by the seconds, then minutes. One of the team cars was going on a quest for the Holy Allen Key, and would return to my position when it was unearthed.
As the sag ambulance ripped past, I contemplated my fate riding stag in traffic with a broken stem. Not dwelling on the some twenty-minute gap that had been opened between myself and the tail of the peloton, I laughed about an encounter on Tobago two nights prior. Cesar and I were (wisely) investing in some essentials (note: beer). Ensnared in friendly conversation with some locals outside the market, we started chatting cycling. Not only was the Lance an unknown to them, they were huge Cuban Missile (their verbiage) fans: The one and only Ivan Dominguez, whom I’d had the chance to race with at San Dimas and Speedweek previously.
The blaring of the team’s shitty Mitsu’s horn awoke me from my 300-watt daydream, and I could sense the wagon careening up the road towards me at a perilous rate of speed. In the blink of an eye, I was rolling whole again. The sag ambulance reappeared on the roadway, as if delivered by a reset button in a video game. I soon found myself motor pacing a Red Cross ambulance at 70KPH, until the traffic got to the point of overwhelming. The timegap was estimated at 30 minutes, and I was alone on a six-lane highway. And smiling.
The other team car took pity, and dropped back in a vain attempt to assist the day’s runt back to the field. When using vain, it isn’t meant disparagingly…but poor Ronnie couldn’t figure out the mechanics behind motor pacing to save his own life. I grew tired of whiplash accelerations/random braking, and instructed the valiant assistant director that I’d be better off in the wind.
I settled in for the long chase, staring down at the Joule computer to keep me apprised of how much pain to self-inflict. The kilometers ticked away, and the sky threatened as I plied south into the wind, rocketing past a few of the unfortunate dropped. Ronnie shouted something about the gap coming down from the car, now driving parallell to my position. As is Tour of T&T tradition, the skies opened almost as soon as the route headed off the highway onto narrow roads. Waves of the most intense precipitation I’d ever seen smothered like a warm down comforter. The course rolled through oil refineries with brief wall after wall, every descent slick as if it were a greased cookie sheet. Traffic. A shit-eating grin appeared as I knifed through the stopped cars and trucks like the bike messenger I once was.
The road parallelled the sea, and I was met by a pair of our motorcycle club escort who did their best at keeping me from getting flattened by errant oil trucks. My gratitude was short lived, as water levels on parts of the road crept upwards, forcing dexterous maneuvering through oncoming traffic. The course tilted skyward for a few hundred meters, bringing me out of the dregs of the waterlogged asphalt. A shout from one of the motorbikes vaguely sounded like “TWO MINUTES!”. Invigorated by the news, I opened the throttle through my waterlogged shoes and plowed forward. The odometer read 80km.
Again, traffic. Again, weaving. But this was different. This traffic wasn’t even moving. In a matter of seconds, I found myself in the race caravan, and discovered why it had stopped. The road ahead had taken a meter-deep bath, littered with stalled vehicles and rubberneckers. Yet, there were no cyclists to be found - a cursory conversation with a commissaire confirmed my amused suspicion: The race had continued. I splashed on, smiling. Riding through water, as it turns out, is a lot like riding through air. Except harder.
I emerged from the floodwaters in about 500m, finding the entire peloton throwing down its best “drowned rat” pose in the parking lot of a car audio shop. While we’d all likely gotten dysentery and/or tapeworms, the mood was nothing short of positive. At this point, the race had become anecdotal to the biblical story of Job. Or the Plagues of Egypt. No one had died (yet), so there wasn’t much left to do but laugh. We grinned, joked, and slogged back to the caravan through the water.
The stage was nixed. My chase had been for nothing, on paper…but damn, it felt good.
While I was busy staying alive behind the race, one of my German teammates earned a DQ after verbally tussling with one of the motorbike cops. Not only that, but he managed to convince his countryman on our merry band of miscreants that continuing the race was fruitless. We were down to three: Myself (~2 minutes), Cesar (~30 seconds), and Jaime (~10 seconds).
To quote my favorite Colombian, “Holy sheeeeit.”
Two more days - and we were certain the next stage would bring an earthquake, a coup (staged by us), tsunami, plague of locusts, or mass cholera infection.