Below is a race update from Payson McElveen, Sweet Elite team member and student up at Fort Lewis College. Himself and Tristan Uhl were invited by the UCI to represent the USA at a stage race in Puerto Rico this past weekend. They won! Check out his day 1 report below.
Well, that was something else. After a 5:30 AM wake-up, we rolled over to the start at 6:30ish, surprisingly in bright sunlight. The sun rises early here! We got plenty of looks at the start area, but everyone was very friendly. Tristan and I started 17th, meaning we had 16 other duo teams somewhere up the course ahead of us, and 20-30 more behind us. I think we were both excited to get things underway, and started up the first paved climb pretty hard. We caught all but one of the other teams in the first 25 minutes, but I was having some pretty good stomach issues and we had to slow down a bit for me. About 1.5 hours in or so we hit the most insane climb I’ve ever ridden. It was “paved”, with cement, but had deep texturing presumably so it was drivable… I have no idea what kind of vehicle could make it up or down though… other than mountain bikes of course! It had an average grade over 25% for about 10 minutes of climbing, and sections touched 40%. Near the top I got a sudden, urgent message from my bowels that they needed to be emptied. I quickly spotted some big, soft leaves, and did the biz. It made all the difference, and from then on we were able to go race pace. The remainder of our ride went well, considering the circumstances. The amount of steep climbing reminded me of the Val di Sole World Cup course, only there was far more of it here. Most of the descents were extremely steep dirt clay trenches, that usually had an icy-slick layer of green algae growing on them. Something happened to my front brake during the flight here too, so I really only had a rear brake to work with. That made things that little bit more interesting. I definitely overcooked a few tight turns on road descents, and ended up in the ditch a couple times. Tristan and I both fell once, but bikes and bodies were okay. Tristan also flatted on a bit of trash early on, but fixed it in 1:30 flat… he’s a professional mechanic too. We eventually passed the first placed team on the road, who’d started 15 minutes ahead of us.
It seemed as though we gradually made our way to the very top of the island, where in fact the palm trees gave way to a few pine trees. At one of the highest points, there was a restaurant/bar, clean and brightly painted, overlooking the surrounding hills and ocean. It looked like it could be quite the tourist attraction, had the roads to it been more drivable. It was pretty wild getting a peek into the lives of the locals. Most live in small shacks in very, very rural areas… and all have chickens and dogs. It seemed like one would have to be pretty self-sufficient to live in such isolated places. Most were also blasting music, and sipping cervezas. A very different way of life in general. Some would look at us blankly like we were aliens, others would shout words of encouragement. At each of the 5 or 6 checkpoints, I got a chance to try out my limited spanish, as we asked about the course ahead. Always it was a wry smile and” Muy duro. Muy, muy duro.” And it was. Many of the climbs and descents were either too steep or too loose to ride, so we ended up hiking for nearly an hour total. As the hours past, the temperature rose, and we came to look forward to the river crossings. For one section near the end, the course followed the river for quite a ways, and we had to hike, bikes on our backs, through knee-deep water. At one point Tristan just dove all the way in. We’ve decided to take our phones tomorrow, so we can get some pictures.
We’re getting treated really well by the Puerto Rican cycling federation, too. The VP himself, Fernando, was kind enough to take my bike to the local bike shop to get the front brake fixed.
When it was all said and done, we ended up with a little under 40 miles in 3 hours and 20ish minutes of moving time, over 6,000 feet of climbing, and a demoralizing 10.8 mph average speed. I felt stronger as we went, and went through plenty of Honey Stinger and Tailwind. The longer, tougher, and more foreign the circumstances, the more thankful I am for that reliable nutrition! Supposedly tomorrow is “easier”, but I’ll believe it when I see it.