The road season officially ended two weeks ago for most of Southern California’s racers with the SoCal Cup Crit Finale in Dominguez Hills. For me, I thought the season was pretty much over except for a small time trial and a few weeknight track races in San Diego. But unexpectedly, and fortunately, I was approached by the Calimax Team of Baja California and asked to ride with them for some big late-season races in Mexico.
Mentally, it is very difficult to get ready for some races immediately after getting into the “off-season mindset”, but the idea of extending the racing season and doing it in a new country was too much to pass up and I forced myself back into racing mode with this great opportunity as my motivation. It also helped to know that I would be riding with the current Mexican TT Champ, Enrique Aldapa, and Mexican Olympian Hector Rangles as my teammates in what was considered one of the most difficult races in Mexico.
We flew out of Tijuana on Thursday night and landed in Morelia, Michoacan a few hours laters. After an hour drive through green jungle-like farmland we arrived in Zacapu, where the first race would be the next day.
They called the race a road race, but it was more like a 3 hour crit or circuit race. We raced 75 miles around a 2.5 mile long course that went up the main street of Zacapu and then looped around toward the outside of the city, sweeping left past a large arc similar to the France’s Arc de Triumph, only smaller and more rustic.
The whole town came out. The long finishing straight up the main street was lined with people. Some watching the race, some just eating the street food, others buying and selling at the market. Over 150 riders started the race including a few Mexican pros, the Mexican Road Champ of Jelly Belly, and even riders from Spain who ride for the Canal’s Turbo team. After a quick neutral lap the race was on and the attacks started. The pace was very fast. I managed to be on the front in the very beginning and helped to cover some moves, but with the altitude and the high speed it burned a lot of matches.
The course was crazy. People were all over the sides and at one point a stray dog ran through the front of the peloton, but fortunately did not cause any crashes. The roads were also harsh. There weren’t any major holes that would cause a crash or a blowout, but the constant bumping of the small-town roads were hard on the bike and on the hands and back. About a third of the way into the race I looked down and noticed that my handlebars were slightly off center. I don’t know if i forgot to tighten my stem bolts or of the harsh roads loosened them but every time time we completed a lap my handlebars would come a little bit more off center and I would have to straighten them by hitting my front wheel with my hand. I didn’t stop because I thought there were no free laps but then it started to rain, and after 30 minutes of riding around with the bars constantly moving to the side I decided to just stop at the Shimano tent and have them tightened. I saw another rider get a flat and jump back in so I figured I could do the same. Maybe I would be scored as a lap down, but at least I could help my teammates.
Unfortunately, a six man break, driven by two riders from Canal’s Turbo, had gotten away half way through the race and built up a sizable gap. With 8 laps to go I got into a chase group with my teammate Eder Frayre, and we put a big gap on the field, though we could still not see the lead group. After a while two riders bridged up, including my other teammate, Enrique Aldapa. I pulled one more time to help Enrique and Eder before pulling off with nothing left. I saw they had a good gap on the field as I drifted back and rejoined the main group. The pace got even quicker with only 3 laps to go and the chase group was eventually caught by the peloton, but the lead group was still off with a good gap. Unfortunately, we would be sprinting for 6th place but Enrique lead out Rangel very well to win the bunch sprint. Winning the bunch sprint was something, but knowing that we could have likely won the overall if the field was together was disappointing.
Fortunately, there was a race on Sunday as well and we could have another chance to go for the win. The race on Sunday was in a small town between Zacapu and Morelia called Villa Jimenez and it was a crit with two U-turns. We would ride out about 1.5 miles and then turn around on the same street to return to the finish line. The race started out very, very fast, with riders from the Canal’s Turbo team driving the pace and shedding riders early on. After about 45 minutes of racing a big split opened up in the field. The lead group contained both Enrique Aldapa and Hector Rangel, so it was a favorable split and me and Eder sat in the chase group and tried to cover anyone that bridged across. The pace of both groups was still very fast and only a couple riders were able to make the bridge, but the lead group continued to splinter and inside of 10 laps to go it was reduced to 5 riders with 2 from Calimax (Enrique and Rangel), Two riders from Canal’s Turbo, and a lone rider form another team. With 2 laps to go the lead group split once again with Rangel and the Canal’s rider making the split that would contest the win. Coming into the final U-turn before the finish line Rangel attacked and went into the last turn solo to gain enough time to celebrate the win ahead of the Canal’s rider. About a minute later came the next group, with the lone rider taking the final podium spot and Enrique Aldapa sprinting for 4th. About 2 minutes after that came what was left of the field, sprinting for 6th place.
It was a new and great experience racing in Mexico and to add more to the race season. I hope to keeping the racing going with track nationals at the end of the month and returning again with the Calimax team to race the Carrera Office Max in Mexico City and the Vuelta a Mexicali in October.