Team Predator riders Sergio Hernandez (USA), Cesar Grajales (Columbia), Emile Abraham (Trinidad) teamed up with Agustin Font from Puerto Rico to race the La Vuelta a la Independencia Nacional as Team Predator / Puerto Rico. La Vuelta a la Independencia Nacional is held in the Dominican Republic from February 20-27 and consisted of 9 stages over 961 kilometers. La Vuelta a la Independencia Nacional has been part of the UCI America Tour since the 2008 edition. Team Predator’s, Sergio Hernandez shares his experience on racing La Vuelta a la Independencia Nacional.
Etapa 2 Santo Domingo-Las Terrenas – 151 kms
Stage 2 was a fast and furious one, because of the big Dominican riders missing the winning break and deciding move of the Vuelta on Stage 1 many riders were looking for blood and a stage win. The first 80 km where relentless attacks with breaks coming and going, the field seemed not to be satisfied with any breaks going up the road until the 80th kilometer. Emile Abraham made the first significant break which got a healthy lead on the peloton.
The field seemed content but there is always someone to spoil the party and a rider shot out the field. Behind him there were 3 more riders, but one happened to be a GC rider. I was positioned right in the middle of the field so I had to shove my way out and launch a move to get across.
Getting across with 2 other riders I decided to sit on and not help them get across to Emile. Out of no where 2 more GC guys got across which was really bad and eventually my group got to Emile’s group and a large group was off the front without our GC rider Cesar.
Coming up to the large climb of the day the break started disintegrating and I did my best to hold on. I was the last rider to get dropped over the climb with 3 riders getting away. Bruno from the Quebec team managed stay away to the finished with 2 others and took the yellow jersey 2 minutes ahead of the field.
Etapa 3 Samana-Sánchez-Arenoso-San Francisco-Salcedo – 136 kms.
Stage 3 was set out to be a difficult one from the start with a huge climb coming with only a kilometer into the race. The roads in the Dominican Republic aren’t necessarily in mint condition and I was lucky enough to hit one of the many man holes sprinkled across the countries roads. Boom, I get a flat at the base of the climb and the race disappears as I got a wheel change.
The worst thing you could do in that situation is panic so I laughed it off and jumped on my bike and I was off. I began a steady pace and slowly turned it into a time trial pace. I told myself the yellow jersey’s team would take control of the race over the top of the climb and that I would be back in no time to keep motivated with my chase effort. The field was completely blown apart as I made my way threw many small groups. Eventually, I got across to Emile’s and Franco’s group as we managed to get across to the front group.
At that point a group of 5 was off the front and the Yellow Jersey team had taken control. The remainder of the race was pretty boring except riding through the towns along the way where it looked like bombs would go off do to the huge pot holes with riders hitting the deck every time. The place to be was on the front right behind the chasers, so thats where “Team Predator Puerto Rico” placed its self the entire day. We managed to stay off the ground and the break managed to stay away till the 3rd kilometer and the day was done. No changes where made in the Overall.
Etapa 4 Circuito Monumental. Santiago. 104 kms.
Going into a tough Circuit on the streets of Santiago, I was feeling pretty confident with Cesar in 5th overall and myself in 7th. The pace of the race was at a decent pace, but the heat was really taking it’s toll on the peloton as it began to disintegrate. The field sensed the pace of the Quebec team controlling the race start to slow and the attacks began. The race was on and the gaps were opening. As I began to jump around a rider to get across a gap I hit a pot hole and boom I went flat.
Franco saw when I punctured and pulled over and quickly gave up his front wheel for me. Unfortunately, it was in vain because I was unable to connect with the front group. More bad luck in the stage when Cesar’s group got countered and a group finish ahead with a few GC riders. I lost 8 minutes and got bumped to 25th place on GC and Cesar lost a spot into 6th in GC.
Etapa 5 Moca-La Vega-Jarabacoa-Constanza – 92 kms.
Stage 5 was the Queen Stage of La Vuelta with the 75% of the stage going up towards the clouds. The legs where getting tired around the peloton as the attacks were at a minimum with a small group easily getting off the front with Emile. When the main climb came into sight, the pace picked up and the break was quickly absorbed. I hung on as long as I could, but just didn’t have the legs to stay with the front group with Cesar.
As I was going backwards, I was surprised to see the Yellow Jersey in my group with his team mate trying to pace him back. At that time I kept noticing my foot slipping on the pedal. I had lost a couple of bolts in my cleat and dropped again. More bad luck had come my way and I had to pull over for some mechanical help. A team car pulled over and helped me tighten the one bolt and I some how managed to finished the stage.
Up the road 3 mountain goat Colombians got away from the front group. The 3 managed to finished 8 minutes ahead. One of the 3 was a GC rider and took the Yellow Jersey from Bruno at the end of the day. Cesar managed to defend his 6th in GC.
Etapa 6 A Bonao-Villa Altagracia-Santo Domingo – 79 kms.
Stage 6 was one of two stages on the day which was set out to be a short but fast stage with big rollers throughout the course. The first 20 kilometers were full of attacks until a break finally got away with myself in the move. With a GC rider in the pack I had the luxury of sitting on but with that I was unwanted company along with another rider on the Quebec team. The finish came fast and the cat and mouse game was on.
The Costa Rican team was the only team with 2 riders in the break and they played to finish to perfection with a counter with 3 Kilometer to go. I finally made the choice to chase him or lose the race. Closing on him fast and the rest of the break close on my heels the finish line came too soon and had to settle for 2nd place on the day with the peloton caming in a few minutes later. Unfortunately, the break had a GC rider and Cesar lost a spot on GC putting him 7th overall.
Etapa 6 B Contra Reloj Individual (Mirador Sur) – 20 kms.
The second stage of the day was a 20 Kilometer Time Trial, a 2 lap course relatively flat. Cesar had a good time trial with a 7th place. The GC standings were pretty much unchanged.
Etapa 7 San Cristóbal-Bani-Azua-Bani – 137 kms.
Stage 7 was most likely the last chance for any team to change the overall standing, but with a few teams content with where the standings stood, the race was very controlled with moves quickly being brought back all day. A small group of 5 riders with no threat to the overall did manage to slip away just before the last climb and survive to the finish.
The field came in a little over a minute behind. No GC changes were made. The Finish into Bani was the craziest finished I had ever seen for the record, with 4 speed bumps, 4 turns, 2 angled gutters and giant pot holes all over and this all in the last kilometer. I thought the sprint finish was more of a booby trap than anything, only In Latin America will you ever get those finishes! ha ha!
Etapa 8 Circuito Jardín Botánico – 96 kms.
The last day of La Vuelta was around a park in down town Santo Domingo with a couple of steep pitches and of course more pot holes. The day was full of attacks but “Team Predator Puerto Rico” never missed a beat with myself and Franco covering the early attacks as Cesar and Emile kept an eye on the GC riders. A few major splits happen in the field but the team did a great job keeping Cesar where he needed to be at all times.
Toward the end I was leading out Emile for the finish but unfortunately we lost each other in the last 2 Kilometers. I was pretty tapped so I decide to keep the pace high and just lead out the field to keep it safe.
Cesar finish 7th Overall respectively in a race that was much harder than expected. The pace was high everyday and the quality of the field was very good. We had some bad luck along the way, but for the first race of the season I’d say it was a successful one. None of the guys crashed in the 7 days of racing which was a victory in its self considering racing on the most dangerous roads I’ve ever raced on. Besides the roads this was a unbelievably fun race and I really would love to come back year after year. If your looking for an adventure and good racing “La Vuelta Indepencia Rebulica Dominicana” is the place to be.
Thanks for reading.
By Sergio Hernandez, Team Predator