Bernard Kocis

Vuelta Chihuahua, 08 season’s swan song

For those who haven’t experienced a UCI race in Mexico, you are in for a nice surprise. Whether it’s a track event or a road event, organizers have a good handle on providing a good experience for all participants.

For Team RACE Pro, the Vuelta Chihuahua was the final event for our 08 season. But….we did wonder if the boys would be able to maintain racing fitness over the weeks since Univest…have to admit, they were in good form and raced well.

Most of the team assembled in Toronto with a transfer in Dallas where we met our swannie for the event, Benny, who works for one of the BIG teams but was able to gig with us. While we were going through US Customs from Toronto, I was interviewed by a Mexican-American officer who felt it was his duty to ask me what race we were doing in Mexico….3 times!! Each time I said ” Vuelta Chihuahua” (with an emphasis on the V). Finally, he corrected me and pronounced Vuelta with a ‘W’ which sounds line ‘Well-ta’. I guess my extremely poor pronunciation provoked his response and correction. Kind of funny, at first I thought I was going to be pulled out for secondary questioning and search, but it was just a diction lesson!!
From DFW we hopped on a prop puddle jumper to the Chihuahua airport. Cruising through Customs brought us into a warm, dry and high (altitude…easy now) morning in Mexico. A stake bed truck and limo bus were waiting to wisk us through the countryside to our accommodations. The hotel had a banquet room waiting for the teams to fill with bikes, bags, boxes, wheels, tools, drinks, food, etc. Which we did.
They also cleared the outside patio and installed temporary water hook-ups for the mechanics, including lengths of hose (which was good news for me as I did not pack our hose to keep excess baggage to a minimum). Thankfully, this happened at each hotel!

Teams were provided with 2 cars and a passenger van. We were lucky to be given 3 vehicles that worked every time we turned a key. This was apparently not guaranteed for all vehicles as we helped jump start several cars at the race caravan parking. Most of these cars have seen better days and ours was no exception. Paint peeling from the bumper, dents and dent repair pocking the exterior and a surprise realization…we had no rear-view mirror on the interior!
We eventually found one in an auto parts shop and installed it for less than $6.00 USD. Now I can sleep instead of looking out the rear window and doing a running commentary on the riders, cars and officials coming from behind.

Racing went off on time and in good weather, for the most part. A bit of rain happened overnight once which left unwelcome puddles that, of course, were directly in the racing line…good thing hoses were available!

Speaking of racing, the terrain was unbelievable. We were racing from 1400m to 3000m through high valleys, mesas, deserts and mountains with climbs that were snapping legs daily…and the descents were doing damage to bodies and bikes. Our youngest rider went to the edge, quite literally. On a fast dangerous descent, he attempted to avoid a rider in full wheel lock which sent him rocketing through the rock strewn shoulder clipping his crank/pedal on a rock flipping him over the bars and tumbling to an eventual stop, just inches (really!!) from a 30 foot drop!! If his adrenaline wasn’t fully pumping from the crash, once he looked at where he stopped, it was full gas then! Among the usual damage you would expect, he managed to bend the pedal axle, that was a first for me. At the same time, another of our team was exploring the bottom of the same cliff as he was forced off further down the road. He was much less damaged and his bike still ridable.

A few of us mechanics had a daily search and running auction for tubular glue, promising anything and everything to be able to stick new tires for the following day. (fyi, flying with tubular glue is illegal and subject to monetary fines and jail time, of course, no one does this)

Then we come to the point where riders, management and other staff begin to exhibit signs of discomfort and tendency to hoard toilet paper…yes, Montezuma’s revenge made it’s way into our team hitting our DS first. On one stage we stopped for a nature break and I ended up driving the remainder of the stage while he went through fever chills in the back. We didn’t see him for 16 hours, but he rebounded and carried on in his usual good nature. While the rest of us were re-enacting the same thing many times a day (this is where TP hoarding comes in) which carried on well after we returned to our respective homes.

Despite the challenges, the race was well done and well received by riders and staff alike. It is a hard race. One I would like to do again.