Red hot Chile

Last I wrote we were in the midst of three "easy" days, flat stages of under 150km each. Without the...

9th Vuelta Lider al sur Chile

Stage 10 - February 19: Curicó-Maitén; Stage 11 - February 20: Circuit in Santiago

Last I wrote we were in the midst of three "easy" days, flat stages of under 150km each. Without the power of Gord, Ivan, Greg or Tyler to work for, we tried our best each day to make the breaks. None stuck, and we were locked out of the podium. Team Lider lined it out for the sprinting prowess of the race leader, Edgardo Simon, while Arturo Corvallan (team Ace) managed to freelance his way to stage win after stage win.

The meals run together, starter of tomatoes and lettuce, main of pasta and beef, beef and pasta, chicken and rice, rice and chicken, postre of fruit or if we're really lucky, a couple melted scoops of ice cream. We crack and go to a mom & pop pizza restaurant (very good) one night. The next night our beautiful hotel is actually built atop a Dominos Pizza, and again we can't resist. The huge capital city of Santiago has every culinary taste in the world, but we are not there and the food is provided by the race under a meal plan, which emphasizes quality and quantity over variety.

This is the sleep deprivation tour. The one night we have a hotel in the country on a waterfall, I think yeah! Here is a chance to sleep deep with nothing but the distant roar of water as white noise. The mosquitoes put an end to that hope. None of our rooms have air, and we sleep in shorts atop the sheets hoping for some breeze through the open windows. Most of our hotels are on busy metro streets. Buses quit running and truck drivers go to sleep, but then the bar crowd replaces engines with boisterous talking or honking. The Dominoes Pizza place generates a tremendous amount of 2am noise. A couple of guys in a beat-up pickup truck lean on their horn repeatedly for about ten minutes. A few other hotel guests through their windows. Finally I can't stand it anymore and yank on shoes. Hector is in the lobby for some reason and he latches on as I sprint down the stairs. I'm so mad at this point that I can't even link together my broken Spanish... the driver seems to understand my pointed English words just fine though!

Speaking of hotels, common knowledge is that euro pros won't use the air conditioning if provided. Many hotel a/c units are never cleaned. U.S. hotels built since about 1980 all seem to have the "feature" of a/c with fixed in place windows that cannot be opened. So inevitably for sinus allergy sufferers like myself you are in a no-win situation. A Postal Service rider has said that the Spaniard Beltran wouldn't use the a/c even if it was 90 degrees F outside at night, and he'd have to try and sleep while sweating atop the stripped bed. After perspiring throughout the day's race, that's not the best recovery! These are reasons why I really like home-stays...

The penultimate stage. Last chance to affect the general classification. Team Lider has first through fourth plus their remaining two official teammates also in the top ten. Our Scott Moninger is 7th and looking to move up, while Justin, Doug and I are hoping to test our improving legs on the climb as well. Lider's help are really their normal Lider rider just wearing the jerseys of other teams. It would be as if team Discovery Channel fielded their usual 9 man team and then the bosses of the Tour yanked spots off T-Mobile and CSC to install still more Discovery riders. The Vuelta Lider al Sur does not enforce these UCI rules, and it actually has benefited us as well since we filled our sixth spot with a guest rider. So with Lider having nine men working on the front, it would take a catastrophe to unseat their six in the top ten stranglehold on the race.

At first we allow the Lider train to work on the front; hopefully softening them up a little. Team Publiguias (Yellow Pages) still has six men in the race and GC aspirations, they actually won this race overall before Lider hired away their top guns last year. So we team up with Publiguias for our attacks. Although Frank Pipp has come down with the spreading head cold that has claimed many victims in this race, he's still riding and looking to help any way he can. He leads me and a Publiguias rider out in the first serious attack of the day. We know it is doomed but you can't crack the leaders on the first hit. With Frank's sprinter legs powering our acceleration, we get a good little gap and force a 60 kph chase for the next few minutes. After we're caught, everyone who is left in this race and isn't waiting for the climb joins in. In the free for all, we manage to shed a few of Lider's workers but they are just too strong. After twenty fierce but fun-filled minutes we must admit defeat; the climb is approaching.

Frank sets a good tempo adjacent to the Lider train, keeping Scott positioned near the front and out of the wind. Justin and I are a bit cracked from the attack fest, and as soon as the road angles up we're gapped off. Publiguias is nothing if not optimistic as they're the first to attack. Mike Sayers now comes to the front of our second group and dials it up in an attempt to bring Justin and I back to the leaders. We're going harder than the best climbers in this race now, trying to make up the fifteen second deficit in front of us, and eking out a second here and a second there. No full sentences possible now. Justin asks if I can bridge it. I think that if it were June and it was Philly, the answer would be different but right now I squeak out the phrase "on the rivet". Mike pulls off, but we can't capitalize. The first group is dwindling in size however, and one at a time I begin picking them off. The grade lessens and when the lead cars of the caravan pass me it's an ideal opportunity to make up some ground. Finding an extra little bit of strength, I shift back into the big ring (the leaders never geared down to small) and use the cars to catch chunks of dropped riders. Ahead I can see that it's down to four Lider riders and lonely Scott Moninger. Without an idea of where the summit is or where general classification time will be taken (summit or finish line 1 K later?) I'm operating a bit blind here, but basically just givin' it all. I've caught and dropped the Hansen brothers (their real names are Morandi) and for that I will soon be very very grateful. As I pass the finish line for 9th on the stage, which is essentially fourth non-Lider rider, I'm quick to find Gus and the team car. Seconds later I hear a commotion from the finish area: come to find out that as the Morandi brothers finish, a caravan truck has taken out the inflatable banner and the wind caught it, picking up two riders and slamming them down to the ground. One is taken away on a body board, but the next day we find out it was precautionary and the guy will be OK.

Crash-Hansen plays it up though. At dinner and breakfast the next day he's all dramatic, leaning on his brother to walk. He's either tough or a great actor, because in the final typical Latin American hotdog style circuit race Crash-Hansen hangs on to salvage his top ten GC spot. Thanks to Scott's climb yesterday, team Health Net pb Maxxis has the first non-Lider rider on the GC, in 5th. Publiguias detonated spectacularly after their enthusiastic start to the entire race and especially the final climb, and they can muster only 9th on the overall.

We spend our last two nights in a 5 star hotel "NH" on Condell Street, Santiago. Thank you race organization! It was super comfy and the food (we declined the race provided meal and paid for it) was stellar. Condell Street is embassy row, and the hotel was immediately opposite the Embassy of France. Just across the busy Avenida Providencia and through a beautiful 1750s neighborhood was the city Zoo and the Funicular (incline railroad) up San Cristobal hill. A 33,000 ton Parisian statue of Mary sits atop the peak amidst gardens and terraced pews of an outdoor church. We took the Funicular and the cable car with it's magnificent views, albeit diminished by the seasonal heavy smog, and walked all over the park. Frank picked up a puppet monkey and screeching whistle, and provided much more entertainment to us all than you'd expect for the $2 purchase price.

On the day of departure we did a very slow recovery ride up the gentle circular road up San Cristobal Hill. One of Chile's millions of stray dogs, this one a yellow lab mix, loped alongside us for nearly the entire 6 kilometer ascent. He'd lay down and pant next to us every time we stopped to regroup or admire the view. A mother and her children were not at all pleased when he approached them; perhaps us tourists are naively unafraid of these dogs, since this mom practically went into hysterics restraining her inquisitive kids from even gesturing toward the dog.

I felt that having roomed with Doug and now Frank and Justin also coming down with the head cold I might somehow avoid sickness, but on this last day the glands became swollen. I would be flying overnight crammed into an economy class seat, and there won't be any avoiding this cold. Oh well, after 1770 kilometers ridden without a flat tire, crash, or food sickness, I guess I couldn't be too lucky. I was planning on a few days off after this race anyway!

At the airport we spent $10 each for a superb all inclusive dinner buffet and met a brave young woman teacher from Australia on the verge of a solo two-month trip throughout South America. Twelve hours later I was on familiar 30 degree (F) Iowa ground.

Many thanks to Gus Carillo, his bike shop owner from Santiago friend Emilio who helped us find our staff, Hector; Gabrielle, and the race organization for helping us do this race. Our visit to Chile is another highlight of my cycling career!

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Images by John Lieswyn

Email John at jlieswyn@cyclingnews.com

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