El Salvador "We're going to El Salvador! We're going to El Salvador!" This was the sound of joy from the Norwegian girls that got to travel to El Salvador to compete earlier this month for Hitec Products.
As we arrived at the airport in El Salvador, the blond group of Norwegian girls got the first shock; armed police & guards. Even the average man carried weapons. In Norway it's prohibited to carry weapons in the general public, even the police are not allowed to carry a gun. The second shock; we had to spend the first two nights in a beach house shared with the Russian team, Rusvelo. Our team was only given two rooms, so five of us girls had to squash into one room while the staff were in the other. Everybody that has slept in a room for five people knows how comfortable that can be...
While it wasn't the five star accommodation offered in Qatar, other than the cramped living quarters, the beach house was quite pleasant and offered all girls the third shock; the greatest horror, lizards, cockroaches and bats!
Arriving a few days early to acclimatise we completed two training sessions before the first race, the Grand Prix GSB. Starting at 7:30am each morning we tried to escape the worst heat. After all, we had come directly from the Norwegian winter. It was almost a forty degree temperature change.
In El Salvador they have a simple way to solve logistics, what doesn't fit side by side can be balanced on top of everything else. The first days our team had one truck which needed to fit eight people plus our driver. The back of the truck was used to transport bikes, wheels, luggage and...people.
Driving around was another thing altogether. It consisted of frequent changing of lanes and erratic passing of cars. Despite this, I was left questioning the technical skills of our driver; at points he had to have numerous attempts at hill starts and I caught him changing into second gear at 80km/h a few times. It got a little too thrilling for my taste!
Already on the first day the Hitec Products team made the front page of the newspaper, but not in the way we usually want to. The picture on the front page showed Cecilie [Johnsen] and Siri [Minge] in a crash; Cecilie took the hardest hit breaking her front wheel and bike frame and also suffering quite a lot of road rash. In terms of results there was not much to report home from the first race. The first three days of competition were category 1.1. The courses were held in different places but they were all identical. We started every stage with 70-80km transition into a finishing climb of 10-15km.
The safety of these competitions was the worst I have ever experienced through all of my years of competing. Trucks and buses would pass the peloton at the same time as the road was open to oncoming traffic. No arrows or signs marked the route, but every now and then there would be a guard showing directions. But it wasn't the identical one-day races or the open roads that were the biggest problem for us. After the first three days all four girls competing got food poisoning. As if food poisoning is not bad enough itself, it didn't feel any better in 40 degrees.
After the first three one day races in El Salvador was the stage race, Vuelta El A Salvador, which started with a 4km prologue. Still suffering from food poisoning our form in the morning advised us not to start, but we decided that we had traveled so far and we wanted to give it a try. We finished the prologue through easy riding and hoped to feel better on the second day.
The stage race didn't turn out to be what we hoped for in results. The stomach trouble, and not to forget the heat, was too severe for us. In addition, when five out of six courses favoured the climbers, we didn't have a strong enough team to get the results we wanted.
On our last day of racing we experienced an upswing as Cecilie finished in sixth place.
To sum up, it was exciting and eventful to race in El Salvador. The organiser did a good effort considering the challenges they had with the road standards and traffic. Although I have to admit that in many of the races I felt like I was racing with my life at stake.