Hello everyone, my name is Red Walters, and in this blog, I'm going to be talking about my journey to the Pan American Road Championships.
Firstly, a bit about me, I'm 22 (final year U23), live in the UK, and have just started riding with Hagens Berman Axeon as a stagiaire for the last part of the season.
Dinghy sailing was my sport from the age of four until my early teens when my enjoyment for it started to dwindle. I'd been focusing a lot on my academics and playing video games with my friends, and really wanted a new sport or hobby.
I started cycling in late 2015, just after my GCSEs, where getting good grades was the bargaining chip for my first road bike from my parents. I fell in love with racing almost immediately, slowly racing more and rising through the categories, until I finished college and took the decision to put a maths and computer science degree on hold in the pursuit of chasing my dreams in professional cycling.
After huge improvements for the 2018 season, I managed to get a ride with UCI continental team Vitus Pro Cycling. The last couple of years, I've continued to improve as a cyclist, but the circumstances with the pandemic have meant my racing opportunities have not progressed at the same rate.
I'd done everything I could coming into 2021 to get a chance to race at UCI level but, despite over 100 emails and applications, it wasn't meant to be. However, I did find a very welcoming and friendly home in a French club called CC Plancöet. They gave me the opportunity to race over on the continent and continue to develop my skills.
I was laser focused and determined to prove my worth, managing to win my first two races before leading out teammates to win in the following two. After 18 months without proper racing, and the massive challenge of even traveling to a different country in the first place, I was really proud to have started the season so well.
Luckily, I wasn't the only one to see value in my efforts, as Tao Geoghegan Hart, alongside U23 team Hagens Berman Axeon, having previously pledged to help a BAME rider, also saw my commitment and dedication. I was offered a stagiaire role with the team for the rest of the season!
After feeling lost at times over the previous few weeks with regards to where I would look to continue my progression, I was so excited to have a new focus and a massive challenge in the form of some incredibly high-level races.
This was all fantastic, but before that I had another focus at the forefront of my mind. As someone who is mixed ethnicity, I also have dual citizenship, with half of my heritage being Grenadian, a small island in the south of the Caribbean. I'd been thinking about riding as a Grenadian athlete since I was a Junior, but never really ended up doing it until this year. After learning the process, I made the decision to switch with the UCI and, all of a sudden, the Caribbean and Pan American Championships became my number 1 target.
I travelled home from France, and started making my plans for the races in the Dominican Republic, which I should add was a challenge in itself. Organising the logistics of flights, tests, and other various forms was a bit stressful but, after a good two weeks of training back in the UK, I started the 18-hour journey to the Caribbean, with a stop in Madrid.
Anyone who knows me knows that once I have a goal, I become fully focussed, and fixated on that end result. Every night for a month was spent dreaming about winning that jersey, and every moment alone was a chance to contemplate how it could happen.
I'm a massive advocate of confidence being crucial to success, but I do also appreciate it's a gamble with your own emotions. The more you believe you can win, the more devastating the potential loss… but that's a 'future me' problem, I say to myself in jest, before getting back to dreaming about standing on the top step of a podium.
After all, my saying is 'Determination is Infinite', which is a philosophy I carry to every training ride, race, or any other challenge for that matter.
The travel day was long, but manageable, the only caveat being that I'd apparently brought the British weather with me as storm Fred decided to cruise through, meaning my entire stay was forecast for thunder and rain!
I quickly realised however, that this would be to my benefit. In the UK, I'm the guy who loves the heat, and thrives in it, but there's no way I'm going to be acclimatised to a humid 35° Celsius like the guys who live it every day are.
There were two races I'd be doing at the championships; the U23 Caribbean champs, and the Pan American champs (which includes the Caribbean and South America).
After a couple days of easy spinning around the race course, it was time for the Caribbean champs - tactically challenging, as the elites and U23s race together but with separate classifications at the finish. The race was postponed from 9am to 2pm and moved from the original pan-flat circuit to something a bit more rolling, and definitely more interesting, because of the storm. The training was done, and my legs felt good.
The field was strong, featuring riders like Justin Williams in the elites, so it was never going to be easy. In a race where you are (to an extent) an unknown quantity, it is paramount to keep your cards close to your chest. I tried to keep a low profile for the first half but, after seeing a fully represented break go with 20 riders, I knew I had to do something as I watched the gap started to balloon out.
I chose my moment over the crest of a hill as the bunch eased up, popped an SiS beta fuel gel, and launched it down the descent, optimising my aerodynamics.
I managed to get across a few minutes later to see the bunch was now fully out of contention. Riding as a solo rider when there are teams of five or six means you have to place your efforts carefully, so I now had to be super vigilant of which teams were getting away.
No gaps were getting established until the last lap, when a group of four got away with all the big teams from our front group represented. Big mistake. I underestimated the cohesion of the group of four, and was forced to go to the front, else the race was dunzo. I managed to get the gap down to 10 meters, catching two, but leaving the other two, while another bridged across with them. Three up the road now but, crucially, the two I brought back meant their teams now had a reason to chase.
It was impossible to call over the last few kilometers. A duo from Bermuda led it out, the gap wasn't coming down quick enough, and the 'quick mafs' in my head at 300m to go said 'punch it'. It was a long way to go on a false flat into a headwind, but I had no choice if I wanted to catch the break.
I gave it full banzai, as my coach Colin Sturgess would say. I caught two of the break, both U23s, while the last one from Barbados remained just out reach, as I got rolled by a rider from the Dominican Republic who I'd unintentionally given the perfect lead-out. Both of these guys were in the elite category, though, meaning I won the U23 Caribbean championships!
Once the slight disappointment of being rolled had passed, I was super excited that my first goal had come true!
That brings me to today, I'll be going down to the podium presentation to get my jersey and medal, and I couldn't be more proud to represent Grenada in the sport I love so much. I can't relax yet, though, as tomorrow will be the Pan American champs. Fingers crossed, always focused - determination is infinite.
I'll keep y'all updated.
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