Fun series was another classic

The hurricane season officially started on Sunday and residents along South Sound may have been alarmed at being awoken by the sound of frenetic hurricane like whooshes at regular minute intervals.


Clarkes extra fitness was the factor. Photo: Ron Shillingford

But they need not fear, it was the final race of the Cayman Classic annual five-race series.

The cyclists gave their all to pull in impressive personal best times on the beautiful 10 mile course from the Paradise Bar down to Hurley’s Grand Harbour roundabout and back.

As usual, Jerome Ameline pulled out his signature, draw dropping speedy time, recording 21 minutes 41 seconds (27.5mph).

The flying Frenchman is by far the strongest in this discipline in Cayman and was just outside his personal best, set last year.

Second fastest rider was Eugene Bonthuys, four seconds slower than Ameline. Bonthuys is a journalist with the Observer on Sunday so could soon be writing about himself.

Points leader Gary Clarke had everything to lose and could afford no mistakes. He needed to finish in the top six to ensure overall victory.

With a follow car and a spare bike he had every eventuality covered!

A time of 23 minutes exactly was enough for Clarke to safely pick up the overall series Cayman Classic trophy he fully deserved.

In 2007 he was sixth overall which indicates just how much hard work he has put in over the past twelve months to earn his name on the trophy.

Overall third place was fiercely contested as Steve Evans desperately tried everything he could to out score Gabe Rabess.

However Rabess matched Evans pedal for pedal both crossing the line at 23:00 earning Rabess the third place on the overall podium. His principle sport is squash.

With Rabess only recently starting to train seriously he will be watched closely by rivals over the coming year pushing all on to new highs.

Clarke finished with 45 points, Ameline 41 and Rabess 27.

An anonymous sponsor offered a $25 dollar donation to the Cayman Cancer Society for every rider finishing the course under 23 mins 30secs. It is a testament to the improving standard of cycling in Cayman that nine riders met that challenge. A cheque of $225 is on its way to the cancer society.

It was generally not just a great day for the fastest cyclists.

In the masters over-50s Bill Gerlack was doing times of around 30 minutes last year. Now he is nearly four minutes faster, hitting 26:07 on Sunday.

Chris Sutton also pulling a fast time trial and getting on the points board in the open class was a deserving series winner for masters 50-plus category. Gerlack was second and Max Obreist third.

There must be a special award to crowd favourite John Broad who consistently goes to every race on his signature recumbent, looking so laid back in it that he could be falling asleep. He got an award for pure style and commitment. Triathlete Marius Acker competed too.

Women too have been upping their standards this year with every point being hotly contested. Justine Plenkiewicz and Tienke Ventor had been battling it out this year.

Rivalries are building to drive all riders higher for future races. A benchmark of 25:52 has been set for the ten mile time trial in the women’s class by Plenkiewicz who said after: ‘I was the fastest woman last time but you never know who’s going to show up.

‘I just wanted to beat my time from last time, which was 26:15.’ She certainly that. Second fastest woman was newcomer Arwin Lawson (28:43) with Ventor (30:04).

Plenkiewicz amassed 57 points in the three time trials and two road races. Second was Ventor (40) and third Denise Gower (13).

Canadian Plenkiewicz is a triathlete and since arriving on the island in December from Toronto, cycling has become her favourite sport. She works for the Monetary Authority as a policy analyst.

She has settled here well. ‘I love Cayman, everyone’s very welcoming and there’s always someone to ride with and I really, really enjoy it.’

What about rivalry with the men, do any resent her speed? ‘I haven’t caught up to the fastest guys yet, so probably not yet, but I’m aiming for that.

Ameline was satisfied with his time but a little disappointed. ‘I did 21:41 today but didn’t beat my record from last year of 21:35 so I was just six seconds out,’ he said.

‘Nothing was wrong, but maybe it was the humidity, it was so high, it was difficult to breathe. I’m not the only one, others said so. After only two miles I was dying of thirst.

‘I’m a little hacked off because last year I finished second overall also, to Dave Walker. I guess I will have to work on my tactics for road racing and try to be a bit sneaky. I’m better at time trials because I’m a little bit bigger I’m better at power and long races. Road races are more about sprinting and you have to be fast and quick so if you’re lighter it’s better. Still, I’ll take the challenge for next year.

It’s not by coincidence that Clarke is the most improved cyclist in Cayman.

The 31-year-old quantity surveyor was lower down the order in the Cayman Classic Cycling Series last year, but he has focused his training since.

‘I was sixth last year overall and been doing a lot of training since so it was good to see the end results of all that hard work.’

Clarke even took his bike to Cuba. ‘We went to Cuba, a group of friends last year and we said we’d go back just to ride up some mountains and so forth.

‘We went training there a month ago to coincide with the final stages of the programme. We have a new trophy now and I’m going to try to put my name on it for next year as well. The Classic is really getting exciting as well.

‘We had a lot of people turn out this year, far more than last.

‘Jerome has been winning the time trials, but lucky for me I have been beating him in the road races.’

Clarke, 31, is a quantity surveyor. He was cheered on by his daughter Nazli, who is nearly two and wife Jordana.

‘Now Jordana knows that all that training was not for nothing,’ he joked.

Clarke is also the vice-president of the Cayman Islands Cycling Association. Evans has done a great job as secretary to promote the sport.

Sponsor Karim Awe of Cayman Insurance Centre, said: ‘It was very nice of the cyclists to ask me to sponsor them as well as Cayman Insurance Centre. I hope this can continue next year and it will be bigger and better.’

Is there any chance Mr Awe may be inspired to get on a bike himself? ‘Look at me! There is no chance but thank you all the same for asking me.’

Evans said: ‘The whole committee has put in lots of time over the years. It started off very small and now we’ve had over 65 riders over the course of the five events.

‘Next year we want to invite international riders. We’re in touch with an ex-Tour de France rider who we’re trying to get down to participate with us next year. He’s an occasional visitor to Cayman and got in touch with us through our website and we were very responsive.

‘We’re going to invite other Caribbean islands and select US teams from the east coast of Florida and Houston. We’re going to be approaching the hotels and sponsors to see if we can get some good deals and make it the signature event next year and do it over a long weekend a series of four races.’

Evans was fourth in the points standings. ‘That wasn’t so bad for a guy getting on a bit but I’ll be back next year and want to be on the podium.’

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