Cyclists off

Four local cyclists are heading to the Dominican Republic on Friday to take part in the Vuelta Independencia Nacional, an eight day stage race. The event is rated as a UCI 2.2 race, which means that it will feature some of the top regional cyclists. To be competitive, the team, consisting of Mitchell Smith, Jerome Ameline, Steve Evans and Steve Abbot will have to ride their best, as they compete against younger and more experienced racers.

The event starts out with a 10km prologue time trial on Sunday 22 February. This solo event, known as the Race of Truth, will see cyclists push themselves well beyond their limits on the short course as they aim to be the first wearer of the leader’s jersey.

From there, the next seven days will involve stages averaging between 90 and 100 miles per day over rolling terrain, something local cyclists are not quite used to. Each stage will also have a cut-off time with riders finishing outside not allowed to start the next stage.

Smith is probably the most experienced cyclist of the bunch and likely to be the top performer overall. Smith, who represented Cayman in the Olympic Games, has improved in leaps and bounds since his unexpected comeback to the sport last year.

‘Smith is in super form and extremely strong and motivated to do well in the race,’ said Evans.

Ameline is a time trial specialist and has his sights firmly set on the prologue and the first leader’s jersey.

‘I really want to do well in the prologue. After that, I will just try to hang on in the hills,’ smiled Ameline.

With the winner of last year’s prologue having averaged in excess of 30 miles per hour, Ameline will have his work cut out if he hopes to make it onto the podium.

Evans and Abbot will serve as domestiques, team workers, for Smith and Ameline as they try to protect their team mates from the wind, which takes up most of a cyclist’s energy when cycling at high speed.

‘I have been through all the emotions, from excitement to fear,’ laughed Abbot. ‘I have never been involved in a stage race of this length before, so I’m looking forward to the experience.’

As a rated regional cycling powerhouse back in the late 1980s and early 1990s, the profile of the sport in Cayman declined after cycling in the Olympics went professional in 1996. Evans views the race as an opportunity to rebuild Cayman’s profile again.

‘We hope to invite many of the racers to the shores of Cayman for the next Cayman Invitational scheduled for late November 2009,’ said Evans.

The inaugural Cayman Invitational, which took place in November 2008, drew some of cycling’s top names to Cayman, including Christian Vande Velde, who claimed fourth overall in the 2008 Tour de France, as well as former Tour de France top five finisher Peter Luttenberger.

Gary Clarke, president of the Cayman Islands Cycling Association, expressed his appreciation for the amount of effort the team put into their preparation for the event.

‘CICA fully appreciates the effort and commitment being made by these four cyclists going off to compete in the Tour of the Dominican Republic. These gentlemen represent Cayman’s top performers at the moment and have dedicated a lot of time training and preparing for the event. The race will not be an easy one, however the experienced gained will be beneficial for other cyclist proposing to compete in similar events.’