The title fight for the Cayman Classic cycling series went down to the wire this year, with the home of open title being decided on the final sprint of the series.
The fifth and final event of the series, a 65 mile road race, took place on Sunday 27 May in partly cloudy but thankfully dry conditions. Although the home of the masters’, ladies’ and juniors’ division titles were all but decided, the open men’s competition was still, well, wide open. Three cyclists were still in with a chance, including defending champion and series leader Steve Abbott as well as former champion Michele Smith. However, the outsider for the title was Jerome Ameline, who had finished second in the series on four occasions over the previous five editions. Ameline would need to take the win to stand even a mathematical chance of taking the series title and then hope that the rest of the cyclists would intervene to keep Abbott from finishing third or higher.
Due to the closeness of the competition for the series title, it was expected that there would be plenty of negative racing from the contenders, which could play into the hands of cyclists willing to attack. The first move went off the front not long after the neutral zone ended, but did not gain much traction and was swallowed up by the peloton soon after.
The next move looked to have potential as Gary Clarke, Brian Chin Yee and Jacob Luttermann pulled clear of the bunch. By the time they reached the Frank Sound Road junction and turned toward North Side they had a handsome lead over the group, who did not seem intent on chasing them down just yet. They kept their lead as the main group turned onto the Queen’s Highway, sweeping up the sprint points along the way, but the pace picked up as the likes of James Webb and Smith moved to the front of the bunch to push the pace. The escapees were soon brought back into the fold and things settled down in the peloton for a while as none of the cyclists seemed keen on pushing on. However, Smith remained close to the front to ensure that the pace remained high to discourage attacks, with Abbott never far behind. Smith launched a tentative move off the front with Laurent Weber in tow and for a while it looked as though the two might be able to build a reasonable gap. However, Abbott was not keen to see Smith ride off down the road, and worked to bring them back into the fold.
Rabess moved to the front of the pack next, and his sustained pace saw a number of cyclists starting to lose contact at the back of the peloton. With more than half the race still remaining, it was going to be a long ride home for those left behind.
At the first sprint point of the day, Johan Heath managed to surge clear of the peloton with Henry Streather on his wheel. Heath managed to take the points, but a fast-finishing Chin Yee swept by Streather for second.
Streather was clearly feeling frisky as he attempted a move off the front, but that did not last as the peloton starting reeling him back in after turning onto Frank Sound Road. There was a lull in the bunch and Ameline, who had been hanging around the back of the group, made use of the opportunity to launch a stinging attack. With the road featuring a lot of curves it was tough for the peloton to see how much of a gap Ameline had been able to open up and with some 30 miles of racing still to go, it seemed that he would probably burn out and be reeled back in.
However, once the peloton hit the straighter sections of the Queen’s Highway, Ameline was nowhere to be seen. He had seemingly timed the attack to perfection, but could he hold the peloton off for the rest of the race? An ace time trial rider, if anyone could do it, it was Ameline. However, even a couple of miles into the attack he already seemed to be suffering.
Behind Webb, Rabess, Smith, Heath, junior Andy Diaz and Dennis Brooks spent some time on the front trying to peg back Ameline. Smith attempted to get clear on his own, but Abbott responded immediately. The high pace meant that the chasing group had been reduced to just eight cyclists as they passed through Breakers before another regrouping took place. Heath attempted a couple of moves off the front, as did Diaz, but the rest of the group were not willing to let either of them go as Smith took up the reigns to try and bring Ameline back. However, passing through Savannah, Ameline still had a healthy lead and even though he looked tired he had not slowed significantly.
As Ameline rolled across the finish line in front of Lantern Point his face was a mix of relief and pain. However, with one win in the bag, Ameline now had to wait for the rest of the bunch to cross the line in order to find out whether he had a shot at the overall title.
As the bunch charged for the line some 90 seconds behind Ameline, Smith was clearly the fastest, but Marius Deysel seemed to have a better line than Abbott, who needed to finish top three to clinch the title. Smith took second place with ease, but even though Abbott managed to close in on Deysel, he could not catch him and had to see his title hopes slip away.
Rabess finished just behind Abbott to take his fifth win on the trot in the master’s division, with Ricardo Capantini in second and Dwayne Parchment in third, all finishing as part of the sprinting bunch.
Risa Golberg continued her fine run of form, finishing in the sprinting bunch to take her fourth win in the ladies’ division, just ahead of Pam Abbott, with Carien Roberts-Harcombe crossing the line in third a couple of minutes behind after having slipped of the back of the bunch during the latter part of the race.
Junior Andy Diaz was tailed off the bunch in the finishing straight, but still managed to take the junior win with ease.
The result of the men’s race meant that Smith and Ameline would finish tied on 91 points each, with Abbott in third with 90 points. However on countback the title went to Ameline, who had scored one win and three second places during the series, ahead of Smith’s one win and two second places. In addition to the overall title, Ameline also claimed the sprint title, winning five of the seven sprints on offer during the series.
Ameline said that he knew he would have to create his own chances if he wanted to claim a win in the race and possibly the series.
“After trying to escape unsuccessfully many times in the first half of the race, I gave it another try against the wind on Frank Sound Road. I knew the other riders will probably try to protect themselves from the wind and not chase right away. It worked,” he said.
Although he said he was cramping a lot due to the intensity and the heat, he just kept reminding himself of one of his favourite sayings when teaching spinning classes at Revolutions, “no pain, no gain”.
“The win was very sweet, and it became even more exciting when I realised that I was May classic overall winner. The luck was in my favour this year for the overall win, however, the road race win was well deserved as I feel that I worked hard for it,” said Ameline.
In the ladies’ division, Golberg took the win with a clear lead over Roberts-Harcombe in second and Abbott in third.
The masters’ division saw Rabess make a clean sweep and taking maximum points, followed by Weber in second and Luttermann in third.
In the junior division, Derron Kelly’s one win and three second place finishes were enough to give him the title over Diaz’s three wins, with Nicholas Ebanks in third.
This year the leader in each division received a leader’s jersey sponsored by Cayman Islands Helicopters, while an official awards ceremony took place at Ristorante Pappagallo the Wednesday evening after the final race to thank the competitors, volunteers and organisers for a job well done.