Written by: Shannon Boffeli
I apologize in the lapse in coverage from Titan Tropic 2016 but internet service on the interior of Cuba is fleeting at best. The experience is unparalleled however. We saw incredible sights while crossing the Cuban island from north to south before turning to the northern, Atlantic coast again for the finish.
Day three was the queen stage taking the race from the lush gardens of Soroa to the hidden valleys and floating islands of Vinales.
The entire stage is roughly 114 kilometers with over 2,000 meters (6,000 feet) of climbing spread out along the way.
A long neutral lead out got us going, extended by the overall race leader, Diego Tamayo (Team Tamayo), stopping to pee before the control car could pull off.
Once the group was released it was clear today was going to be another fast ride, despite the extra miles.
After a handful of early road miles, we dropped off into some of the most remote riding we had done thus far. Rock strewn, beaten, forest tracks, cross cut by streams and muddy fords traveled over hundreds of years by nothing but horses and ox drawn wagons now provided passage for 150 mountain bikes.
Dropping deeper and deeper into the interior of Cuba we passed homes that rarely see visitors and must have thought the alien invasion was finally happening as gaunt beings in brightly-colored spandex, steadily streamed by. If indeed they thought the aliens were upon them, they were exceedingly nice about.
After the dirt ended, we climbed to a high ridge that traversed endless valleys. An absolutely marvelous road that feels like your riding the Blue Ridge Parkway in Virginia with forests of palms taking the place of the old growth hardwoods of North America.
For kilometer after kilometer we followed the winding road without encountering a single car that wasn’t affiliated with the race. It’s no mystery why the area around Vinales is quickly becoming a road riding destination.
Finally, we dropped into the Vinales Valley with it’s 1,000 foot mogotes, giant haystack shaped mountains, standing guard. A more unique and varied landscape would be difficult to imagine as lush greenery and palm trees sit atop limestone monoliths with sheer-vertical walls on all sides.
Sightseeing had to be put aside as our focus returned to reaching the finish line. Jen and I had ridden hard all day almost exclusively by ourselves. My feet were on fire the last 30km as the early morning creek crossings had softened my shoes and allowed to feet to float around.
We picked up Jaime Alguersuari, a former Formula 1 driver, who passed us earlier in the day but was now dealing with some serious dehydration. He was riding with just bottles and lost one on a downhill section. He elected not to go back for it and it was costing him at this point. Jaime tucked in for the final road sections to the finish.
Stage three proved to be our best day as we put almost an hour of time between us and the second-placed duo mixed team, who we also learned are the former winners of the Titan Desert in Morocco.
Tomorrow, promises to be one of the best days for riding. The scenery of the Vinales Valley combined with a 100% off-road course should make for great riding and fun racing action.