Titan Tropic by GAES – Stage 3: Soroa to Vinales

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.

Race leader Marlies Mejias (Cuba) leads her teammate and defending champion Olga Echenique through the early river crossings. Photo courtesy of Titan Tropic by GAES

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.

Tinker Juarez wowed the crowds this week in Cuba. Photo courtesy of Titan Tropic by GAES

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.

The preferred beast of burden in Cuba. Photo by: Shannon Boffeli

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.

Former Formula 1 driver Jaime Alguersuari rides in the shadow of the many mogotes of the Vinales Valley. Photo courtesy of Titan Tropic by GAES

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.

Keeping the bikes clean and ready to go was important throughout the week. Titan Tropic workers power-washed hundreds of bikes a day. Photo by: Jen Hanks

Travel Wise to be Your Best on Race Day

Question: My race season this year is going to entail a lot of travel with overnight stays.  What suggestions do you have regarding preparations for all the travel to be able to be at my best for race day?

Answer: Traveling can be one of the trickiest things to deal with when racing, especially if you have many events over the course of a season.  Travel disrupts our normal routine, makes it hard to get the right foods, changes our sleep patterns, and puts us in an environment we’re not used to.  But there are many good techniques that will help lessen the negative effects of travel on your race.

  1. When flying, try and travel mid-morning.  Having a flight at 6am is brutal on the sleep schedule and can take 2-3 days to recover from.  I suggest booking a flight between 10am and noon.  You can still get to your destination before it gets too late.
  2. I also suggest booking a non-stop flight if possible.  The shortest travel time is always the easiest.
  3. While on the plane do some simple leg stretches in your seat.  Getting up and walking around is always good, especially if you’re flying to Europe.
  4. If you are driving, get out of the car every two hours and run around and get the blood flowing in the legs.  Do some quick stretches.  Eat and drink.
  5. After you arrive at your destination it is super important that you do some kind of ride. It can be a 30 minute spin on the trainer in your hotel room or a 90 minute spin on the road or trails.  Get those legs moving after a long day of travel.
  6. Pack your own food.  I always bring a full lunch with plenty of snacks.  Don’t rely on airport food or convenience stores.  It is expensive and might not be what you want or need.  Also bring plenty to drink on the plane.  A big mistake athletes make is not drinking enough and getting dehydrated on their travel day.  This makes you more susceptible to germs and getting sick.
  7. I’m a germaphobe when I travel.  Bring a little bottle of hand sanitizer and use it a lot.  I don’t know if those things truly work but it is better than nothing.
  8. When flying, bring your helmet, shoes and pedals in your carry-on.  If your bike doesn’t make it you’ll be able to borrow one and get in the ride you need to do for the race if you have these three items with you.
  9. When you lay out your training for the week leading up to your travel day, it is best to have a recovery or endurance ride on the day you travel.   You don’t want to do an interval workout in the morning and then jump on a plane in the afternoon.   Bad for the legs.   Doing a really hard ride the day before you travel can also be less than ideal.  Make your last hard workout two days before your trip.  If you want to do openers for your race on the same day you travel, do them after you get to your destination.
  10. After you get to your hotel room and you’ve done your ride, stretch, eat, work on getting hydrated, and then put your legs up on a wall and relax.
  11. If you have any say in your travel schedule, try and arrive to the race two days before your event.  This gives you one day to deal with all the stress of travel and then have a full day to either pre ride the course, do openers, or just relax in your room.
  12. Stress is something you want to avoid.  Plan your travel with the least stressful itinerary as possible.  Give yourself more time than you think you need to get places.  Do your research.  Have maps ready to go.  Know exactly how to get to the race venue or the race hotel.  Have phone numbers of your team manager, family, friends, or race staff to help you if things get ugly.  The more prepared you are, the less stress you’ll have to deal with.
A good travel plan goes a long way in avoiding possible pitfalls

A good travel plan goes a long way in avoiding possible pitfalls

Getting to travel to races is both exciting and challenging.  If done right, travel is just a minor blip in the day.  If done wrong, travel can wreck your week, your race, and your season.   Plan ahead and be prepared.  And most importantly, have a good attitude, be ready to deal with anything, and be willing to make changes on the fly.  And like everything else, the more you do it the better you get.

Good luck and happy trails!


Alison competed in two Olympic Games, won the UCI Mountain Bike World Championships, the UCI World Cup Overall, and is the holder of thirteen US National Championships in road, MTB, and cyclocross.  Since retiring in 2005 Alison has been working full-time coaching cyclists and running skills camps and clinics. She is a USA Cycling Level I coach, a certified Professional Mountain Bike Instructor out of Whistler, BC, a Wilderness First Responder, a Colorado College graduate, and a very proud mom to her 5-yr-old son, Emmett.  Alison is a Colorado native and lives in Colorado Springs with her family.  For more information please visit www.alisondunlap.com