Titan Tropic by GAES – Stage 5: Vinales to Cayo Jutias

Written by: Shannon Boffeli

After 5 stages, 4 nights of tent camping, 271 miles, about 100 stream crossings, and countless gallons of bottled water we had finally reached the final stage of Titan Tropic.

The final day of any stage race has always left me with mixed emotions; excitement to sleep in a bed again and give my butt a well deserved day off, but sadness that tomorrow I’ll wake up and not be racing my bike, instead I’ll be packing and returning to the real world. There really is nothing better than putting all your focus on racing your bike and recovering for the next day.

Sadly, all stage races must end and I was thankful that I woke up Friday morning feeling good. No stomachache. No vomiting every time I looked at food. I wasn’t shoveling in breakfast like normal but I got in some cereal and bread. Way better than yesterday.

Photo courtesy of Titan Tropic by GAES

The final stage took us out of the Vinales Valley, out of the shadows of the mogotes, and up to the northern coast to finish on the pristine, white-sand beaches of Cayo Jutias.

Ourselves and the small contingent of U.S. riders in Titan Tropic were looking to cap off a successful week. We held the lead in the mixed duo category, despite losing time the previous day. Mountain bike super-legend Tinker Juarez (Cannondale) was wowing the field by leading the senior 50+ category but more impressively hanging on to fifth in the overall GC. Tinker was accompanied by second-placed senior rider and Cape Cod resident Kevin Hines (Corner Cycles) who sat in the top-10 on GC. While Selene Yeager (Bicycling) was solidly placed in 4th in the women’s competition. Everyone was looking forward to a good final day and that refreshing dive into the Atlantic following the finish.

Today’s roll out was fast, heading downhill on a paved road. Without warning the lead car sped off and riders ripped down to the first section of singletrack. The course bottlenecked quickly with riders battling for position.

The lead group crosses a river on stage 5. Photo courtesy of Titan Tropic by GAES

After the first few climbs and trail sections we began to settle in and tackle the progressive rollers that stood between us and the coast.

The final stage was shaping up to be a good one. The first 60km was almost entirely dirt with steep, short climbs making the legs burn. The second-place mixed duo team had gotten in front of us on the opening downhill road start as Jen was spun out with only a 30-tooth ring up front. We climbed our way back into the lead with some fancy trail navigation in the early singletrack and then hooked onto a group of drafting partners when the singletrack turned to logging road.

We were going good now and cruised past the final mogotes saying goodbye to the high cliffs and hanging gardens making our way into palm forests as we approached the coast.

With 10km left we exited the last of the dirt and entered a long causeway that would take us to our final destination. The road was dead flat but the wind was mercifully light and cool as it came off the water on both sides of us.

Finally, we made the turn off the road and onto the untouched sand. I dropped into the surf a little too deep and was immediately gobbled up by a wave that came almost up to my handlebars – my bike is not going to be happy with me tomorrow.

Jen Hanks on the beach at Cayo Jutias. Photo by: Shannon Boffeli

Higher on the shore now, we scrambled through the mangroves and palms dotting the sand and made the final turn toward the finish line arch.

It’s always a great feeling crossing the line after days and days of hard efforts, even more special we would get to enjoy taking the overall win, for the first time, in a multi-day stage race.

Just one last thing to do. We both dropped all our gear and raced into the clear turquoise water of the Atlantic.

It seemed like everyone had a great last day and a memorable week. The Titan Tropic was like nothing we had done before. The unparalleled cultural experience of Cuba fused with a week of bike racing and the excellent support of the Titan Tropic promoters combines to make a wicked stew of challenge, enjoyment, and unforgettable memories.

Once we complete a stage race Jen and I don’t typically do the same race again, always looking for a new experience and challenge, but Titan Tropic may change that for us. We are already looking forward to another week in Cuba, December 2017.

Us at the finish. Photo courtesy of Titan Tropic by GAES

Titan Tropic by GAES – Stage 4: Vinales to Vinales

Written by: Shannon Boffeli

We had been looking forward to stage 4 all week; 84 kilometers of dirt! The excitement was high going in and we felt like we would have fun and probably open up our lead a bit more doing it.

Unfortunately, that plan quickly went down the toilet as I woke up with a nasty stomach ache and some unfriendly diarrhea. I thought maybe I could power through but once I sat down for breakfast the mere sight of food made me want to barf.

First placed mixed duo team of Jen Hanks and Shannon Boffeli on stage 4. Photo courtesy of Titan Tropic by GAES

I nursed down a glass of orange juice and went back to the tent to get ready for the stage.

Yesterday had been long and hot with a humid night of sleep to follow so I wasn’t sure if I was suffering some dehydration or a stomach bug. Just in case I started taking an antibiotic I brought down.

I was excited to start the day because sitting on my bike was actually easier than trying to stand or walk. The first 10km went by mercifully quick but I had pretty much burned any matches I had at that point.

Race leader Diego Tamayo controls the front of the field from Vinales to Vinales. Photo courtesy of Titan Tropic by GAES

I was walking all the climbs. Jen took my heavy pack with all the tools and let me carry her lighter one but that barely helped. The second-placed team quickly passed us and I could tell by their urgency they wanted to put some time into us.

When I could ride Jen would push and pull me the way I do for her most stages but I still couldn’t keep up with her. Finally, after about two hours of suffering and harboring serious doubts that I could finish the day I managed to get some Honey Stinger energy chews in, the first calories I had eaten all day. I followed that with a little water and things were looking brighter.

Racers power past a tobacco drying barn in the Vinales Valley. Photo courtesy of Titan Tropic by GAES

I could at least keep up with Jen on the flats. After a bit more time we actually passed a few people and were getting a good chuck of kilometers behind us.

At the third and final aid station I was feeling good enough to drink and force down a banana. We were off again. I gulped down one final drink and that put me right over the edge. Everything came back up. My mouth was like an uncontrolled fire hose ejecting every bit of water and food I had eaten the entire day all over my bike.

Shannon Boffeli rolling his way through stage 4. Photo courtesy of Titan Tropic by GAES

With nothing left in me I actually felt the best I had all day. The final 20 kilometers of the day weren’t fast but I could easily keep my legs moving unlike earilier in the day.

We crossed the line having lost just 18 minutes to our rivals. I immediately headed for the medical station.

Upon seeing me they put me on a stretcher and carried me into their makeshift clinic. My color was pale and skin was dry despite the 90-degree temperature and matching humidity. The team quickly placed an IV and started giving me fluids to replenish what I had lost.

Stage 4 offered up the most dirt of any stage in the 2016 Titan Tropic. Photo courtesy of Titan Tropic by GAES

It helped. A lot! After 2 hours, a liter of saline, and something to help with nausea I was feeling much better.

Today was a real struggle but also a great test of the mixed duo team category. Today it was the female partner pulling her teammate along. Doing everything possible to put in the fastest time and it worked. Without Jen’s help I very well may not have finished and definitely would have lost a lot more that 18 minutes.

Now I just need to get some food in me before tomorrow. It’s the shortest stage of the week but 68 kilometers could be impossible on two days without food.

IV fluids and oxygen after the finish. Photo by: Jen Hanks

Raul Hernandez and partner Laura Ortiz look to pick up time on stage 4. Photo courtesy of Titan Tropic by GAES

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

Titan Tropic by GAES – Stage 2: Soroa to Soroa

Titan Tropic by GAES – Stage 2 Soroa to Soroa

Written by: Shannon Boffeli

The first competitive stage of Titan Tropic 2016 was a painful wake-up call for most racers. While yesterday seemed like a solid introduction to racing action it was a recovery spin in comparison to the grueling action of stage 2.

Crashes, blinding dust, searing pacelines, and rough roads challenged riders throughout the day. In total riders made a 104 kilometer loop south of Soroa before ending up at the finish again.

Jen Hanks and Shannon Boffeli working with a group on stage 2 -Image courtesy of Titan Tropic by GAES

While the racing was hard the cultural experience couldn’t have been better. Starting with cane fields and processing centers we made our way into more remote sections of Cuba. Gone are the classic American cars of Havana, out here the ox and horse still rule. If Havana seemed to be stuck in the 50s the area around Soroa is a trip back to preindustrial revolution.

Life is difficult in this part of the country. That didn’t stop residents from every home flooding into the streets to greet the riders with cheers and big smiles as they passed by.

For us stage 2 was DIFFICULT. The terrain was very flat and constant roadie tactics were needed to find your way into a group and protect yourself from the wind. It was far from “road riding” however. Imagine hammering along at 25mph with your Saturday morning road ride and suddenly the pavement drops away for half the field, then the other half of the riders plunge a foot below road surface into a pothole only to pop out just a quickly. Then the group reforms with just enough time to do it all over again. Now imagine you repeat this for three hours.

Making our way to Soroa. Photo by: Shannon Boffeli

That’s how our day felt. By the end brain circuits were completely fried, legs burning with lactic acid, and a stomach serious pissed off about a lack of food.

Our day went as well as could be expected. We avoided multiple pile ups and our only crash was when Jen tipped over after the leader of our paceline led the whole group into a foot-deep tractor rut.

We managed stick with a fast group for most of the day and managed to leave them all behind as everyone else faded late in the day.

On the road to Soroa a Cuban local enjoys the country’s #1 export. Photo by: Shannon Boffeli

For the first time, after all our stage races as a team, we crossed the line first, an exciting turn of events after a tough day.

For the first time we’ll go into tomorrow’s stage with a lead to defend. It should make for an interesting week.

Stage 3 is the longest of the Titan Tropic at 119 kilometers and perhaps the most scenic taking the race from Soroa to Vinales. This stage includes multiple large river crossings, mountain climbs as steep as 18%, and the unique mogotes (haystack-shaped limestone mountains) of Valle Vinales which make it a Unesco World Heritage site.

Jen prepares her bike for a grueling stage 3. Photo by: Shannon Boffeli

Titan Tropic Stage 1

December 4, 2016

Titan Tropic by GAES Stage 1 – Havana to Soroa

The first serious day of riding finished after riding 97 kilometers from the urban and historic city of Havana to the relaxed mountain resort of Soroa. In observance of the final day of mourning for former Cuban leader Fidel Castro today’s stage was a transfer stage only, meaning no official time was kept.

Riders are given 2 liters of bottled water at the beginning of each stage. Tap water in Cuba cannot be trusted.

Riders are given 2 liters of bottled water at the beginning of each stage. Tap water in Cuba cannot be trusted.

Tucked into the mountains we chased for about half the day, Soroa is known as the “Rainbow of Cuba” for it’s natural beauty and the Orquideario Soroa park, which is home to 700 orchid species from around the world.

Bike racks are full prior to stage 1.

Bike racks are full prior to stage 1.

Today’s stage started with several miles of road transitioning to a jumbled mix of pavement and dirt cane field roads. The pavement sections could barely be called roads as the mammoth potholes littering every stretch made life difficult for the riders and prevented pack riding in groups larger than 4 or 5.

Jen working with our group through 10-foot-tall sugarcane fields.

The second half of the race featured primarily dirt roads only with some primitive trails that would pass for singletrack throwing in some small river crossings and rocky climbs leading to the finish.

We started off slow as burning matches on an untimed stage seemed stupid. As the day went on temperatures started to rise and with the wind blowing hard at 20-30 mph. Our gameplan changed as limiting our time in the heat and holding on to our drafting partners suddenly rose in importance.

We chased the mountains in the distance for most of the day before finally catching them at the very end.

After just over 4 hours we finished without any major issues although we spent most of the day worrying about stray dogs, goats, or cows wandering onto the roads and weaving around atomic potholes.

Once across the finish line, the stress immediately stopped and the chilling began with a distinct Carribean feel. Palm trees, great food, and lounging near the pool was the order of the afternoon.

Farms and children greeted us around every corner

Farms and children greeted us around every corner

Tomorrow’s stage starts and ends in Soroa. Stage 2 will be the first real racing of Titan Tropic. We don’t know what to expect from our competition but today gave us a nice introduction to riding as a team again and the course markings and feed zones of Titan Tropic.

Tomorrow’s stage will be a 106 km loop bringing riders back to Soroa after completing a tour of several hydro-electric dams, fertile crop fields, and some technical riding including a 300-foot rocky climb to the finish line.





Titan Tropic Pre-Race Report

Titan Tropic by GAES – Pre-race Report

The moment we learned about Titan Tropic we knew it would be an unforgettable experience. Now add in the death of Fidel Castro and the experience just ramped up to eleven. It’s hard to imagine a more historic time to be in Cuba.

The flight to Cuba was itself an experience. After more than 50 years of travel ban from the US to the largest island in the Caribbean boarding a commercial flight in Miami and landing in Havana just 45 minutes later is something few Americans have experienced since JFK was president.


Leaving the high rises, glitz, and glamour of Miami and in less than an hour you’re transported to a different time, flying over unmaintained dirt roads winding between fields full of ox and cattle before touching down at Jose Marti International airport, disembarking on the runway, and catching a cab that’s most likely a late 50s Chevy makes you feel like you’ve been transported back in time. While just 90 miles south of the United States, Cuba feels light years away.

Titan Tropic has already been a unique experience and we haven’t even started racing yet.

All of Cuba is currently observing a period of mourning following the death of their former leader and this will continue until December 5th. For Havana that means the rollicking nightlife it’s become known for is on hold but promises to resurface when riders return to the capital city on December 9th.

We have still been able to visit the city and take in the incredible culture and architecture of Havana, which dates back to the 16th century.


Havana is also known for it’s many artists and art instillations including the home of Jose Fuso. Fuso is a Cuban treasure who opens his private home for visitation and you can tour the neighborhood he has rebuilt with glittering mosaics.

And of course we have been awestruck by the American cars from Dodge, Plymouth, Oldsmobile, Ford, and Chevy dating back to the 1940s and 50s when owning a car was more than just a mode of transportation but a statement about the driver. The cars alone are worth a trip to Havana.


The Titan Tropic organizers have had to make some changes in observance of the mourning period and that includes canceling the prologue day and stage one will be neutralized as well but the racers will be riding the entirety of the stage without logging an official time.

The real racing starts with stage 2 with riders making a loop around the mountain resort town of Soroa, known locally as the “rainbow of Cuba” for it’s unsurpassed natural beauty.

My wife Jennifer Hanks and I will be competing as a mixed duo team. According to race rules we must ride within 2 minutes of each other throughout the race and can help each other along the way. For us that usually means me carrying all the food and tools, keeping Jen light and fast on the climbs. This will be our fourth team event and we seem to work pretty well together with each knowing their partner is trying their hardest at all times.

We will do our best to keep everyone updated on the race throughout the week as our internet availability allows.

In the days to come there are many incredible experiences in store for all the riders as the race takes in torrential river crossings, Unesco World Heritage sites, tobacco fields, tree rats the size of a house cat, majestic white sand beaches and much more.


Descriptions of the 5 stages of Titan Tropic are below:

The race starts in Havana. Usually with a 30km untimed prologue around the city taking in all the sights including the Malecon, Revolution Square, and the Plaza de Armas. Unfortunately, the prologue had to be canceled in observance of the official mourning period following the death of Fidel Castro.

Titan Tropic’s first stage, 89 kilometers from Havana to Soroa, will also be neutralized as the final day of mourning. However, racers will ride the full distance without logging an official race time.

Following their first night of tent camping in Soroa riders will ride the following day for the first official competitive stage of the 2016 Titan Tropic.

This stage will be a 106 km loop bringing riders back to Soroa after completing a tour of several hydro-electric dams, fertile crop fields, and some technical riding including a 300-foot rocky climb to the finish line.


Stage 3 is the longest of the Titan Tropic at 119 kilometers and perhaps the most scenic taking the race from Soroa to Vinales. This stage includes multiple large river crossings, mountain climbs as steep as 18%, and the unique mogotes (haystack-shaped limestone mountains) of Valle Vinales which make it a Unesco World Heritage site.

Riders will camp here overnight before taking on stage 4, Vinales to Vinales, of 84 kilometers. Known as the Queen Stage of Titan Tropic, Vinales to Vinales, is completely off-road and reportedly the most difficult of the race.

The fifth and final stage takes riders 86 kilometers from Vinales to Cayo Jutias, a white-sand key on the northern Atlantic coast of the island. Despite being named for the giant tree rats that inhabit the islands mangroves, Cayo Jutias is a jewel of the northern coast of Cuba and protected for it’s singular beauty.

Click Here for a Full Start List for the Titan Tropic.

Check back with MTB Race News for updates throughout the week.