Road to Hell – Race Report
Last Sunday was the “Road to Hell” bike race in Saipan. It was part one of a series of races eventually culminating in the annual Hell of the Marianas century cycle. This particular race was only 35 kilometers and covered the “5 corners,” which are five tourist sites on the Northern portion of the island: the old Radar Station, Suicide Cliff, Bird Island Lookout, the Grotto, and Banzai Cliff. Unfortunately, I was fighting the flu, but decided I still didn’t want to miss the race. Brilliant.
The race began at Pau Pau beach with an almost immediate climb up to the old Radar Station. This meant there was no warm-up and the lead pack of riders separated very quickly. Luckily, nobody put on a real attack during that first climb, though there were a few spurts of short-lived energy. I got hot pretty quickly, but since everyone was kind of taking it easy, I kept up during the first climb. There was a turnaround at the top, which meant dodging other riders on the way down. The breeze felt great, but I lost the lead group by about a hundred meters by the time I made it to the bottom of the descent. Luckily, the group resumed an easy pace and I was able to bridge the gap without too much trouble.
The next section was the climb up Suicide Cliff. I had one gel with me and ate it just before the climb. The first part of that hill is the steepest of the whole course, and this was the point of the first real attack. There were a few break-away attempts, but we all had enough energy to stick together and no one got away. About 3/4 up Suicide Cliff, however, one of the young guys broke away and everyone just sort of let him go. Since he had never won a race before (to my memory), I think we all just thought he’d burn out and we’d catch him at the next climb.
By the top of Suicide Cliff I was burning up and wasn’t so sure I should have joined the race that day, but figured at least the big climbs were behind me. I lost the lead group of 4 sometime during the climb, but saw them coming down after the turnaround. Jerome Diyco, who had broken away earlier, had a pretty decent lead at that point. There was still plenty of race left though, and the others didn’t seem too worried. The order stayed pretty much the same past the Grotto and heading to Banzai Cliff. Past Banzai, the second and third riders, Nap Dizon and Tyce Mister, had broken away from Erico Castro, who was in fourth. There was only a flat section to the finish line though, so not much of a chance to catch anyone.
Jerome took first place, with Nap in second, and Tyce in third. Erico came in fourth, and I was fifth. Bob Ferrer and Butch Sublemente came in together after me, and I lost track of finishers after that. Despite my fifth place finish, we had beautiful weather, a great turnout, and a pretty fun race. I have a couple of takeaways from the day, however. First, all that hill climbing reinforced the importance of adding once-per-week hill repeats to any training program. In that race, the guy who had been doing the most hill work came in first. No huge surprises there.
Second, the race got me thinking a bit about winning because the guys that usually win didn’t win this time. But the guy that won this time probably won’t win next time. Eventually, even the greatest athletes are beaten by some new rising star. So, why do we do it? What about all the people slogging away the miles at the back that never had a chance of winning? In the end, it’s mostly a good day with a few friends (at least here in Saipan), and way to push your own limits. An older friend of mine put it very well when he remarked at the end of the day, “It must feel pretty good to be in such good shape and go that fast.” Indeed. See you at the next race!