Trans Cuba Record
Posted; December 25, 2011 (Cabo San Antonio, Cuba) –
I first joined a cycling club, Houghton Clarion, in 1959 (now Houghton CC). I was 13 years old and crazy about the likes of Fausto Coppi and his arch rival Gino Bartalli. The club had its own clubhouse and was a great place for cyclists of all ages to get together and share cycling in all aspects. My love for cycling has never waned and now at the age of 65, and having done so much cycling and had so much fun doing it, I thought I’d gotten all of the thrills possible – racing, touring, making frames, running teams, and various bicycle related businesses – wrong again Peter. I had never been part of a bicycle marathon ride and as it happens neither had my friend and sometimes cycling partner Alberto.
Alberto at the start in Malecon in Baracoa by the statue of Christopher Columbus. Courtesy of Peter Marshall
The idea for Alberto to ride across Cuba and establish a record was dreamed up by a bunch of old farts having a beer in a bar in Ancaster, Ontario. Colin Fletcher (never ridden in Cuba in his life), Peter Penman (lived in Cuba, should know better), Martin Reid (usually more sensible) and yours truly, all came up with the bright idea that I would return to Havana and try to convince Alberto that this needed to be done. As it turns out it’s not age, but cycling itself, that can make you crazy. He took a few days to mull it over and came back with, “Let’s do it, but I need some time to train”. So we began.
All we knew about marathon cycling was that lots of riding would be a good idea, so we started with that. But Alberto needed a better riding partner than a 65-year-old so he persuaded his buddies to come on long rides. But when he was looking to go on 200km or 300km jaunts his pals told him he was nuts. Undaunted he rode alone, all over this island – a knapsack and an iPod were all he had with him.
Alberto is undaunted by the dirt roads and wind. Courtesy of Peter Marshall
Once he called me from Ciego de Avila and told me he was riding home via Trinidad and Cienfuegos and would be home that night. I checked his route, a whopping 465km. I understood right then that my pal was not fooling around with this and that I needed to do some serious work myself. We needed advice on all matters of marathon rides, how to sleep, how and what to eat, a support team, an appropriate vehicle and on and on.
Good fortune came our way when I got a message from “the Sport Lab”, saying they’d like to help. We were in the dark about nutrition for such an ordeal. Scott & Lowell (SportLab guys) asked all kinds of questions about Alberto and the climate here in Cuba and then sent down the fuel along with instructions. We then conducted a 300km test ride from Santiago to Holguin and back. It took just over nine hours and we were very happy. In all those 300km Alberto never got off his bike (no, not even for that).
(R-l) Mike Cervone, Alberto, and Juan Carlos at the start. Courtesy of Peter Marshall
We found friends to help as a support crew and were lucky that Mike Cervone, a Canadian on a cycling holiday here in Havana asked if he could stay over after his tour and join the support crew. We did not realize how much we needed Mike until one of our drivers was told at the last moment he could not go on the trip. Having already told others that we had enough people on the team we were now short a team member and would soon find out how difficult it would be with one support crew missing. The promise of a loaner TT bike fell through as well and some special spokes purchased for a Shimano wheel were also lost, but in the end we got it all done – not easy in a land with no bike shops.
Crew and rider flew to Santiago and picked up our rental minivan, the cost of which was scandalously high, but on a good note was perfect for the job. We covered it in decals and drove to Baracoa, the eastern starting point of the ride. The next day Alberto touched the hand of the Christopher Columbus statue and headed west, up over Paso Cuba, doing close to 400km before his first 90-minute nap in the home of a cycling coach in Las Tunas.
Somebody please make me a full suspension TT bike… courtesy of Peter Marshall
It all seemed very easy from the truck, but things were to change on the second day when Alberto fought bad surfaces and a stiff cross/head wind between Camaguey and Havana. I knew he would not quit but wondered how he was able to keep going. Turning off the autopista and heading to Pinar del Rio brought great relief but the journey was taking its toll and he was way down on schedule.
His last break was in the city of Pinar and he awoke to the news that he needed to ride around 30kph for the next 195km. Not good news to get at 3am after a cat nap. We knew the road was rough but he refused his road bike and took the very stiff TT machine. Alberto cruised at around 40kph for the next two hours on roads so bad I had trouble keeping up with him and I had to hand off to our co-pilot Juan Carlos. Further down the road we caught a break when we hit a very long section that had been recently re-paved and our man pounded into the daylight. Eventually the surface went back to its horrible self and he did slow down but he still kept going on the TT bike.
The finish at Cabo San Antonio – the first thing he wanted was a beer. Courtesy of Peter Marshall
As we approached the finale stretch we knew he had put in a great effort and we all started to feel a great reduction in the tension. He touched the pier at Cabo San Antonio 72 hours 5 minutes 10 seconds after leaving “Big Chris” standing on the Malecon in Baracoa. Marathon cycling is like bagging your head on a wall, it feels great when you stop!
What may puzzle some of his pals is that Alberto is a track rider, recently winning two gold medals at Pan-American Masters Championship. All his long distance trading did not seem to hurt his pursuiting ability.
Juan Alberto Pena, you are one hammer head cyclist and I am proud to have been in your team !