Wednesday, November 30, 2011

'89 Vuelta a Guatemala - The early stages

The Ukrainians want my jersey...they'd have it soon enough

In October of 1989 I got to go to my second of three trips to the Vuelta a Guatemala. I'd had a reasonably good year, but there were a few disappointments as well. I had a month long Fed trip with the Giro Della Regioni and a few single day races, along with the Peace Race. At the Peace Race, however, I shattered my collar bone trying to position for a sprint finish in East Berlin. One of the Fed coaching staff at the time, Jiri Mainus, was an advocate for me, and made sure I got the nod for some late season racing to hopefully get me back in sterling form for the next year, starting with the Vuelta a Guatemala.

I had good form coming into this, having done some good racing late into the fall and a lot of good training on the climbs around Albuquerque. I was looking to make an early splash in Guatemala, and hoped to hang on as best I could for the final GC. Guatemala is a very mountainous country with often poorly surfaced roads. While I could sometimes climb with best, it certainly wasn't my forte. In a mountainous stage race like Guatemala, 14 stages with one rest day, I had to grab at any chance I had for a result. We had a good team. Joining me there was Chris Petty, Clark Sheehan, and young Chann McRae.

A circuit race in Guatemala City served as stage one, where I sprinted to 2nd place behind Max Leiva. Because of that 2nd place, I got the Regularidad jersey, the combination of intermediate sprints, mountain points, and stage finishes. I wasn't really the leader of the classification, but since Max Leiva won, he was in the leaders Quetzal jersey, so I got Regularidad by default. The picture above was taken at the start of stage two, from Guatemala City to Zacapa, 150 km and mostly downhill. I won an intermediate sprint, but messed up the finale, and the Ukrainians won, and took my Regularidad jersey away.

The following stage was135km from Zacapa down to the border with El Salvador at Esquipulas, and turning back to finish on a tough, short climb to Chiquimula. I didn't fancy my chances here, as there was some hefty climbing. Indeed, I was dropped on the climb approaching the border, but caught back on the short descent to Esquipulas. On the climb back out of Esquipulas, however, I noticed the top GC threats looking at each other, and bridged to a small group that was dangling off the front. Costa Rican Luis Morera and Ukrainian Sergie Zmievoskoi followed, and we got a gap we maintained to the finish. I cracked on the climb up to Chiquimula, and Morera won and took the overall lead.

Largely the reverse of stage two, stage four went from Teculutan back to Guatemala City. While a bit shorter at 123km, it was of course mostly uphill. The finish was about 10km of flat roads into the capitol, but prior to that was a long dragging climb that destroyed me the year before. Again I didn't fancy my chances, but fortune smiled on me.

I got into a rather large escape group going for the first Meta Volante sprint before the climbing started. When we hit the first climb, after dropping most the group, the pace was steady, and I was able to hang on. The group consisted of Guatemalans Oscar Chacon and Oscar Aquino, Swiss Adrian Beattig, and Costa Rican Luis Hildalgo. Hildalgo was curiously willing to work, given that his teammate was in the overall lead, but there were no Colombians, top Guatemalans, or Ukrainians in the group. He perhaps wanted to make them chase so Morera could pounce in the end, or at least have a relatively easy day of it. Things stayed pretty calm until three riders bridged about 5km from the top of the final climb to Guatemala City. It was one of the Colombians, Jahir Bernal, and fancied Guatemalans Marvin Escalante and Federico Lechuga. They went to work immediately upon bridging, and in short order dropped Aquino, with Beattig and I following a kilometer later. The Swiss and I kept our cool, and when the road flattened back out, we commenced chasing. It was a hard chase back, but we caught on 3km from the finish. We sat at the back, and Escalante and Bernal, driving the pace, didn't notice our return. When they finally saw us, the cat and mouse games started. There were a few moves, but nothing got away and it came down to a sprint. With only Beattig to worry about, I sat at the back and started sprinting as the road came fairly steeply downhill into a curving slightly uphill finish. I got a clear win in front of Escalante and Bernal.

  If you're up on your Espanol, however, you can see from the text on the cover shot of Prensa Libre's sports page, that Marvin Escalante was awarded the stage. This was because I "levantar los brazos en un sprint cerrado antes de llegar a la meta." That is, I raised my arms in a sprint before the finish line, and was thus relegated to last in the group. While that was disappointing, and I asked why Max Leiva wasn't penalized for the same thing on stage one (they explained he raised his arms after the finish line) I was nevertheless now the overall leader.

The awards presentations were before the stage starts, and funny enough, before stage five, in addition to  announcing me as overall leader, they also called me winner of the stage. In the picture below, taken by the late, great Bill Woodul, there I am, with a lot of unkempt hair, the Sueter Quetzal, and the medal for the stage win.

The stage for my day in the overall lead started in Guatemala City, descended to the southwest and ran along flat roads before taking a long gradual descent at Palin, turning around at Escuintla, climbing the same road back up to Palin, and then along Lago de Amatitlan before turning up a nasty, steep, but mercifully short climb to the finish back in Guatemala City. 132km of racing in which I was fairly confident of being able to retain my lead.

The race went out fast that day, fast enough to keep anyone from attacking, which was nice since we then didn't need to make pace. Just before the long descent, I hit a deep, narrow, jagged pothole. The result was not only two punctures, but two two destroyed wheels. Chris, Clark, and Chann all stopped, for which I am to this day grateful. We chased back at great speed and effort, but only caught back a few km from the turnaround.

Much to my dismay, I punctured again just as we started climbing. My teammates all stopped again, and we were now chasing back in the worst of circumstances, on a climb where drafting is diminished. Because it wasn't terribly steep, drafting was of some help, but it wasn't long before we lost Chann and Clark, who was suffering from stomach ailments. Chris and I chased through a bulk of the field but had a long chase ahead of us to catch the lead group which was moving fast up the climb. We ended up near the top with what one would call the main field in sight with one tiny Guatemalan helping us, Hector Del Cid. Below is a picture of the three of us chasing up the climb

Del Cid stopped helping once the road leveled out, not because, I think, he wasn't willing to help, but because he probably couldn't. It took Chris and me a good half hour of chasing on the flat roads along the lake to catch back to the group. The Costa Ricans had been chasing hard because a four rider group had gone up the road, containing three of the Colombian team, and Edin Roberto Nova, the best of the Guatemalans. Luis Morera dropped back to ask Chris and me to help chase. I looked at Chris, and he didn't seem too enthusiastic. While I'm certain Chris would have pulled until he dropped had I asked, I thought better of it. The lead four were close to 5 minutes up already, and we were exhausted. It seemed to me better to throw in the towel and race for other things later. There were after all, 11 days of racing left. "Lo siento" I said to the Costa Ricans, "Somos muy consado" (I didn't know if that was grammatically correct or not), and I added in English, "We got nothing".

The Costa Ricans continued chasing, but weren't able to put a dent in the break's lead. The final gap wasn't greater only because, I think, the Colombians decided they could relax a bit. We hit the final climb up to the finish and we dragged ourselves over the line. I got mobbed by spectators, the TV crews, and newspaper reporters. It was hard to breathe, and I forced my way to the side of a building where I could sit down and at least be surrounded only on 3 sides. Bill Woodul pushed his way through the crowd and took my bike. I explained my difficulties of the day to an interpreter, who relayed it to the press, and the Prense Libre photographer got this shot of me drowning my sorrows with some water.

What you tell the reporters sometimes doesn't make the papers however. The next day Prense Libre reported several punctures on the day, but somehow missed all three of mine. "MacClung (sic) se rezago en el trayecto de Escuintla a Palin, pero en los planes, mostro su fuerza y se recupero" they reported. As they saw it, I was simply left behind on the climb, and recovered once the road flatted out. No matter, I was in any case quite simply cracked. Chasing for half the stage, along with all my efforts of the earlier stages had left me with little to run on for a few days. I needed a few days of just sitting in the wheels to recover. My days of glory in this edition of the Vuelta a Guatemala were done. Though I was only about 2 minutes off the lead in fourth place after this stage, I knew I would fall further back as the race went on. As a team, we had now to play another card, but without Clark, who couldn't continue due to illness.

More on that to come.


  1. Wasn't that around the time that Brett Regan and Eve Stevenson were up at the OTC? Totally burned Brett out on bike racing, although we can still get him to do a TT now and then.

  2. The very same era indeed. They killed a lot of bike racers back then...turned Chuck Veylupek into a triathlete.

  3. Hello

    How are you? I am an amateur cycling historian, I'd like to contact you.

    Best Regards

  4. very nice champion your writing will not doubt that emotional feelings because the truth is little or nothing better written v inthe event of this important and life which God gave us the chance to attend. he is spoken of Colombia Dinael vargas arias worthy winner of this great event today I feel proud to have contributed alos cycling achievements of my country. but above all things leave a lot of friends like you and all who isimos part of this return to Guatemala for me with all respect was a family hugs from my country Colombia and success and God bless you.

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  9. I remember this "vuelta ciclistica a Guatemala"