MTB Ayiti Stage 1 – Hill Climb I was feeling anxious lining up for Stage 1 of MTB Ayiti. We had an early morning start near the old palace in Port Au Prince. At 6:15 AM sharp, we rode as a group to the start line. Heidi Swift and I Marla Streb and I ready to crush! I was surprised to hear loud music and see an actual start chute. I was even more surprised to see the turnout of Haitians who came to watch the start of the race. There were families and smiling faces. The Minister of Sport came to give a speech and we were called up to the start line. We had a neutral start that went up a steep road. Yeah – that guy in red wore sandals and he chain smoked! Photo: Steve Z I looked around me and saw people looking busy carrying loads on their heads, dogs in the street, children stopping to look. Willy, Dave, and I started the dirt climb together at go. Dave and Willy actually upped the pace just a tad faster than I wanted to go, so I let them ride ahead and kept them about 20yds in front of me. I waited for each of them to poop out a little before I overtook them. We rode through a granite quarry and I had a flashback to the day before. A few of us had gone to this quarry to do some videoshooting. There was a man carrying a cooler on his shoulder yelling Mais or something to that effect. He was selling corn ice cream. I was weary to eat ice cream in a foreign country – I normally avoid dairy when traveling. However, Steve (who is also a Denver resident) told me he had it a few times before and everyone else was getting one so I jumped on the wagon. I didn’t regret it. It was sweet and delicious. I discovered that the man carrying the cooler actually walked from town to the top of a mountain every day selling ice cream…. 3000’ up! What was even more interesting is that he didn’t have ice to keep it cold, and the cooler and the paper insulation kept the ice cream cold and solid. We passed the guy carrying the green cooler in the race and I yelled a hello to him. Photo: Steve Z Suddenly I was alone with a lead moto in front of me. We had police in front of and behind the race. For Stage 1, it was me and one police moto. I was surprised that I was in the front of the race. I was also surprised at how steep and loose the climbing was! I knew Stage 1 was short, so I let ‘er rip. I was happy I felt strong after not riding for 3 days leading up to the race. There was also a few push-a-bike spots that were pretty tough. My favorite part was a small section of singletrack with a huge ocean view to my left. When I looked up, I literally yelled “WHOAAA!” Photo: Steve Z It was about 90F and humid, and I was going so hard! My average heart rate was 190 for the 1.5 hour stage! The short trail dumped me out onto the pavement with large houses and huge views all around me. It reminded me of being in Nepal with deep valleys. As I rounded the final turn, a few of the race organizers were there cheering me on. Art was lining the street. There was no “finish line” and the lead moto kept going so I followed. We started going downhill until I yelled to him in French, “Je suis fini?!” “Je ne sais pas!” he yelled back. I knew it finished on top of the hill, so I hoped that we had just blown past it. I turned around and cruised back up. I had taken 1st overall! A few minutes later, Dave rolled in with a broken carbon rail on his seat. Fortunately, the organizers were able to get him another seat to use for Stage 2 later that day. I rode back down the pavement section to find Jenny Fletcher and cruise in with her. Jenny is a pro triathlete and won her first Ironman last year. The crux? She had never ridden a mountain bike till a few days before the race. Things I take for granted as a mountain biker became a challenge for her, but she adapted very quickly. We rode back in for the finish of Stage 1. Everyone gathered at an observatory with a breathtaking ocean view. Photo: Steve Z I had a 7up made with cane sugar. It tasted soooo good – completely different from American 7 up! Everyone was really excited about the turnout and the challenge of the course for Stage 1. When the racers finished trickling in, we loaded the buses and headed to the start of Stage 2. I somewhat dreaded the start of Stage 2 after the big effort I put out on STage 1. The hardest part is geting started again after you stop. After about a 30 minute bus ride, we were there.