Traveling long distances on a bike has always fascinated me. There is something magical about bridging the gap between points A and B under one’s own power, and the level of magic is directly proportional to the distance of the ride. That is what was the inspiration to sign up for this crazy ride six months ago. The chance to ride around an entire island over three days with 500 other crazy cyclists? Take my money!
We have actually been wanting to do the Vuelta for years now, and just now it’s fallen into place where we can get a few friends to go along. When we first signed up we had the best of intentions of training hard for it, putting in plenty of miles and hours in the saddle. Life, however, had different plans. Too many summer races to get miles in, cross season - I can’t go long because I have to race, holiday season - I’m too busy eating and drinking to get out and ride. As the excuses piled up and the Vuelta drew closer, I began to realize that training properly for it was not in the cards. No worries though - better to show up rested anyway, right?
The ride was only three days of a six day trip. With the ride being Friday through Sunday, we flew out on Wednesday afternoon. That gave us a full day to get our bikes put together and get organized before having to start the ride on Friday. We’ve been on trips where something on the bike breaks during travel, but fortunately this time everything arrived in one piece.
Day 1 - 150 miles - San Juan to Ponce
Being a 150 mile day, we got a very early start out of San Juan. A 5AM rollout meant a 4AM wake up. While I normally would get up earlier and eat before a ride of this magnitude, in this case we were having breakfast 20 miles down the road so all I needed to do is get dressed, have a coffee, drop off the bag, and roll out.
The group of 500 rolled out as one in the dark out of San Juan, and it was a fairly treacherous departure. You see, Puerto Rico may just be the only place on earth with roads worst than Houston, and that’s saying something. If you’ve ever been to Houston, you know what I mean. Dodging potholes and manhole covers in the dark with 500 other people means you have to be on top of your game to stay upright.
Halfway through the ride was the major climb of the day, just before lunch. It was about 3k in length and was a tough little climb. Living in the flatlands I relish the opportunity to go uphill, so I let it rip to get to the top of the hill as quickly as I could. At the top we were rewarded with spectacular views and a great lunch!
Finishing up the ride was fairly straightforward with a flat roll for a few hours into Ponce, then straight to the pool. Having not trained much for the ride I actually had very good legs on the day and was not hurting as much as I have on similar rides in the past.
Day 2 - 80 miles - Ponce to Mayaguez
You know your calibration has been reset when 80 miles seems like a short ride, and compared to the 150 the day before, it sure was. The group rolled easy all day, took our time at breakfast, and rolled into Mayaguez right at lunchtime and was treated to a great little festival in the town square. It was a fairly uneventful ride as most of us were still tired from a long right and short night sleep the day before.
Day 3 - 130 miles - Mayaguez to San Juan
As we were scheduled to arrive in San Juan at 6PM, we got a bit of a sleep in and didn’t have to wake up until 6AM! The group followed the usual plan of rolling an hour to breakfast, then splitting up for the rest of the day. Today just happened to be the hottest day of the ride, with no cloud cover at all.
After lunch was the only tough patch of the entire 375 miles for me. There was an hour we were on a long highway with no shade and baking in the hot sun, and I suffered the most during this stretch. For that hour I had some doubts about actually finishing the event, but fortunately a rest stop with cold water, ice, and a swimming pool helped me snap out if it!
Surprisingly, in the days after the Vuelta my legs and ass felt great. I think part of that is due to being well-rested for the event, and part is experience. This was not my first rodeo at a long 3 day ride, and I was thankful that the experience of previous events helped get me though this one.
Overall, the Vuelta is a great event, and was very well organized. The rest stops were fully stocked with water, gatorade, and plenty of food. A very nice touch was having mini cans of Coke and Sprite available. For me, those were life savers! Each day your bag was delivered to the event hotel, so literally all you had to do is ride your bike. I’ll take a few days of easy riding to rest and recover, but can’t wait to start thinking about the next cycling adventure!
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