On running a MTB race in the off season…
Cycling is a small world, and if you haven’t done anything besides riding bikes, one day you might wake up in the real world and think, “Shit, riding a bike was pretty easy.”
So with that in mind, for the last few years I have helped organise the Coral Estate Polar MTB classic, at my childhood home in Curaçao. A friend of mine was the head organizer for the race for the past few years, I was giving him a hand over that time, and last year I officially became a partner. This year was the first year we have had other professionals on the start line. It was great to have my friends and colleagues there for the week before to show them the island and the riding. For the race itself, after 6 years, we made it a bit harder than before. Normally it is a pretty easy win, but for the first time in seven editions of the race, I didn’t win. Danny Von Poppel (Trek Factory Racing) won this year.
The day was a beautiful day in Curaçao, (like any other day there.) We had the biggest number of competitors on the island for a race: I’d say that’s a bit of proof that it was a successful event.
The race itself is not very technical, and we’ve chosen this so that my neighbour, for instance can jump on a bike and do it (and she did!) The race HQ is on the resort I live, and namesake of the race: The Coral Estate. The start/finish is at the resort: on the beach, with a restaurant and hotel, holiday apartments, spa swimming pool etc. The course sets out with the first 1.5k on paved road before we take a right into the “jungle. ” It winds along an old salt lake, a location where the slaves worked to dig salt, and then the course goes up towards an old plantation house where the plantation owner lived. Sad history. Such is most of the Caribbean.
At the end of last season I broke my shoulder and collarbone, and this event was actually a silver lining. I was lucky that I could keep busy, and organize the race to keep myself occupied. Going forward into next year, it will be harder. I will need to manage my time a little better than this year as I broke my bones in the beginning of September, so it was ideal time for the race in November. Hopefully I will be able to do it again this coming year, whilst I am racing. Every year we have a little more experience, so every year the race will run smoother. Of course there were little mistakes and things we can do better for next year, but I think for next year a lot of things will run themselves.
It’s actually really nice to do something on the side as a bike rider. Usually its just about bike riding, eating healthy food and getting your sleep and rest in, which can get boring. It’s a great experience to start dealing with other things, like getting sponsor money in, dealing with politics, permissions etc. Normally when you do a bike race you just do a race, you are not aware of all the things happening on the other side: What it takes or costs to put a race on. You just pin your number on and race from start to finish, that’s it, and then sometimes complain …”What a shit,” or “a car on the course,” or “this was organised pretty bad” I have a lot of respect for all the bike race organisers after this year.
Because the course is mainly off roads its easy to design and doesn’t need too many road closures, but the finish and the start are right in front of a restaurant, the road down there was blocked, the restaurant did resist the race. One part of the course went through private grounds and we had to contact the owner: there was a big lock on the entrance to this piece of land. In Curaçao everyone and everything is a little late. We arranged an ambulance and first aid, but by the night before the race, even the hour before the race they hadn’t gotten back to us. In the end everything went smooth but I felt like my race had finished when the real race started. All this kind of stuff, generally you are not aware when you are a bike racer and just race, so it was a great learning experience.
Pieter Weening was the other professional that joined us for the race. But wow did he have a true Caribbean experience. The week after the race, he stayed on in Curaçao. We entered another race the weekend after. During the race he started complaining about stomach problems. That evening we were planning a BBQ with some friends and we were about to leave and he said, “Hey Marc, I’m really not feeling well you better go by yourself,” so off I went. A few hours later he started ringing non-stop, I missed the calls, but called back as soon as I saw, and he was saying over and over “something is wrong something is wrong.” Pieter isn’t the kind of guy that complains easily, so I knew something was really not right. I went straight home he was almost crying. I drove him up to the hospital and that’s were he stayed for 3 or 4 days. He had an intestinal infection, and inflammation, and then got an inflammation of the appendix. The next day they took his appendix out. It was quite an experience for him to be in a Caribbean hospital. He couldn’t fly out when he was supposed to and he was actually required to get a “fit to fly” document from the doctor. I’m not sure if he will come back.
But for me, I will definitely be back. I think my future will be in Curaçao when I am done riding, and this race has helped me start to shape my future. With this job I am talking to different sponsors, parties, I am building up my own network. I already have a network on the island, but this is building a broader base and skills for the future. Its actually a good idea, I think a lot of cyclists are not busy, or prepared for what happens after their careers. As soon as they retire they are a little lost, wondering “shit, now what?” I think it would be a good idea if the retirement fund foundations put some of the money into education programs for retired cyclists or “re-integration” programs for the last one or two years of their careers.
Of course, next season I want to concentrate on racing as well. A win or two would be fantastic, and the season outlook is a great time to start planning some goals. This past year was unfocused with the injuries, and I’m super motivated to return to winning ways. Yet, as a cyclist you can do lots of things besides riding, but this is what I like to do right now.
Words: Marc de Maar @Marcdemaar