Posted: Monday, June 21, 2021. 1:49 pm CST.
By Rubén Morales Iglesias: It was head to head-to-head at the end of 87 grueling miles of the Belize National Road Race Championship a little before midday under extreme heat on the John Smith Road.
They had battled against each other, they had fought against the field, and finally they were up front, the favoured come-from-America professional Belizean Justin Williams of Team L39ION and the National Time Trial Champion from Cayo, Oscar Quiroz of 501 Valvoline Cycling Team, who had been the favourite until Justin’s presence was announced on Friday.
At the very end, Justin was able to inch himself away from Oscar to take the National Road Champion title by just over a bicycle length.
The L39ION rider had claimed the title.
“It was a really aggressive race. … I was just lucky enough to come around Oscar, I think we were in the same kind of a position as far as how we felt. And then, you know, we just came down to the end and you know, I just had a little bit more because he went first and then I got his draft. And then yeah, it was just desperate. A slow man sprint, desperate to get to the line and I was able to pull it off, and I’m grateful. These guys are super talented, and they definitely had me on the edge for the second half of the race. But you know, you gotta fight to the end and that’s all I did.
“I haven’t wanted to win a race like this bad in a long time, so I think I pushed my body past, maybe I lost a couple years off my life with that one, but I pushed past what I thought I was capable of, but that’s the greatest part about bike racing. It takes you to a place that you didn’t know you had. So again, really grateful to get it done and be able to represent the jersey on a big level.”
But while, Justin was elated, Oscar was downhearted.
“I was glad I could have challenged it [though] I wasn’t feeling my best. Today I didn’t really feel like myself I don’t know why but you know sometimes you have bad days … but, you know, it’s part of racing,” said Oscar Quiroz.
But, while finishing second makes anyone feel like they had a bad day, the reality is Oscar rode an exceptionally good race.
“I think like maybe half or one (bicycle length) because he ended up right in front of me. He was cramping up as well, but he had the guys to help him and if it was a two against two, I don’t know if they would have the advantage at that point, but you know they did what they had to do. Well, Justin is a professional, so he knows how to ride races. He came by himself, but he had the legs.”
Though Justin only had one other cyclist registered under L39ION, who really helped him during the race was Cayo’s G-Flow team with whom he formed an alliance. At the very end, Shawn Codd and Shane Jones were on his side, while Oscar only had the help of Joslyn Chavarria.
Oscar said that if he had the facilities to train like Justin does, things could be different, but he said he accepts Justin was better on the day.
“I have to accept it. It is what it is and, men, big kudos to Justin. He had the legs in the end. Well, I hope I can give him another run sometime soon when I’m in better shape.”
Oscar said that earlier in the race they had to catch up with the front group and Justin did a lot of work.
“I knew that he was going to make the race and move and when he made the move, it was pretty much when we the strong guys or whoever wanted to win would have had to go with him to.
That was about 12 miles in, by the Maskall junction.
“He pretty much executed what he had to do. He put down the power. He got all the remnants of the other breaks, the main break which was about two minutes and a half. We bridged that gap in about ten miles. Justin, myself, and Eric Trapp. We caught up the main group on the first lap on the Airport Road/Link Road about two miles in.
“They had a bunch of guys right there, five Westrac guys, and about four G-Flow, including Justin because Justin was riding with them. So, they teamed up. We, 501 Valvoline, had three, myself, Joslyn Chavarria, and Henno Moreira.
“We’re not in the best shape now, but how it played out, we just started rotating. A little after that Justin started putting on the pace and myself, I started executing because we had to get rid of a lot of the guys.
“Well, it boiled down to five guys, myself, Joslyn from Team 501 Valvoline, Justin, Shane Jones and Shawn Codd from G-Flow and Carlton Robinson from Westrac.
“Pretty much that was it from about 40 miles in the race, we had those guys left [behind] and from there it exploded to a seven-minute gap from the closest chasing group. That ran to the line.
“Coming into the line about ten miles or so, the war started. They had three guys. They executed their plan well. Justin is the best guy here. They did what they had to do and well, we were at a disadvantage because we only had two guys, but kudos to Joslyn. Joslyn did a heck of a job. What a warrior he is, man. He had better legs than me, but I had a little faster legs in the end. He slaved himself. I want to big up Joslyn. He really did a good job.”
But, as Oscar says, at the line, Justin took the race and the title: National Road Champion.
But, it wasn’t easy. Justin said this has been the toughest race he’s run this year.
“I was trying to wait to get into the crosswinds because in the crosswinds, I can make everybody do the same amount of work as me. I can put it in the gutter. So, when we came through this road toward the end, I hit it. And then we came out of this road [the John Smith], onto the Western Highway with, I think four and then that four rode across to the break away. And then we got to the break way and that was good. It was established. A couple of guys were teammates.”
Justin said that even though the G-Flow riders and he were working together, (and he says they really helped him toward the end,) he knew he had to do it for himself if he was to win.
“But I knew I had to work because if I didn’t work, no one was gonna work. So, it put me in a situation where I just had to spend a lot of energy early. And then from there, you know, I was thinking in my head, ‘lose from the front, lose from the front.’ If you’re going to lose, make sure that you’re at least in a position to win the race and don’t wait around. Leave it all out there.
“And then actually coming out of Boom on the last lap I was cramping. I was telling Oscar, men, ‘like I don’t have it, like I’m cramping.’ His teammate attacked, with another rider. And again, I was just thinking to myself ‘lose from the front.’ I just sat on the front end and rode what I could and then they came back, and I was alright.
“And then towards the end when we got in the road, we’re attacking each other, attacking each other and I was just holding on for life.
“And then, yeah, you know, if I can make it to a sprint, you know sprinters always going to be able to find something. And I was just lucky enough to come around Oscar.”
Both riders finished the National Road Race Championship in 3 hours, 45 minutes and 15 seconds, five seconds faster than Shawn Codd, the first U-23 rider, and ten faster than Oscar’s teammate, Joslyn Chavarria.
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