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Battle lines drawn – will Belize get back the garland on Holy Saturday?

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Posted: Friday, April 15, 2022. 9:49 pm CST.

By Aaron Humes: It has become almost a sacred mission – the young and no-longer-young men of Belize charged collectively to keep the garland of roses bestowed on the winner of the Holy Saturday Cross Country Cycling Classic.

Wags and know-it-alls aside, there is no day more patriotic in Belize, except for a pair in September or perhaps November 19, than Holy Saturday, when at 6 a.m. Belizeans tune in to LOVE FM, KREM Radio, more recently on television and on social media for the start of the “Ride for the Roses.”

This year’s edition is the first after a two-year COVID-enforced hiatus, and many of the estimated 100-plus participants have been off the bike for most of 2020 and 2021, racing having only recently returned with the KREM New Year’s Day Classic and subsequent events.

But the roll call of recent winners makes for tragic reading. Since 1995, Americans have won as many Cross Countries as Belizeans, eight – Justin Williams won his two as Belizean-American but has dropped American citizenship so is added to that list. Guatemala has taken five Classics, all in the last seven years, and finished in the top two eight more times; Mexicans have won three and finished second twice.

It is a far cry from the early days, when the race started in 1928 as a means of linking Belize City with the West, originally through Orange Walk.

First winner Elston Kerr needed a total of 21 hours, 29 minutes and four days – as there was a hiatus in the race while in Cayo – to finish. But as road conditions improved, so did the times and the competitors: Robert Ferguson and Donald Lightburn, each three-time champions; Aston Gill, the first four-time champion and consecutive winner; the dominant Jeffrey O’Brien and 1953 foil Clinton Castillo; the Miguel brothers – Edward, Arthur, John and Rudy; Kenrick “The Doctor” Holliday, Alfred “Sparks” Parks, Alpheus Williams and the brothers Lewis (Michael and Charles) and Smiling (Andrew and Matthew).

Beginning in 1987, imported American cyclists provided the first serious competition, and after Charlie Lewis’ run in the 1990s came to an end, the Americans along with Mexican and Guatemalan cyclists, have claimed the garland in most of the annual cross country races, and have become the pantomime villains of Holy Saturday for most Belizeans. This is where the patriotic spirit came into play and despite a two year break due to COVID-19, it hasn’t dimmed.

The overall record is 5 hours, 40 minutes, 12 seconds set in 2008 and in sunny, breezy conditions typical of this time of year, it may well be challenged on a George Price Highway fully renovated for the first time in years.

Once again, on Holy Saturday, it is Belize versus the world. Who will win? Stay with Breaking Belize News (BBN) to find out.

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