It’s been a few years since I’ve paid much if any attention to sports generally and cycling in particular. I’d see some of the news reports in passing but it has been some time since I anticipated the results of races and tried to keep track of who’s who.
You may not be a fan but if you are a Belizean, particularly a Belizean man, chances are cycling is a part of your psyche even if you were not a participant. The Holy Saturday Ride for the Roses has been a rite of passage for many of my contemporaries. For older farts like me, in the days before television and social media, the disembodied broadcast of the heroics of Halliday and Parks are indelibly seared in our beings.
I emerged this week from other contemplations to the realization that the Krem New Year’s Day Cycling Classic is almost 30 years old, and very much a tradition. I saw the second race at the end of 1991, in fact, was a part of the broadcast team, an assignment I did for several years.
Like I said, I haven’t been keeping up, but I am intrigued by the way this year’s edition is playing out. When Evan X founded the race way back when, I can’t say he envisioned the changes that have been wrought, but he knew that what is essentially a prolonged sprint for nearly 100 miles across the straightest and flattest road in Belize would be thrilling.
The fact that it comes after the feasting of the Christmas bacchanal adds to the intrigue for those who are wont to forecast and predict. Throw in thousand-dollar station prizes, nine of them between Corozal and Ladyville next Tuesday, and you have a hard-charging race.
This year’s race features several former champions with the Digi Elite Cycling Team backing defending champion Giovanni Lovell, accompanied by his older brother Gregory “Bullitt” Lovell who garnered second place in 2009, 2013, and 2016, the most of any cyclist competing in the race. Throw in 2002 champion Barney Brown, and young U23 talent Ernesto Bradley, all under the guidance of manager/coach/father/CEO George Lovell Sr., and you have a potent team and likely the odds-on favourite.
They will be challenged though. Benny’s Megabytes fields 2017 champion Ron Vasquez and 2014 champion Byron Pope (2nd 2012) under the veteran management of Perry Gibson.
Smart Cycling Team will ride for Brandon Cattouse, 2nd in 2017, while Team Skyline has the indomitable John Delong, who was 2nd 2018.
The Chotos now have their team, Recinos Imports Cycling team which fields Rafael Jose, Pedro, Jose and 2012 champion Giovanni Choto, as well as Tariq Cano.
I think Westrac Alliance Cycling Club’s Nissan Arana is not a dark horse favourite but a contender, I’ll be forever amused if it’s one of the “old” guys, the veterans such as Kenroy “Smoke” Gladden, Kent Gabourel, Fitzgerald “Palas” Joseph (2nd in 1992), Quinton “The Baddest” Hamilton (2nd in 2000), and Roque Matus who have the experience, the wiles and guile, take the $2,500 first prize if the favourites don’t ride right. Michael “Big Wire” Lewis though, the inaugural 1990 champion, 2nd in 1997 and champion again 14 years later in 2005, is my sentimental favourite.
Female cycling was not introduced to the race until 2001 when Karen Rosito took the inaugural garland. For a few years after that, the story was the competition between the exciting Ann Marie Bennet (2002), Fiona Humes-Gonzalez (2003 & 2004) and powerhouse Marinette Flowers (2005).
In 2006 Alicia Thompson seemingly came out of nowhere to shock the entire cycling fraternity by besting Marinette. She would be second in 2008.
2007 saw the emergence of Gina Lovell as champion and the harbinger that was Shalini Zabaneh second. Shalini would prove to dominate the race for eight years raking up three second-place finishes (2007, 2009, 2012) and five championships (2008, 2010, 2011, 2013, 2014).
I never thought Shalini’s record would ever be eclipsed in female, men or the junior cycling. It is a remarkable record of dominance and accomplishment. During her run, she was strongly challenged by the sisters Gina and Gabrielle Lovell (2nd 2014), Alicia Thompson (2nd 2008), and Althea Sutherland (2nd 2010), and was beaten by Lori Hawkey (2009) and Kaya Cattouse (2012). Her battles with Kaya became the stuff of sports lore.
If the female Krem cycling classic was dominated then by the rivalry between Shalini and Kaya, what are we to make today of Alicia and Kaya? The pair, the female version of Halliday and Parks, have finished first and second respectively in the last four iterations 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018.
In my opinion, if indeed Alicia should record a fifth consecutive championship this New Year’s Day, her sixth cycling championship to go with a second-place finish, it would be the greatest accomplishment in the history of Belizean sports.
It won’t necessarily resonate with Belize’s decidedly macho and patriarchal legion of mostly male sports fans but take my word for it, what happens in the female version of the race tomorrow will be historic, regardless of the outcome. It is one of the most compelling sports story ever.
By Glenn Tillett