Thursday, July 05, 2007

DCMTB takes on the best of Ghana and...

Two weeks ago I was tipped off by a friend that a major race was going to be staged in Accra on July 1. A few days later I managed to get invited to participate in the Bahmed Cycling Challenge Cup - a showcase of the best talent from Cote d’Ivoire, Togo, Nigeria, as well as Ghana. Ghana would use the race to select their national team to for the All-Africa Games this month in Algeria. The opportunity to show the DCMTB colors in a real race was something I could not miss.

The BCCC was billed as a 115km (72mi) road race and criterium. I am probably better suited for races requiring the sharp bike handling skills and short bursts of speed common in multi-lap crits, rather than the long sustained efforts of road races. The BCCC was sort of both, but really neither. Seventy two miles is a long race, especially considering my steadily declining level of fitness since becoming employed a few months ago. I was resting my hopes on residual fitness, well rested muscles, but mostly eagerness to represent the DCMTB/City-Bikes/Metro-Gutter team overseas.

Since the race advertised a 9AM start, SJD and I rode from home down to Osu leaving a full hour to do the formalities of paying entry, signing liability waivers and pinning on racer numbers. One little detail we forgot - there is no United States Cycling Federation here. At 9AM it was pretty clear that no race was going to begin at 9AM. Nope. A few bikers milled about. There were signs, chairs and the requisite wall of speakers pumping out Ghanaian hip-life and rap at level 11. (The wall of speakers - they really do deserve an entire blog entry. It is no wonder everyone gets up so early in Ghana.) But anyway…no sign of any race promoters.

When asked, a rider named Prince explained that the race will begin in about “an hours time.” Yeah, it is always good to allow a lot of extra time here, and not get too upset when things don’t start when advertised. So I decided to do a quick course 4.5 mile loop to warm up the legs and lungs, as well as note any tricky corners or stretches into headwinds. After a few minutes I returned to the shade of the vacant VIP tent. And waited...

The BCCC was not the only event going on in Osu this day. The Milo Marathon seemed to step off on time, and several of the lead runners were streaming by to the finish at Independence Square providing entertainment while we waited. Milo is a powdered chocolate flavored food drink with “MORE ENERGRY RELEASING B VITAMINS”. Guess you’d need it to keep going in these in fancy shoes. Ouch! Several competitors forgo even the flip-flops, preferring pave' au peid. Ouch again! So as runners pass through the various check points on the course, they are handed a ribbon necklace to wear. By the time we were seeing the racers go by, they had quite a stack around their necks. Very festive.

None of the activity seems to warrant much reason to divert or close roads to traffic. Life kind of just goes on around the runners. Every now and then a police officer would swat the toes of spectators crowding the road for a better look. It seems a bit harsh, but is taken in stride.
On top of the marathon and bike race, the 53 African heads of state were meeting in Accra this morning , adding a few extra speeding, honking, passing motorcades into the mix.

Back to the bike race, or waiting for a bike race.

10AM comes and goes with little action. Promoters and more teams have arrived. A roll of tape appears, and the start/finish line is adhered to the road. Progress in small small steps. Apparently all of the formalities have been waived -- no entry fee, no race number, no waiver forms -- making all the delays seem even more puzzling. I take to my shaded chair again to watch the marathoners, thinking I surely should be able to run 26.2 miles. I’ve got the fancy shoes after all.

11:10AM. No kidding. Motorcycles, TV crew and support vehicle are in position. Brief team introductions were made. All of us were proclaimed to be “professionals”. I alone was introduced as “the foreigner. The white man.“ I waved politely and thanked them for the invitation. All a bit unexpected but a little bit funny.

After a parade lap in the sponsor's t-shirts, things got serious. Note the lone rider that did not understand this step.

Riders ready. Set....


Bunched up.

Bikers overtaking the marathon
The round-about at Independence Square with me taking a breather mid-pack.

Two hours later than anticipated we are sent out to race with the typical first lap shenanigans. The road surface irregularities are painfully noticeable at 30mph - almost like a washboard with potholes thrown in to keep everyone alert. It is clear pretty early that many of the riders are fairly inexperienced with pack riding where maintaining a line is just as important as reacting calmly and predictably, and even more important than simply being fast. The bumps are painful to the wrists and bum, but riders weaving around them upredictably creates waves in the pack. Not even a mile is complete before the first crash occurs. The first rider to go down simply gets bucked by a bump hitting the deck in a tangle of scraping metal on pavement. A rider behind him swerves right into the adjacent open gutter and endos onto the sidewalk. Looked pretty bad. It takes a few laps before the high pace begins to thin the pack creating more room on the road.

Without a team to support, I was pretty much free to ride my own race. I would be thrilled to finish. Content to hang beyond half way. Happy to affect the outcome of the race somehow.
The two hour delay did not do me any real favors. On lap eight my hamstrings began to cramp signaling the end was near for me unless I could get liquids quickly. I guzzled the last of my three water bottles as a small gap opened between the pack and me. My last gasp chase attempt merely resulted in holding steady for a half lap before I pulled over to refill a bottle from SJD. I chased one more lap with another straggler until it was clear that we were losing ground rapidly.

Then out of nowhere I heard the familiar honka-honk-honk-honka of the Fan-Ice guy pedaling his ice-cooler bike full of frozen goodies towards me. I bought one Fan-choco and a one Tampico and faced the fact that I was cooked. It is probably the most shameful example of mental toughness, but frozen chocolate milk tasted sooooo good. Might as well ride back to the start/finish and watch from the sidelines as the rest of the race unfolded. It was a bit of a let down to race just 9 laps of 15 and all of a sudden not be able to turn over the cranks another rotation, but generally a good workout.

The view from the sideline was much more pleasant. With four laps to go the pack had been whittled down to a select group of ten racers still dropping the hammer up to the sprint finish. Local riders claimed the victory as well as second and third spots. All three racers were immediately hoisted upon the shoulders of the crowd for a heroes march back to the start/finish tent. I have never seen such an enthusiastic reaction from a bike race crowd like this.

The next day we read the coverage by the local papers and had a good laugh at the reference to the foreigners' fizzle . See below. Save your eyes and double click on the image for a larger view.

(Also, photo credits to SJD, and Dan & Giselle. Thanks!)


Mark said...

this is too good -- a simultaneous marathon and bike race. BEP and SD should have formed a biathalon team and participated in both events.

Wednesdays at wakefield is tame compared to this -- the biggest news is that the races HAVE NOT been thunderstormed out, and the temperatures and humidity in the first race were well below the 90% level.

Brian said...

Hey Mark,

Boy do I miss those races. That IS big news. Do you even break a sweat at those levels? Expert eh? Not bad...

Believe it or not, I think it has been cooler here in Accra lately. Still the best time of the day to ride is 6AM, when the goats and dogs are still sleeping in the middle of the road.

Thanks for reading.

gwadzilla said...



good you got out there
glad you are enjoying the witness protection program


Anonymous said...

Now that Mark has said the rest of the series will be nothing but rain. So you were the USA guy that was supposed to challenge for the title? Cool!!!


ruth said...

How fun to read about the bike race (and marathon)! I'm sure you would have liked to finish; I'm also sure that it was good that the "foreigner" didn't grab any of the headlines...

I'm just back from a week in Mississippi with a delegation that viewed the (two year old) devastation that remains from Katrina. O my . . . it's heart breaking!

Brian said...

Scud - Yup. I believe I was the only American racing. The promoters are really trying to elevate cycling here to compete with soccer. They really are quite nice, if at times a bit overly optimistic in my abilities.

Joel - I absolutely fizzled out, but at 9/15 distance. don't know the power of Fan-Choco.

Ruth - Finishing would have been pretty cool. As it turned out, the winners were very quick to congratulate and thank me for racing. But yes, placing would have been a bit awkward. Need to hear more about Mississippi.

Anonymous said...

Just as well. Your podium photo would have made a great Far Side cartoon.

You didn't happen to see a black and blue Salsa Campeon in the peleton, did you?


Anonymous said...

Pooch, maybe you should rent yourself out as a spokesman for the Fan-choco and Tampico folks. I can see the ad now--"I gave up the national championship for a nice cool Fan-choco." Sounds much better than the "foreigner who fizzled."


Anonymous said...

how far is ghana to lagos nigeria by road please