Sports — 21 April 2009 — by Damian Gough
Now that the 81st Cross Country Classic is behind us, yet again the debate has started as to the merits of having foreigners participate in this most storied and historical event. As a team owner, and part of the management team of Sugar City Cycling Club, which had two teams in the race, Sugar City Starz and Team ZAMIR Cycling teams, I would be grateful if you would allow me to share some thoughts on the race.
Firstly, it is our club’s belief that if our local riders are to improve their level of performance, they must face international competition, as racing here in Belize against only Belizeans will only get them to a certain level. The same has been done in semi-pro football and semi-pro basketball in Belize. It is for this reason that we not only welcome foreign participation in open races, but would even like to see more allowed in the simple little Saturday races that we do in preparation for the major classics.
Our club, in its relatively short existence, is the only team that has made a concerted effort to take its riders to do regional races over in Mexico to race in Merida, Cozumel, Carillo Puerto, and so on, and have in fact raced against some of the same Mexican competition that was in this year’s Cross Country. As a matter of fact, due to some of the allegiances made by bringing foreign riders to race with our teams, we were able to send 3 of our own, including 4th place finisher and 1st Belizean Jose Choto, to Guatemala for 3 weeks of training leading up to the Cross Country. None of the other teams can boast of such a track record or investment in its riders’ training. We, however, know that if our riders are to be expected to excel against the foreign competition that come in for our races, they must be prepared and must know what it is like to race against a different and higher caliber cyclist.
It is very ironic that one of the persons making the most noise about the amount and level of foreign competition in the race, Santino, is in fact one of the team owners who had 4 of the strongest foreigners in the Cross Country. All four of his riders finished in the top 21 on Saturday. His Canadian Gaviel Epstein (Red Bull) also rode the Vuelta de Mexico in March, which he has referred to in his comments about the race winner. The two Cubans in the race, Travieso (3rd in the Cross Country) and Falcon both rode up to the end of 2008 for the AEG-Toshiba Professional Cycling Team, which is now known as the Toshiba-Santo Pro/Am Cycling Team. One of our American riders, Eric Murphy, who rode for Sugar City Starz in the Valentine’s Classic, Belmopan Classic, and Cross Country, also rode for that same AEG team in 2008. All three riders were registered as Pro cyclists up until the end of 2008. However, with the international economic situation being what it is, the sponsors opted to cut back and the team was eventually downgraded to that of an Elite amateur team; but those riders still, however, race in many of the Pro races on the US circuit.
The fact of the matter, and I am not defending the BCA’s actions to allow so many high caliber foreign cyclists to participate in this year’s Cross Country, is that of the 39 foreigners, easily 25 could have won. This was just too much for our Belizeans riders to contend with. In the two days leading up to the race, many analysts and commentators were already making the conclusion that a Belizean would not win the race, myself included. However, I knew we had a solid team, and that at least 4 of our Belizeans had a chance to win, and we brought in the foreigners to work and ride for them! A look at the final results will confirm, in fact, that, aside from Jose Choto (Zamir Cycling) in 4th place overall and 1st Belizean, we also managed Giovanni Choto in 8th and Quinton Hamilton in 12th, both of whom ride for Sugar City Starz. Our only foreigner to crack the top 20 was Bill Elliston in 16th position. The Santino’s/Red Bull camp had 4 Belizean riders in the top 20 and all 4 foreigners in the top 21.
The Sugar City Cycling Club is the newest team on the scene in Belizean cycling, and in just over 18 months of existence we have managed the following results: *2nd overall and 1st Belizean in the 2008 Cross Country with Michael Lewis *3rd Sagitun Banana Classic 2008 *1st Corozal Mother’s Day Classic 2008, Bertram Brown *1st Dr. Miguel Rosado Memorial Classic 2008, Jose Choto (also won 1st – 5th place) *1st Master’s National Road Championships 2008, Mateo Cruz *1st overall Digicell Valentine’s Classic 2009, Rich Harper; and 1st Belizean, Roger Troyer *3rd overall Belmopan Classic, Roger Troyer *4th overall and 1st Belizean 2009 Cross Country, Jose Choto.
So far this year, Mr. Santino has been penning a number of cycling news updates in the local media of weekly Saturday races results, highlighting the achievements of his Santino’s Cycling Team and their winning ways in most of the races for 2009.
Despite having one of the strongest teams in the pack Saturday, as well as four super strong foreigners, the Chief has come out swinging, criticizing everything from the amount and caliber of the foreigners, to the BCA leadership. He has even gone as far as allowing one of his riders to initiate a protest against Jose Choto, the legitimate 4th place finisher and 1st Belizean, that he is not indeed a Belizean, but a foreigner from Nicaragua, and as such should be stripped of this prize.
Are these the actions of a sore loser? Race, and leave it out on the road….!!! It should be stated officially, however, that Jose Choto is a Belizean, and possesses a Belizean passport and racing license.
In closing, I would like to thank all the riders, families, fans, supporters, and sponsors of all the cyclists, as well as the officials and police who participated in yet another history making Cross Country. Specifically to our team sponsors – Vasquez Trucking, Medical Associates, BSI, La Popular Bakery and Triple A Imports, we say thank you. Let’s do it again next year!!!