The original plot for late March and early April was to ’embed’ with the Kingsnorth guys near Gent and cover Wevelgem, De Panne and Flanders. But then up popped Peter Jacques and Erin Hartwell, the movers and shakers who put together the teams for the Trinidad & Tobago Beacon Cycling Festival.
Two weeks in a tropical paradise reporting on criteriums and track meetings – as my buddy Dave would say; “I didn’t have the manners to refuse!”
The journey out was a nightmare, over which we’ll draw a veil – I’m trying not to think about the fact that I’ll have the same 29 hours travelling to get home.
But here I am on the verandah at Par-may-la’s in Trinidad’s capital, Port of Spain waiting to go to our meeting with the mayor – cycling is a big deal here.
There are at least three hard tracks on the island that I’m aware of and for the big criterium around The Queen’s Park Savannah (the public space in the centre of Port of Spain) the capital’s mad traffic is diverted elsewhere.
Monday was a blur, the plane landed around 06:30 and by the time we loaded bikes onto the pick up, battled the traffic, got organised at the digs, had a coffee and a bite to eat, it was time for an early bed.
Tuesday was better, there’s a good coffee shop just around the corner with free high speed wi-fi and decent coffee for a quid.
Michael Phillips is the man who organises the festival, he was a strong kilo rider, with top tens in World Cups – he’s a bike shop owner now, although his lo pro kilo iron has been swapped for a Harley.
His staff were keen to know if I intended to rival the last GB journalist who made the trip (no names, no pack drill!); ‘he had a bit of sun in the morning then a few Scotches, after that he decided he had to show us how an Englishman could drink beer, then he disappeared – we searched for him, but couldn’t find him, until a parked car drove away and we could see where he was lying sleeping in the street!’
I had to explain to the guys that VeloVeritas journos were made of more sophisticated stuff than that – although I have tried a Stag, and a Carib, the local lagers.
If you were to drink one in Scotland, you’d say; ‘that’s a bit tasteless,’ but here, they’re perfect – cold, light and refreshing.
The afternoon was PR time – meeting the sponsors at Jaffa’s Lounge in the famous Queen’s Park Oval cricket ground; where cricket legend Brian Lara cut his teeth.
He’s referred to in hushed tones here and I’ve heard him compared to ‘cricket’s Eddy Merckx.’
Gerald Hadeed is main man with The Beacon insurance company and he has supported the races ever since they began, ten years ago.
The air con was cool, the nibbles of the highest quality, the speeches weren’t too long and I stuck rigidly to Diet Coke.
Franco and Leif Lampater were the main target for the media; the big Suisse is a natural at PR, whether it’s larking about behind the lectern or taking the waiter’s tray to serve the vegetable somosas.
Peter had to give a speech – the man is virtual GB vice-counsel on this island.
I even got a mention, but I had to wonder who they were talking about; ‘top European cycling journalist’ – no pressure on me, then!
Michael Phillip’s mum, Rosebud, very kindly drove us back to the digs by way of the supermarket so that Leif and Andreas Muller could get the shopping done.
Salad time at ‘Trotters’ for Pete and I – I’d just finished my jerk chicken salad, when the Argentinian trio arrived, lead by the inimitable ‘singing six day man’ Sebastian Donadio.
‘Do you have the Roland organ with you?’ I asked. ‘Of course !’ he replied.
I’ll tell you about the visit to the mayor’s, my bike – oh, and ‘doubles,’ tomorrow.