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April 15, 2005
They say we're among the happiest people on the planet, those of us who live on this sunny island of Puerto Rico, that is. Yet no one was smiling last Thursday morning around 10 a.m. when police closed off one of San Juan's major arteries, the Baldorioty de Castro, and all its access roads for nearly three hours while the $50,000 Tour of Puerto Rico bike race ran its first time trial stage.
It was really a thing of beauty, especially for those of us who have never personally witnessed the Tour de France. Puerto Rico hasn't hosted an international cycling stage race since 1992 and the Tour de las Americas, so for cycling fans, it was impressive to watch the 110 or so cyclists from seven countries and 12 teams pop out of the chute with their disc wheels and aerodynamic helmets. For those lucky 110 or so cyclists, it had to have been a great adrenaline rush to speed across the flat, car-less highway over the 11-mile distance.
Timothy Duggan, of the United States and riding for the TIAA/Cref team, needed just 23 minutes and 48 seconds cover the route from the Casa Olimpica in Old San Juan to Isla Verde and back. Heck, even in the dead of night and the traffic lights in your favor, you'd be hard-pressed to make that kind of time in your SUV.
Unfortunately, commuters didn't see the event's beauty. The metro area's general reaction belied the Caribbean bliss reported in Great Britain's New Scientist magazine survey. Commuters who would have been tickled pink to have been stuck in a Tito Trinidad victory parade or a basketball team homecoming traffic jam were beyond irate at being inconvenienced for so many mid-morning hours on a work day. Rest assured, a lot of people missed their flights last Thursday. The road police blocked off was the only access road to Luis Munoz Marin airport from Old San Juan.
Tour of Puerto Rico event organizer, Argentinean Fernando Cerimedo, added insult to injury when he defended the traffic jam by saying that Puerto Ricans did not have a cultural appreciation for cycling.
Puerto Rico is one of the most densely populated islands in the world. With no public transportation to speak of (the Urban Train is still not open for regular business), its 4 million residents are out driving their cars mostly in the metro area on any given weekday mid-morning. This is not Cuba: nobody actually rides a bicycle as a means of transportation. Pity the recreational cyclist who dares to occupy space on the shoulder. Forget the health benefits of riding a bicycle. In Puerto Rico, those far outweigh the dangers of getting run over by a moving vehicle. Triathletes in training report being regularly mowed down, cursed out or run off the road.
Police chief Pedro Toledo proved Cerimedo's point by blasting the Tour organizers and his underlings for having approved the Tour's route in the first place. "What were they thinking?" Toledo told the media following Stage 1.
"They should hold the bike race up in the mountains and in the countryside like they do with the Tour de France," Toledo said.
Cerimedo was left to grind his teeth in frustration: Toledo is probably not the only one blissfully unaware of the fact that the Tour de France finishes up in the heart of Paris at the Arc de Triomphe.
"What people need to understand is that this is a sport that depends on the highways. This is not basketball that you play on a court. Our cyclists use the roads every day and the cars are not cooperative," said Alexis Cruz, president of Puerto Rico's cycling federation. "We got a trial by fire and we apologize for the inconveniences, but we're going to continue on with our race."
Following its Stage 1 fiasco, the Tour finished up without any further incidents on Sunday following a trip west to Mayaguez, a third stage back to San Juan and a final stage Sunday in the Hato Rey business district near the Golden Mile. The Dominican Republic's Wendy Cruz was the overall winner and Cerimedo said he hopes to organize the event again next year.
Cotto to defend his title versus Abdullaev
It's official: WBO junior welterweight champion Miguel Cotto will face his amateur-ranks nemesis Muhammad Abdullaev on June 11 at New York's Madison Square Garden. Cotto (23-0, 19 KO), who last beat DeMarcus "Chop Chop" Corley on Feb. 26 in Puerto Rico, will be meeting the Uzbekistani native who eliminated Cotto in the first round of the 2000 Olympics. Abdullaev (15-1, 11 KO) went on to win the gold medal at those Games. Abdullaev has lost just once in his pro career, by TKO to Ghana's Emanuel Cottley and has won his last four fights, three of them by knockout.
Gabrielle Paese is a sports reporter in San Juan. She was the 2000 recipient of the Overseas Press Club's Rafael Pont Flores Award for excellence in sports reporting. Comments or suggestions? Contact Gabrielle at email@example.com.
Her Column, Puerto Rico Sports Beat, appears weekly in the Puerto Rico Herald.