PACESETTERS TAKE WRONG TURN IN ‘HELL’
Five pro riders, including pacesetter Edgar Nohales Nieto of Spain, took the wrong turn in the third leg of the 2019 Hell of the Marianas Century Cycle Race, paving the way for the victory of Australia’s Kevin Biffiger in last Saturday’s event.
Nieto, who took early control of the 100-kilometer race that started at the former Mariana Resort & Spa in Marpi, and the four other members of the lead pack—Genta Konno, Yasumasa Oka, Hei Nok Wong, and Chihiro Naruke—headed left to Isa Drive going to Capital Hill from San Vicente instead of right to Kagman (for the turning point at the entrance of the Laolao Bay Golf & Resort).
According to Northern Mariana Islands Cycling Federation representatives, Nieto and company missed the Laolao turning point because at the Kagman Mobil, there was a funeral procession and instead of heading into the same direction (Kagman Road), the riders were directed to go straight up Isa Drive, which was the start of the fourth and last leg of the race. The Kagman Road down to turnaround was the final part of the third leg that began in Mobil Gas Station in Koblerville.
Nieto and the four riders pedaled through Kingfisher, Capitol Hill, and Sadog Tasi, before heading back to the former Mariana Resort & Spa with the Spaniard crossing the finish first between the 2:45:00 and 2:50:00 mark. However, instead of celebrating, a visibly frustrated Nieto approached organizers after he was told of the confusion along the route.
To make matters worse for the debuting Spaniard and four other bikers, they were disqualified for missing the last part of the third leg of the race.
The men’s pro crown ended up going to Australia’s Kevin Biffiger, who completed the race in 2:57:02. Slovakia’s Marco Pavlic (3:01:43) and Japan’s Toshiki Nagatsuka (3:15:45) rounded out the Top 3.
In the women’s pro division, Guam’s Laura Nadeau came in first after posting 3:27:55 and beating former HOM winner Yasue Nakahara, who submitted 3:36:05 to drop to second place. Australia’s Kylie Adair completed the Top 3 after checking in at 3:36:47.
Late scare, punishing hills
Although Biffiger sympathizes with the riders who missed the opportunity to win, he said he did his best and he felt he rightfully earned the win.
“It was a tough race, I trained hard. I’m not really a pro, but I worked hard every day. It was really hard for me but I really enjoyed it. I think it was well deserved. I feel for the guys that missed the turn, but I couldn’t help that. They missed a bit of the course,” the Australian said.
Biffiger also disclosed that he completed the race despite dropping his chain just before the final climb in Capitol Hill.
“I dropped my chain. It went between my crank and my frame, so it was quite stuck so I had to stop and work on my chain and it was hard. I probably lost a few minutes. It was just before the last climb so it was quite late into the race, but I was quite lucky to get it fixed,” he said.
When asked about the challenges he faced during the race, he said he was not prepared for the number of hills he encountered in “Hell.”
“The race was challenging because I’m not used to the hills. They were quite short so you have a lot of turns and you need to use more power and endurance was much less important, which I was prepared for. I’m the type who can go for longer distances opposed to hills,” Biffiger said.
“I had to really pace and push myself. [When] I dropped my chain, I had to stop, fix that, and I could see Marco Pavlic coming back from the turn around and I just said ‘we’ll just see how this goes’, and as we were going uphill, I just kept pacing myself and he just cracked and I kept going,” he added.
Beauty, safety, and familiarity
Biffiger said he will definitely come back if given the opportunity again because despite the challenge that came with the course, the island’s beauty made up for it.
“I will for sure be back if I get the opportunity. This race was really for you to enjoy the place because when you have a day like today, the place is just magnificent. It was beautiful. It was a tough race, I can’t lie, but the island is beautiful. You drop down Kingfisher and coming back toward the coast, you can see the water and it’s just dreamy,” he said.
While Biffiger was unfamiliar with the challenging course, Nadeau is used to the “Hell,” but still approached last Saturday’s race with safety in mind.
“I always come into these races with little expectation. My goal really was just to finish safely so I’m happy I finished safely and I’m happy to come in first. Thankfully I didn’t experience any crashes, no injuries. I played it safe because I really just wanted to finish and I knew that some of the descents were steep and when wet, super slippery, so I just played it safe and it went smoothly,” the Guam pro said.
Nadeau said that the most brutal part of the race was Capitol Hill, where she felt she was going to cramp up, but still she came prepared.
“The last climb was brutal. It was hot, I thought my legs were going to cramp up, but I do triathlon so I’m familiar with nutrition and making sure you’re fueled so I made sure I was really fueled for that last climb because I could feel my legs starting to cramp,” she said.
Despite the punishing climbs, Nadeau said her main advantage over her competitors was her being accustomed to the heat as she comes from Guam and does morning rides.
“I knew the island a little bit but I didn’t know of all the hills. I live in Guam so I’m used to the heat and I love the heat so that was definitely an advantage for sure,” she said.
Nadeau added she prepared for the Hell of Marianas for several months and her hard work and the support he got from her team paid off.
“I would love to come back next year, Saipan does such a good job putting these races on, it’s so fun so absolutely would love to be back again next year,” she said. “I had a great team from Guam, a couple of guys, and they just helped me so much. They helped me a little with strategy while we were out there so a lot of this goes to them because they helped me out so much and I’m so grateful for their experience.”