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2016 Outlook: Belmopan DigiCell 4G

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On Sunday 20th December 2015, Belmopan DigiCell 4G took the top four spots in the Pre-Xmas Classic. When asked about his team’s form going into the Krem New Year’s Day Classic, relative to the other teams, team director Johnny Borland was positive but cautious in his categorization. He admitted that the team was comfortably closer to where they want to be, but that other teams had mishaps in the race and that made it difficult to make comparisons using this final outing of 2015. Borland’s qualification on their performance in that race was admirable, but speaking with another team representative less than twelve hours before the race, he predicted a 1-2-3 finish for the team. Was that idle fanaticism or deserved confidence? No one can predict race day conditions exactly and its effects on the riders. One fact that cannot be discounted though, is that DigiCell 4G, now Belmopan DigiCell 4G, has owned the second half of the calendar beginning with Nationals in June.

Their run began with victories in the Nationals where Giovanni Lovell took both the time trial and road race. They also swept the U23 podium in the national road race with Giovanni Lovell, Joel Borland and Joslyn Chavarria Jr, in that order. Joel Borland took the King of the Hills in July. Joslyn Chavarria took the annual Belize City September Criterium. Richard Santiago was second in the TV Ramos Classic in November. Gregory Lovell won the Belmopan City Criterium the first week of December followed by a win for Joslyn Chavarria in their inaugural signature race the following week. Additionally, Chavarria, bought home a U23 Medal from the 2015 Caribbean Cycling Championships.

Now, the Belizean cycling community will be quick to point out two obviously glaring chinks in the DigiCell 2015 armour. One is that the first half of the year is where the big 4 classics occur and DigiCell underperformed in those instances for 2015. The second is that there is no international rider participation in the second half of the year. The latter argument could be a double edged sword when employed by other local teams and should be handled carefully given the segregation of foreign and local teams. Even so, with only 1 top five finish in the Krem Classic, Valentine Tour, Belmopan Classic and Cross Country combined, any criticism of the team’s performance before June is well placed. They have admittedly made mistakes reading races early in 2015. During that time they were using a five man crew featuring three U23 riders in Giovanni Lovell, Joel Borland, Joslyn Chavarria Jr. and Richard Santiago along with Gregory Lovell. Though all riders previously mentioned are very capable in the peloton, controlling a peloton with a small team is no easy feat. Hoping to remedy the shortfall of early 2015, the team has expanded its roster by adding three more riders late in the year. Riders added to the five man core are Joel Vanegas, Erwin Middleton and veteran Leroy Cassasola who was part of the 2014 team that included Marlon Castillo. That 2014 team had the only three local riders in the top 10 of the Cross Country Classic being Marlon Castillo, Giovanni Lovell and Gregory Lovell at 8, 9 and 10 respectively.

The new additions may not be cause for opposing teams to lose sleep, but the elder Borland is confident in the value of their utility and expressed as much in discussing his new configuration. “Well, the new riders have added numbers where we can employ different strategies now. The additions are basically young riders, we have one master rider who has joined us. It gives us a different hand to play down the road, definitely. These guys are all putting in the time to come into form. To be honest with you, I expect the three new riders that have joined our team, to really start showing themselves within the first quarter of 2016. They will be there for the 1st of January doing their jobs, but I really expect them to show up and do what they need to in that race and eventually leading up to Cross Country”. As for the imminent test of the Krem New Year’s Day Classic, Borland stated, “We need to be prepared to deal with the foreigners. We need to be able to control the race, dealing with the early breaks, making sure our key players are up front to get in the breaks that will make the difference in being there towards the end. So, obviously a key point for us is keeping up and not letting anything go without us and be there in the end to pick up the W”.

DigiCell is arguably the most physically primed team heading into January. Gregory Lovell, Joslyn Chavarria Jr. and Richard Santiago are the likely candidates to go for the win in the New Year’s Day Classic. Giovanni Lovell is less than a month out of Coast Guard recruit training and says that he feels good physically but admits that the 90 mile race may be a stretch for podium ambitions at this time. Joel Borland also believes that he will better serve the team in a supporting capacity for this first race of the year as other riders are currently further along in form than he is.

Director Borland has identified the New Year’s Classic, Cross Country and Nationals as his “A” targets for 2016. Valentine Classic and Belmopan Classic as “B” targets and all other events as “C” targets. Still, they must go all in for the New Year’s Classic because two of his stronger riders Joslyn Chavarria and Richard Santiago may be heading for Coast Guard recruit training in January after that race. With Holy Saturday being in March in 2016, the chances of getting back those riders for Cross Country is practically zero. While these riders have not been option 1 and 2 in 2015, they are critical to the success of the team now. So laying an egg come New Year’s Day is not much of an option.

However, looming questions remain. Have they gained sufficient ground mentally to capitalize on their potential? Who will stick their head out in the wind mile after mile? Will they keep the gaps close and effectively use their time trial skills? Can Gregory Lovell summon the motivation from the days that defined him as the “Bullet”? Will we continue to lament the team’s inability to put the riders’ strengths to task? Since their inception, they have not employed the services of international riders. Does this fact put them in a better position now given the exclusion of foreign riders from all teams? We cannot be sure, but the time for answers is coming fast.

About Isaac Rhys

Isaac Rhys is the Managing Editor at cyclebiz.com. Based in the Belize, he started Cyclebiz in 2015 intent on attracting more attention to local bike races and its participants.

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