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Darnell and SMART in 2016

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Since the inception of the SMART Elite Men Cycling Team over two years ago, they have gotten considerable attention. Much of that attention can be attributed to their title sponsor as their actual race results. Herman Requena had a great run in the first half of 2014 and David Henderson Jr made the podium in the 2015 Cross Country Classic. Henderson has since been reunited with Benny’s Megabytes and the roster going into the Valentine Tour includes Henry Moreira, Mark Staine, Tariq Cano, Herman Requena and of course Darnell Barrow. It was only three years ago that Barrow captured the coveted garland of the annual Holy Saturday Cross Country Classic while riding for Santino’s. Since then Barrow seemingly lost his enthusiasm and his team was often regarded as band of loners unable to develop the necessary cohesion to perform up to par. Just hours before the start of the tour, Barrow opened up about his team, the tour, the 2016 cross country and the struggles of getting back on top.

The Valentine Tour
Barrow opened by addressing the current composition. “We’re looking forward to having a very good race and I hope we win because that is the goal. We have different options because Hijo (Herman Requena) is a very good pacer, Heno (Henry Moreira) is an all-around rider that can pace good and climb. The criterium late Saturday and the road race from Cayo on Sunday favors me and Heno. So we have options for the Valentine’s tour. Basically, the team is down to one main sprinter now with David gone. Right now we’re coming together because we need the unity. Now we got that going with everyone is dedicated to fitting in their role to play their part. For the past two C-Ray series races we came second twice with me in the sprint. That’s the only race we’ve ridden since New Year’s and although the race is short it does show a little improvement in our performance.” Barrow accounted.

The forthcoming test of the Valentine Tour opens with two short, flat stages on consecutive days. Longer than the Saturday races that they have been participating in over the past weeks, but shorter than the classics that they are used to. Barrow agreed, “The first two flat stages will be for the sprinters like me and so I know the team will be working for me. So the Thursday and Friday will be for me to try and win those. After the time trial on Saturday, we will decide who goes for the top position or who will be the person we will be riding for. Basically, the first two days will be fast and flat that we may not have any time gap”. He continued, “The goal is just to get through the first two days, finish with the group, have no time gap and try to win one of those stages”. The sprinters will try to get points to line up for the green jersey race.

If the first two days go as expected, with bunch sprint finishes and practically no time gaps, the time trial will be critical for those trying to create separation in hopes for the general classification. This is especially so since there is only one long road stage on the final day where it can come down to an all or nothing opportunity for GC hopefuls. Well aware of the race profile and equally aware of questions on his conditioning, Barrow maintains that he feels good since the team has been training since the New Year’s outing. He said they put in a solid month of training leading up to the tour as their goal is to win.

Barrow finished his views on the tour by making some strong points. “Well it’s for more seasoned riders because it’s all about tactics. You have to be smart like in the race tomorrow, it’s not a good idea to try to run away from the crowd because it’s short. You have to try to conserve energy for the next day. As the days go by you can get weaker or stronger depending on your ability to gauge your performance.”

There local field will also have to contend with foreign competition from US team Startlight and team Yapurlandia from Mexico. Both teams finished strong in the top 10 of the Krem New Year’s Day Classic.

Holy Saturday Cross Country
Since his cross country win he has been on this team trying to get back on track. His teammate Requena said the team is focused on getting this cross country. With the cross country in March, Barrow insists that he’ll be ready. “Yes, by cross country I’ll definitely be ready because my goal is to win. I know the guys will be behind me 100% because they know if I train I can win and it’s tough to beat me when I am in good shape. I had to make some sacrifices like taking Wednesdays off from work since January into February. This allows me to do long rides on twice a week on Wednesdays and Sundays in order to prepare for cross country. Now with this tour it really helps to get you stronger. Following that we have training rides followed by Mount hope classic and Belmopan Classic. These events along with including my Wednesdays are supposed to get me in good form for the cross country”. There will not any other federation races in March, so the upcoming events are even more critical to judge where your team, as well as others, are at that point. With the cross country in March as opposed to April the year seem shorter so by February everyone will try to be as close as possible to peak form.

The burning questioned remained, what happened since 2013 for Darnell? “This year I’m more focused. Yes, I did win the cross country before that but after the bike you have a life. So after that I went on a little break, trying to get me life together; you know work and family. I think the federation also have a role to play in having more races for the riders to always be prepared. So you have to be really mentally tough and want it for yourself to train all year round. Then the investment you have to put in; the time and money, sometimes it isn’t worth it. At the end if you’re not worrying about yourself and you give all to the bike and after the bike is done you have nothing to show. So I was just taking that time off. I was riding but I know I was not 100% in form because my mind was distracted by other things. So it’s hard to perform against other young guys like Borland (Joel) that are dedicated and put in more hours, while we’re working 8-5. It’s hard to beat those kind of guys. I had my time on Santino’s where I could have gotten a half day off here or allowed to come in late certain times. I still work for Santino’s but I ride for SMART. So after winning the cross country and changing teams, I have to sacrifice my vacation days to train. I have more vacation days now so I can use some to train. Before when I had less vacation days, anytime I took to train meant less personal time off for me. So that dedication was hard for me and all that played a part by adding up”.

Looking Forward
Barrow continued, “This year is different. I am set on what I want to do, I have a little more freedom to train so this year is supposed to be better. The time is short, yes, but I made better use of the time this year. So after the tour I should be in better form”.

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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