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Henderson Delivers, Closes Impressive Week for SMART

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If your week starts on Sunday then you’ll agree that SMART Zoom Cycling had an impressive week. On Sunday March 29 2015, the SMART Zoom Junior Cycling team placed one, two, and three in the Junior Cross Country Classic. Six days later, David Henderson of SMART Zoom Elite Cycling team placed third in the 87th Annual Holy Saturday Cross Country Classic, after an inspiring run in a race long break that came down to five men entering the city and Henderson being the only local rider in the group. American Scottie Weiss (TEAM Starlight) rolled in second before Henderson while Mexican Yair Jimenez-Godinez (TEAM Cancun) rolled in after. Belizean-American brothers Justin and Cory Williams bracketed the top five finishing first and fifth, respectively. The Williams brothers have very strong roots here in Belize and never lost that connection, but living, training and riding professionally in the US, sentiments from many locals rest heavily with Henderson.

When asked about his placement and the public reaction from since the race, Henderson said, “The reaction is outstanding, everybody recognize and congratulate you for the work you did, it’s like they’re really behind you, you know.” Fully aware of the tradition of the race and its place in Belizean history, Henderson said this race means a lot to him because he always dreamt of winning this race and the New Year’s Classic which he won in 2013. Although he could not pull out the win, he was happy with the finish and said, “This is the biggest race, its patriotic and everything, and it’s like this is what it really means to ride in Belize.” He recalled how the win eluded him in the final stretch. “Actually, I felt a little tired. Earlier when I missed the breakaway and had to chase after passing Hattieville to about mile 37, that took a lot of legs. So coming to the end I was feeling sort of tired but you just have to fight through it. I tried my best when Weiss attacked; it was more than a simple attacked because he was driving all the way through and I tried my best to get on and I couldn’t get on a wheel. I was fourth wheel at the time.

The podium spot for Henderson is significant considering that last year the first seven places were filled by three Mexicans, two Americans and two Guatemalans. Three of those top seven returned including the Williams brothers who were not so fortunate last year. As with many of these classics, the race winner comes out of the initial or secondary break and this year would be no different. Another similarity this year is the number of local hopefuls missing the break. SMART’s man in charge Earl Theus said, “Like I told my guys a break can go early and depending on who is the break it may or may not fade. I noticed that some teams made the mistake of not catching the break maybe because they saw other good foreign riders still in the back they didn’t react when they should have. We weren’t thinking about later.” He continued, “The break ended up in Bel-Cal’s favor as well as ours because they had David Santos in the back and we had Manuel Rodas there as well and we know that no one would come across with those guys coming too. We knew that Dave had the condition and the ability, the only set back was the early hesitation that cost him extra effort; but we knew he could handle himself and the other guys needed to just work to keep the peloton off them.”

The break happened as suspected and what Theus alluded to was the fact that local hopeful Marlon Castillo and Belmopan Classic Champ Guy East, both of Santino’s, were absent, Byron Pope and New Year’s day Champ Hector Rangel, both of Benny’s Megabytes, were absent, and Brandon Cattouse of C-Ray was absent, though he did have Aiden Juan and Peter Choto up front. For David Henderson, that wasn’t his concern. “That didn’t really matter because as long as you are ready for the journey it doesn’t matter what name you have, it’s basically about the strength you have that day and based how good we work together. I saw the guys were organized so I just tried to go with it; it looked like Justin and Cory had the break rolling. Everyone was working in the break but those guys and Weiss were making sure it kept organized”, recalled Henderson.

Reading the race properly has always been a concern for the local teams and the experience of international riders is often counted on to bolster their chances. However, some foreign riders have openly expressed their dismay at the riding style of some local cyclists. Well, foreign riders on local teams will not be an issue next year, as the Foreign Rider Policy implemented by the Cycling Federation of Belize in 2014 will prohibit such team configuration. It is a three year step-down policy where local teams were allowed two foreign riders in year 1, one foreign rider in year 2 and none in year 3, which would be 2016. Teams from the border provinces of Quintana Roo in Mexico and Peten in Guatemala will be allowed as well as one team from the United States. That US team has routinely been some configuration of the team that Scottie Weiss rode with this year, TEAM Starlight. The policy has other potential Central American and Caribbean team possibilities but basically separates the local teams from the foreign teams. Top teams, DigiCELL and C-Ray, had been making the transition already by riding with locals only, this season and the last.

SMART Zoom remains confident, nonetheless, in their preparedness for the changes relative to other local teams. Theus said, “It will not affect us as much because earlier this year we were not bringing anyone and that may have affected us but we took our licks. Meanwhile other teams had foreigners that they depended on and now when their foreigners don’t come through, they don’t come through. I think bringing in strictly foreign teams simply put more pressure on the local riders to ride to a higher standard. What may happen is that if locals are in the break they may not want to work as much because they will not trust the foreigner. You know you could never tell, it will be a strange thing we don’t know what will happen, we’ll just have to see how it unfolds.” Henderson shares this general sentiment and believes they have some of the strongest local riders, including 2013 Cross Country Champ, Darnell Barrow, Angel Tzib and Henry Moreira. He contends that riding the 2015 season without foreign riders, with the exception of the Cross Country, proves that. 2015 marks SMART Zoom second year as an elite cycling team and they have often been criticized for being disjointed. Henderson acknowledged, “We’re newly established and probably didn’t read some races right and so used most of our energies in different ways and that limited our success. Now we’re touching up on things like that. You have to understand, this year we have three new riders out of the six. Then last year, the next three were not used to riding together because they came from three different teams. So over the past two years we have tried to bond with six different guys, but we just need to get it together. I believe once we get it together, we have one of the strongest local teams.”

As for the rest of the 2015 season, Henderson said they are looking forward to May 1st, the Labor Day Classic. “We want to win that”, said Henderson, “Then we’re looking to get the Belize jersey in our camp by winning the National Championship. So that’s our focus now. Afterwards we’ll look to take a break and start working towards the Krem Classic again by doing some gym work and starting over for next season.”

Both Henderson and Theus admitted that the team is not looking to recruit new riders or change current riders. They are looking for consistency going forward. The current list of riders on SMART Zoom are David Henderson, Darnell Barrow, Angel Tzib, Henry Moreira, Mark Staine and Patrick Bennett. Whatever the rest of 2015 brings, SMART believes that they will be ready and the promising results this year is encouragement for 2016.

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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