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Apr 3, 2018

Justin Williams Back on Top in Cross Country Cycling Classic

It has been said, only half-jokingly, that in Belize the Easter weekend is not as fun if a Belizean doesn’t win the Holy Saturday Cross Country Cycling Classic. Indeed the nation’s longest-running sporting event, coming after the quiet of Good Friday, is the signal of a weekend of fun. So as eighty-plus Belizean riders took to the George Price Highway aiming to end a three-year drought of foreign domination, would it be the thrill of a national victory or the agony of defeat that was to await at the finish line? Thanks to Justin Williams, born to Belizean parents in Los Angeles, California, it is the former. Williams, riding for Team Linkup, launched the fateful break at mile thirty-five on the return journey from Cayo and made his lead stand up all the way to the City. News Five’s Aaron Humes tells us how he did it.

 

Aaron Humes, Reporting

It is close on to six a.m., dawn breaking over the Old Capital. A ritual observed every Easter for ninety years save one, in the aftermath of a hurricane’s devastation, is about to begin. This test is not only for the swift, the strong, the cunning, the gallant. The Holy Saturday Cross Country Cycling Classic has had many champions of each category. But its winners have always been known as those taking the first risk – or often, the last. At exactly five-fifty, the lead-out begins, a snake of colors against the dawning as they ride against the flow of traffic on Freetown Road, through the Belcan Roundabout, over the Belcan Bridge, down Central American Boulevard and onto the George Price Highway. The race really begins, as it always has, at the old George August Meat Shop site across from Leslie’s Imports. A spill takes out a few riders early, and then breakaways begin to be established, a few here, a couple there, and so on through the red hills of Cayo. As always, Belizeans of all shapes and sizes come out for the ritual, come out to cheer for their homeboys. One of the biggest crowds of all rings the Columbus Park at the entrance to San Ignacio Town. As the boys come through, the cheers are loud, especially for Belizeans. But the fateful move came at mile thirty-five on the return journey, when Williams moved away from the pack and executed a solo flight home. A seven-man chase group organized to try to reel him in, but the gap grew quickly and they were forced to give in. Five hours, forty-five minutes and fifty-eight seconds after he first started out, Williams claimed his second Holy Saturday Cross Country Cycling Classic title in solo fashion, a sprint with Scottie Weiss having decided the first.

 

Justin Williams

Justin Williams, 2018 Holy Saturday Cross Country Cycling Classic Champion

“I was just patient in the beginning of the race which was my plan. I didn’t have a team so I didn’t have a choice; I’ve got to take the risk of letting everybody using their team up. My plan was to do the least amount as possible until Cayo, and turning back, I was going to see, pay attention to who was doing what, and then I was going to make a plan from there. On the way back, everybody seemed kind of timid; they didn’t really want to move, so I stayed up front and paid attention to the guys that were riding when they got up the road, and then we ended up in a group of four or five coming into Belmopan, and we’re catching the break of three or four in the front. And it was good, because the break never got too far where I had to panic; I could kind of relax and kind of let everybody else race.”

 

Reporter

“Was your plan ever today to go solo or did you have a sprint finish in mind?”

 

Justin Williams

“I was hoping there was going to be more of a bunch sprint today; it was straight tailwind, straight head wind and that usually slows the group down. But I looked at the weather yesterday and it said there were going to be seven mile per hour winds, which isn’t too terrible. Usually out here it’s fifteen, twenty, and that makes the race harder. But I thought yeah, because of the wind, it was going to be a bunch sprint. But we got away out of Belmopan, and it was a nice group of us and Digicell had three guys, and they kind of refused to ride. When you have three guys – you had two foreigners and it was five Belizeans; it was the perfect situation and those guys kind of sat back. I don’t know if they couldn’t do it or they didn’t want to do it, but in any situation when you have three guys, you’re supposed to ride.”

 

Second place went to American, Patrick Raines of Team Starlight, repeating his finish from last year. Expecting to turn a half-century later this year, he’ll take it.

 

Patrick Raines

Patrick Raines, Second Place, 2018 Holy Saturday Cross Country Cycling Classic

“There was no catching Justin today, all the congrats to him; he won the garland, good for him. I know it was frustrating for him last year, so he came prepared this year and it definitely showed in what he did to us.”

 

Reporter

“You were second last year and second again this year, that shows a bit of consistency.”

 

Patrick Raines

“I trained for this and I’ve been preparing for this; and I got lucky today – I made the right moves. I got lucky last year too; I made the right splits last year and I got in with the Guatemalans at the end, two against one it was difficult. This year I was again making the right moves but there was no catching Justin, so second place was the best I was going to do with him here.”

 

Reporter

“Speak about the race itself; how do you feel the flow of the race was – was it harder than last year or were the wind conditions more favourable?”

 

Patrick Raines

“I think it was harder this year. Last year at the turnaround we had a twenty-minute group and it was manageable, everybody was working, Alder Torres was off the front and we were just rotating, chasing him. This year, every time I looked back there was forty-fifty guys and I was like, this is really unmanageable, this isn’t to my liking, it wasn’t favorable. We were having a lot of attacks; I think it was a really aggressive race. I felt like it was in doubt the whole way, we never knew the outcome – once Justin went we knew that was real, he was established – but after that, I didn’t know what was going to happen.”

 

Mexican Rudy Rincon placed third while Liam Stewart was the next Belizean across the line in fourth. Giovanni Lovell of Team Digicell rounded out the top five and quite a few Belizean faithfuls could be spotted in the next group arriving. But Belizeans’ primary wish for Easter had been granted, and now the party could begin. Aaron Humes reporting for News Five.

 

Williams collected five thousand dollars in cash as his first prize, an assortment of station prizes, several trophies, and the winner’s jersey. His time is the second fastest since the record-breaker set by Ryan Baumann ten years ago. One hundred and eighteen riders started but less than half finished the one hundred and forty-two mile course.

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