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Apr 13, 2006

Who will wear the garland in the 2006 Cross Country?

Story PictureTonight is the beginning of Belize’s longest holiday weekend and over the next four days some of us will be resting, some of us praying, some drinking … and many may be doing all three. But come dawn on Saturday morning any Belizean worthy of citizenship will be glued to the radio for coverage of an event that–for better or for worse–has come to define the nation’s collective personality.

Janelle Chanona, Reporting
As they have for months now, before dawn nearly seventy cyclists hit the Western Highway for the last day of training before the seventy-eighth edition of the Cross Country Cycling Classic.

Domingo Lewis, M & M Engineering
?As soon as I hear that bugle or that bell, my heart starts racing because I done know it?s time for the Holy Day. The Holy Day is near and is upon us.?

The Holy Saturday Cross Country Cycling Classic is the oldest cycling race in the Americas and the single biggest sporting event on the Belizean calendar. The route will take riders from Belize City to the Hawkesworth Bridge in San Ignacio and back again. The ride for the roses is anything but smooth and participants will need all the determination they can muster … and of course secret strategies don?t hurt.

Mateo Cruz, Team Santino?s
?I have my favorite prayer I say, and I always wear my cross. And my wife have to put on my number on my jersey, I don?t put on it; she put it on and that?s like she helping me, a helping hand to me.?

Ernest ?Jawmeighan? Meighan, Team Santino?s
?I had bad luck last year and hopefully this year I don?t have bad luck. I broke my crank and I have to check everything actually today, not really tomorrow but today is the day I check to make sure everything is ready and not wait until last minute.?

Gregory Lovell, Guinness Smiling Seahawks
?Yes this da pressah, but this year our team di come strong and like how I ride in Australia, I get more experience and some of the cyclists talk to me, so I will try my best for this race and ride with the best of my ability.?

Douglas Lamb, Team Santino?s
?I have a whole lot of sentimental value talking about riding on whole just sometimes just bring a little tear to my eye, just the way how I love it and I would like to see better things happen for cycling down the road.?

Janelle Chanona
?Is it hard to ride against your friends? Cause when you get out there it?s do or die right??

Domingo Lewis
?On the bike we are not friends; off the bike we are friends. On the bike it?s business; off the bike it?s not business.?

But with every cross country comes the business of foreign riders and whether their presence contributes positively or negatively to Belizean cycling.

Hubert Johnson, Captain, Guinness Smiling Seahawks
?We claim to think that the foreigners are better than us, which is not true. Cycling, like any sport, you got to put in the work.?

The arguments for and against vary from cyclist to cyclist. But today it appears the consensus is that the Belizeans have been slacking off on preparations for too long.

Hubert Johnson
?They?ve been cheating on their training. A lot of them has not been putting the necessary workout and the public tends to feel that we have not been successful because the foreigners are better than us, but we have not been putting in the necessary and required workout to win the garland. So if a Belizean want to win, they?ve got to put in the work. No foreigner will come here on a mediocre training; they will come here prepared, so we have to be prepared likewise.?

Santino Castillo, Owner, Team Santino?s
?The foreigners certainly help for our levels to improve, but one of my beliefs is that instead of going let?s say Australia or the international games in Europe or United States, we should first try to dominate in our region, namely Central America: Guatemala, Honduras, Costa Rica, El Salvador. And in fact, I am anchoring Marlon on the Guatemalan Team Café Quetzal Team and he?ll be joining them on all the major tours in this region this year.?

This year no less than three Team Santino?s riders will be in the hunt for the garland. But it appears that most of the country?s patriotic hopes are pinned on the quiet but powerful strength of young Marlon Castillo. Today Castillo says he?s ready for any competition.

Marlon Castillo, Team Santino?s
?The race no ride dah back, the race ride dah front. If you win you have to come dah front, you noh di worry who deh pan your wheel. Down the stretch, if they got legs with you, dah just dat.?

Santino Castillo
?From the vantage point of Team Santino?s, we?ll be trying to bring the garland back home, and I think our chances are very good. And as the Spanish say, Primero Dios.?

This time of the year puts cycling in the spotlight and all the scrutiny has not been positive.

Mateo Cruz
?It hasn?t gone nowhere mein and to me I think it?s very unfortunate for me to be in this era of cycling. It?s real on the down low.?

Mateo Cruz has been riding the Cross Country for the past nine years and says the sport is stagnant.

Mateo Cruz
?We need some more coaches, especially for man like Marlon and Greggy and the younger guys. We don?t have those kind of facilities and help in the cycling arena.?

Byron Pope, Benny?s Megabytes
?From September we were on a schedule from Chris Carmichael, me and my dad and so forth.?

Janelle Chanona
?How did it feel to be training with your dad??

Byron Pope
?Well it feel good because it mek yu learn wah lee different skills and so.?

Janelle Chanona
?Do you think you?re special because you are so young and you will ride the Cross Country??

Byron Pope
?I feel proud of myself because I came a long way.?

Janelle Chanona
?Do you think that sends a message to other people your age??

Byron Pope
?Well they got lot ah other guys out there weh could be just like me, all they have to do dah just train.?

Melvin Torres, President, Belize Cycling Association
?That is our main concern, to keep the race as safe as possible. We have the police escort of course, we have health services that will guiding us throughout the way, and hopefully the riders will do their job come six a.m. Holy Saturday.?

Melvin Torres is President of the Belize Cycling Association. Under his leadership, the rules have changed … literally … and not to everyone?s approval.

Melvin Torres
?Our sports deal with a lot of tradition and because we come to know that this is the type of servicing that we use, the younger riders come to see it and it just get, they are molded by that. What we want to do is have them understand clearly that all the rules for cycling, it is the same for Belize, as for the United States, as for in Europe, so all the rules of bicycle remain the same unlike probably some other sports or so that they can adjust from here to there.?

If Torres has his way, soon the Holy Saturday race will be on the International Cycling Union calendar a la the Tour de France. Torres admits that dream will require a major group effort from corporate sponsors, government representatives, and cycling enthusiasts.

Melvin Torres
?We have our traditions and of course our tradition is that we want a local to win and when that doesn?t win, people become a little disenfranchised, they feel we losing grip over the race. But based on what we are trying to do, we are trying to include everybody in the race and have them understand clearly that happens throughout the world and for this race to grow we need to at least continue to invite people to come in to increase our levels and the levels that we want is for us to go outside and participate well. The participation that we do outside, we meet these same fellas outside and fellas of higher calibre, so we need to continue along this line.?

With little more than a day left before the bugle sounds on Saturday, this afternoon participants of the seventy-eighth Cross Country paraded through the streets of the old capital … a tradition that gives fans a chance to get a good look at their favourites before the big day.

Fans who like to get up early can view the start of the race at the old August Meat Shop on the Western Highway. The bugle sounds at six. the winner is expected to enter the Marion Jones Stadium less than six hours later.

Viewers please note: This Internet newscast is a verbatim transcript of our evening television newscast. Where speakers use Kriol, we attempt to faithfully reproduce the quotes using a standard spelling system.

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