Hopkins hails team effort
After seven stages, 27 hours of racing and more than 635 miles covered, Kaden Hopkins pulled on the blue under-23 leader's jersey for the last time at the Vuelta Independencia Stage Race in Dominican Republic and celebrate with his Bermuda/Puerto Rico team-mates after they crossed the finish line on the final stage in Santa Domingo today.
Hopkins was clear that his success and eighth place finish in the general classification, was only possible because of the selfless support of the team, including Dominique Mayho, Julian Otero, Brian Leon and Julian Molina, which after numerous top-ten finishes were also on the awards podium, having finished fourth out of 13 teams.
This was even more rewarding for the riders considering they had met for the first time the day before the first stage when team manager Peter Dunne, one of the driving forces behind the formation of the Puerto Rico-Bermuda Development Team, introduced the riders to each other, which also included Bermudian Conor White, who unfortunately crashed on the first stage and was unable to continue.
With Hopkins and Mayho both in a significant first-stage breakaway in which a group of nine riders, including the eventual overall race winner Nelson Sanchez Jiminez, of the Dominican Republic, escape the 85 rider field, the teams focus for the rest of the week became protecting Hopkins lead in the under-23 category, that would eventually build to a 10min 8sec over second-place Stephen Polanco Elena, of Dominican Republic, by the end of the last stage.
Mayho, back on the international scene after a year long break, found himself contesting a number of stage sprints during the week, but clearly sacrificed his own position particularly on the mountainous stage five ensuring Hopkins and his team-mates were safely in a good position leading into the major climbs of the day. It was a tactic that paid off and was followed the next day, stage six, with likely the team's best performance that saw Otero, Hopkins and Mayho all finish in the top ten, placing fourth, eighth and ninth, respectively.
“It has been an amazing week,” Hopkins said. “We came in as a development team and just wanted to be a part of the event and see how we could do.
“After Dom and I got in the break the first day and I got the jersey that all changed, we had to lead not follow.
“We fought hard every day and I know I only have the jersey today because of what our team did together.
“Dom was amazing, he worked especially hard for me when breaks went up the road that we had to cover. I am so proud of what our team did.”
Mayho added: “I didn't know what to expect from myself or the team this week. Its has been a few years since I was last in really in good shape but once we had the jersey to protect, I knew that I had to do everything I could. It has been an exciting week, Kaden having the jersey meant we had to race every stage. We all worked well together.”
Dunne, the president of the Bermuda Bicycle Association and team manager, said: “We have fiished a successful week of racing here in Dominican Republic. Given that this team had not raced together previously they came together well and were able to develop strategies each day that incorporated the individual abilities with the courses that this event presented.
“The project that we have started with the Puerto Rican federation has been successful and we are hoping that we can find further support so that our athletes can have more of these experiences.”