The logistics of successfully getting 550 bike riders of various ability levels around the island of Puerto Rico in three days is something of a miracle. Think abut it: you have to marshal traffic, allow for mechanical and physical breakdowns, coordinate lunches, rest stops and hotel accommodations over a 345 mile long course. Throw in language barriers (cyclists come to San Juan from all over the world for this event), a contingent of spouses in a van, rental bicycles, and you quickly understand that managing La Vuelta is the highest magnitude of high wire acts. Even grand tours like the Tour de France suffer logistical problems: a rainstorm, a photographer’s scooter colliding with riders, or an unfortunate missing guardrail on a steep mountain descent. So, getting 550 amateur cyclist around the island with no deaths is a tall order.
No one died.
This type of event is fraught with peril and La Vuelta’s founder and organizer, William Medina, a San Juan native, is the man that makes it all work. If you’ve ridden in the event, then your memory of William is the announcement over a bullhorn:
“One minute, we leave in one minute.”
And he doesn’t mean one minute and five seconds, to keep to William’s schedule, the peloton is leaving in one minute, whether you are standing in the port-a potty line, trying to pose for a picture with your new best friends, or gobbling down one last banana, the peloton is leaving in one minute… You’d better jump on the back.
William does a LOT more than berate exhausted riders. The Vuelta is the best organized event that I’ve ever been a part of, and that includes a summer in Quantico in the Marine Corp’s officer candidate school (an organization that knows something about logistics). Everything in La Vuelta is not only planned to the minute; it is executed perfectly. The ride is divided into three flights, A, B, and C riders who ride at different paces and on different schedules. Each flight has its own support vans (one for dropped riders, one for their bikes), ambulances, and motorcycle police escorts. Each peloton stops for refreshment, roughly every 20 miles. All of those rest stops have to be stocked with breakfast, lunch, or snacks. Every stop MUST have water to refill empty bike bottles, and rest rooms are appreciated.
Not only did every rest stop have ALL the required basics, they also had nice little extras like bags of ice, fruit, and friendly locals who seemed genuinely happy to see packs of sweaty Lycra clad riders descend on their town like a plague of sports drink guzzling locusts. The rest stops were almost all located in beautiful seaside villages with picturesque town squares (or lighthouses), La Vuelta is a big deal for them too.
The return to San Juan, from the last rest stop in Dorado is as beautiful as it is well-organized. All 3 groups of riders meet at the Dorado Beach resort and ride together, wearing our Sunday jersey, through the streets of San Juan, where people line the streets to cheer us on, and end in Old San Juan where a champions diner awaits. The food is wonderful and then its time disperse. Our original hotels held our bike travel cases until our return, another organizational coup, we all headed back to our hotels, tired and grateful for the experience and the safe ride.
If I were an organization holding an event, I would attempt to hire William to run it, he is nothing short of a logistical genius. And, as long as my health allows, I’m headed back to hear William tell me, “One minute, we leave in one minute!”