HAVANA. The dream of the former Cuban coach and now coach Lizardo Benítez is that in a not too distant day, perhaps in the next Tokyo 2020 Games, a Cuban participates in the Olympic Mountain Bike (MTB) competition. It is a shared desire with his disciples Ludisnelis Fleitas, Álvaro Soca and Antuán Giral, who until this Friday compete with the best specialists in the world on equal terms in the Andalucía Bike Race (ABR).

So that the dream of Benítez, his students and also of many others could be possible, the role of Spaniard Miguel Espinosa, who came into contact with the coach after a competition disputed in Cuba in which he proved the potential of the runners, is fundamental. local.
"I saw the performance they had with the material they had, I thought it was a good opportunity. I spoke with Lizardo, with the Cycling Federation and the INDER [National Institute of Cuban Sports] and we pulled forward, although everything was precipitated when we received an invitation to participate in the ABR, "Espinosa told EFE news agency.

Lizardo Benítez in his time as cyclist of the Cuban team. Photo: Infoport. Lizardo Benítez in his time as cyclist of the Cuban team. Photo: Infoport.

The matter accelerated. The Vitoria brand offered bicycles, carbon fiber pens that had nothing to do with the heavy aluminum and steel bicycles they use on the Island. Mobel sent them the technical clothes, Ashebikes also put their two cents, the Federation Cubana took over the airline tickets and the organization of the ABR from the rest.

"In Cuba it rains but it has nothing to do with this. Today we have run with mud and cold. We are not used to anything, but I did well and stayed tenth, "says Ludisnelis, who is sixteenth overall.

"When they accelerate they are at a very high level. In Cuba I walk with the leaders when I run and it has nothing to do with what you see here. There are many technical sections to which we are not adapted, "says Soca.
Giral says that it is not due to lack of training, since during the week they only rest on Sunday.

"One of the problems is the material, we only have human conditions, they have good preparation, but not a good material and under equal conditions they can play a good role," Benítez emphasizes.

In Cuba it is very difficult to have a carbon fiber bicycle. In the black market you get to pay a fortune for them: between 1500 and 2000 dollars.

"In addition, they are practically impossible to maintain, we do not have access to them or to spare parts," insists the Cuban coach.

The bicycles come from foreigners, who take them to the Island, leave them there and someone else buys them. "There are no bicycle shops that sell them," says Álvaro Soca.

From the ABR to the future

Lizardo sees how every day that happens in the ABR, his runners go faster. "If we were lucky enough to participate in several UCI races, the performance would be better," says who was a notable runner in Cuba who in 2005 came to win a stage of the Vuelta a Castilla-León.

Maybe the road to Tokyo has begun between the olive groves of Jaén or between the Sierra Morena trails. The next step for Cuban bikers will be the Pan-American Championship, which runs next April.

The month of July will also be fundamental, when participating in the Central American and Caribbean of Barranquilla (Colombia). By then they will know if they are closer to Colombian cyclists, Costa Ricans or Mexicans, the leaders in their area.

In addition, in 2018 the Titan Tropic will return to the Island, an event that has already held two successful editions in 2015 and 2016.

"We work for that, so that a Cuban can participate in the Olympic Games. That is the reason for which we work, compete in a Games, in a World Cup. We have human quality and work. This year we are sure that we will achieve a better result, "says Lizardo Benítez before the enthusiastic look of Ludisnelis, Álvaro and Antuán.

The phone of Miguel Espinosa sounds, that manages some new pedals for the bicycles and thanks the disinterested support that the big teams are giving to the project in the ABR.

"Next year the idea is to be able to compete in three races at this level. We'll see how we can get the budget, "says Espinosa. Ludisnelis, Álvaro and Antuán look at the sky; Lizardo knows that he is facing one of the great opportunities of the Cuban mountain bike. (Francisco Ávila / EFE / OnCuba)