Year in review’s stellar performers: Diego Binatena

November 21, 2011 § 1 Comment

Wake me in a day or two.

It was barely a year ago that Diego, at the tender age of 14, finished Day One of Team Ironfly’s MT III, the 500-mile epic slog from San Jose to Redondo Beach. We had just finished 70.3 miles and almost 8,000 feet of climbing when we rolled into Santa Cruz. Diego was a tad, shall we say, tired? He checked into his hotel room, collapsed on the bed in his salty, nasty, smelly kit, and went to sleep. For fifteen hours straight.

Somewhere between curling up in a fetal ball on the floor of a cheap motel room in 2010, and the slopes of the Switchbacks in 2011, Diego found an even stronger pair of legs. It was a Saturday in March or April, and there was still a group of about five left before the third turn on the Switchbacks. Diego, who was sitting on the front, launched. We all looked at each other, and since none of us was riding a motorcycle, he continued on, gradually disappearing from sight to take the KOM without, it seemed, breaking a sweat.

As Charlie Sheen would say…Winnnnnning!!

Diego got warmed up in 2011 by nailing second in the Valley of the Sun Stage Race, third in the UCLA Road Race on the gruesome Devil’s Punchbowl course, fourth in the Callville Bay Classic’s crit and fourth in the crit at the San Dimas Stage Race. With his legs sufficiently warmed, he launched into late March by winning the crit and road race at the Madera County Stage Race. In April he stood atop the podium again at the San Diego Cyclo-Vets crit.

For the vast majority of us, any one of those results would justify a season. For Diego? Just getting started.

At the Sea Otter Classic Road Race in a stacked field containing the top junior racers on the West Coast, our boy from Playa del Rey pulled off a win that can only be described as epic. With twenty miles to the line he hit the gas, gapped the field, and pulled away with one other rider. They worked together until 3k to go, when Diego decided that company at the finish line was not going to be on the menu that particular day. He accelerated, dropped his breakaway companion like a 200-lb. bag of Redi-Crete, and put more than two minutes into second place over the final 1.8 miles.

In April, Diego beat back all challengers with a decisive win at the LA Circuit Race to claim another win for 2011. In May he nailed third place at the Barrio Logan crit, and followed it with a win at the Ontario crit in June. When he got home, he noticed a small corner on his trophy shelf that didn’t have anything on it, so he made the trip to Bakersfield for the state championship road race, won that, and is now in the process of building a new shelf.

Ik bin wielrenner

As part of the 2011 USA Cycling 15/16 European Development Camp, Diego and five other Americans hit the Belgian cobbles in August. Their race schedule included four kermesses and a stage race. The four-day West Flanders Cycling Tour was over the top in difficulty, as Diego found himself thrown into an aggressive, fast, no-holds barred style of racing. Unlike American races, where many of the riders are pack fodder from the beginning, and they know it, in Belgium it seemed as if every single guy was going for the win.

In the Heestert Kermesse, with the rain pouring down on a cold afternoon, Diego launched from the field in the 63k kermesse with 3k to go and tore victory from the teeth of 97 other disappointed competitors. Being part of the team in the West Flanders stage race meant that Diego saw action supporting his teammate Geoffrey, who won the prologue to claim the yellow jersey.

After stage two, the leader’s jersey shifted onto the back of another member of the American squad. Diego went down in a crash and flatted, but exhibited the same toughness he’d shown on MT III by chasing his way back to the peloton and finishing with the leaders.

The third stage of the tour was even more brutal. Since the U.S. riders had the leader’s jersey from the first day on the Belgians’ home turf, no one amongst the enemy had anything to lose. The attacks were constant and relentless, as each of the twenty-five European teams worked together to stymie the hopes of the Americans. By the end of the third day of racing, the hometown Euros had the jersey.

In the end, though, Team USA fought back to reclaim the yellow jersey. On the final day, an attack with 10k to go brought American Logan Owen to the finish with enough of an advantage to win the overall. The teamwork earned a first-ever victory in this tough European stage race for a U.S. National Junior Team. Diego summed it up thus: “Racing in Belgium changed me forever.”

In other words…watch him light it up in 2012.

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