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Though it can be challenging for triathletes to compete anywhere out of the country, let alone to somewhere traditionally off limits to Americans, Cuba offered some pleasant surprises. Some athletes rented bikes — including newer model Cervelos — for $30 a day. Others bypassed the recommended national hotel ($150 per night) in favor of private guesthouses, which ran as little as $30 per night and just $5 for a hot breakfast with coffee.


“I’d recommend going this route over a hotel,” said Jessica Rossing, a personal trainer from Minnesota. “It was a more authentic and personal experience that allowed me to see the country more as a local.”


Going into the event, athletes had many questions about arranging flights, hotels, ground transportation, bike transport and cell service — concerns that went beyond the usual out-of-country travel challenges for triathletes. A Facebook page was formed and became a way to share information. The USA Triathlon National Office, particularly Membership Services Senior Manager Kara Thompson, provided a big assist with flight options and recommended hotels.


Another tricky problem was that because U.S. banks cannot accept credit cards transactions from or within Cuba, making hotel reservation deposits had to be done through third parties outside of the United States. In addition to not being able to use credit or debit cards, Cuban currency is not available outside of the country, so athletes had to convert U.S. currency to Canadian, Mexican or Euros and then exchange those currencies for Cuban pesos in Cuba.


“Quite a learning experience,” Flynn said. “But with all 25 of us faced with the same obstacles and working together, we all managed them successfully.”


With cell service mostly unavailable, the American athletes simply made plans to meet up at various points. One of the pre-race highlights was a 50k ride led by some young Cuban athletes. Because of Cuba’s lack of imports, the Americans brought donations — helmets, tires, shoes and cycling clothes — and presented them after the ride.


Ground transportation also presented challenges. Many of Cuba’s taxis are General Motors vehicles from the 1950s. Flynn traveled in a Russian limousine once used regularly by Fidel Castro.


Though the bike course featured some of Havana’s notorious potholes, there also were stretches of fresh asphalt installed for the race. For the longer races, the run finished on the famous Malecon within site of the U.S. Interests Section building, the former U.S. Embassy that potentially could return to that role in the coming years.


“It must have been quite a sight for the Cubans seeing us ride through the streets. We got horn blasts and thumbs-ups from bus drivers and stares from pedestrians. ... It was just an incredible experience.” Adam Gordon


After the race, a group of eight athletes, including some of the elite athletes wearing Team USA gear, rode their bikes back to the hotel.


“It must have been quite a sight for the Cubans seeing us ride through the streets,” said Adam Gordon, a 39-year-old engineer from Colorado who wrote a lengthy blog about the trip. “We got horn blasts and thumbs-ups from bus drivers and stares from pedestrians. One driver sped ahead of us and stopped so he could take pictures as we rode by. It was just an incredible experience.”


USATRIATHLON.ORG USA TRIATHLON 41

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