DADE CITY — Cyclocross riders from around the state battled heavy winds, hills and each other Sunday in the second event of the Florida State Cyclocross Series at Little Everglades Ranch.
The race was created by the ranch's horse racetrack manager Dan Millstead, a cyclocross rider who saw the possibilities that the terrain could offer for such a competition.
"I started working here about three years ago and thought that, with how beautiful it is out here, it would be great to host a cyclocross race," Millstead said. "A lot of races around the state are held at public parks or high schools on the weekends, so they don't have this type of terrain. It's a neat place to have a race."
Cyclocross is the fastest growing cycle sport in the United States. It involves mountain biking and overcoming obstacles in which a rider is often required to dismount and carry the bike over and through obstacles. The sport originated in Belgium but is making a name for itself among cyclists around the world.
"Each year the sport keeps getting bigger and bigger, and next year we're hoping to have the state championship here," Millstead said. "The sport is big over in Europe and I think this course gives you a feel of what it's like over there because of the challenges this course offers. Several riders have told me that this is their favorite stop on the tour."
Alan Guillaume operates a Belgian waffle shop that helped sponsor the event and has seen cyclocross grow from its roots in his home country to a fairly well known sport in America.
"This is a lot like how it is over in Belgium, the only difference is that it's more wet over there because it rains so much," Guillaume said. "This event, though, is a legitimate cyclocross event."
The course at the Little Everglades Ranch involves about 90 feet worth of elevation changes and requires competitors to ride on dirt, grass and concrete at different stages. Add to that the wind on Sunday, and the 103 participating riders experienced a significant cardiovascular challenge.
"This course is phenomenal, it's all legs and lungs," said Paul Schmidt, owner of Bikes & More in Gainesville. "This is what a cyclocross course should be like. It's long, it's open, it's a good cross of road and hills, and there's a lot of climbing and lots of obstacles. Compared to some other events, this is really well done for the scale that it's being done on."
Riders in the men's pro class paid $25 to compete. Others paid $20, and kids 14 and younger rode for free.
Millstead designed the course based on other events that he'd seen and was delighted to see that it challenged the riders.
"I tried to make enough technical areas and some open areas so that the riders can recuperate for a second before getting right back into it," Millstead said. "It's constantly taxing the riders, so it's fun for people to watch. One of the fun things about cyclocross courses is that they're so fan-accessible."