As the two time defending cyclocross state champion, Josh Thornton knows a thing or two about race courses. This weekend, the Dade City resident will put his design skills to the test when he hosts an event for the first time in his cycling career.
The Wicked Hardah Cyclocross race at Stanley Park in Lacoochee is the newest addition to the Florida Cyclocross Series and will feature a mile-and-a-half course full of elevation changes, twists, turns and obstacles.
"My wife and I wanted another event close to home, so I decided to make one," Thornton said. "We want to try and raise the bar for Florida races. We have an interesting course that will present some significant challenges thanks to the elevation changes this area allows us to create naturally."
He chose the name as a fun takeoff on Boston slang, since many fans of racing come from New England. Wicked is common enough, and "harder'' describes the difficult course.
Thornton will host and compete in the event. He competes in criterium bike races in the spring and summer and shifts to cyclocross racing in the winter months.
For Thornton, 34, organizing an event isn't necessarily a career highlight, but exposing himself to the promotions side of the cycling business has been an education and a way to ensure his future involvement in the sport as he ages.
"It's a little bit of a shift as I get older," Thornton said. "The racing is going to get harder and harder each year as I age, so I see this as a way for me to maybe give back to the sport and stay active in the cycling community. Over the course of my career, I saw other events where maybe something was missing or I didn't like the way something was done. Now I have control over those things."
It's been a journey fraught with legal concerns and liability issues as well as the logistics of finding the right location and setting up a viable course, but it's something Thornton has relished.
"I've been enjoying the process to finally get a behind the scenes look at how these races work," Thornton said. "After 22 years of cycling and seeing different courses, it's a rare opportunity to get to control the course. If I complain about this one, it's my fault."
Helping Thornton along the way has been his friend Jason Guillen, a fellow veteran racer and race organizer. Guillen is looking forward to the event knowing that Thornton designed the course.
"He has a good knowledge of course layout, so all he really had to learn about was the legal stuff, permitting and having the proper people in place to be sanctioned by USA Cycling," Guillen said. "This course should be entertaining for everyone because it won't be as flat and sandy as a lot of other Florida courses. I'm looking forward to it."
The event comes during a busy time on the calendar for cycling around Dade City. The Florida State Cyclocross Championships will be Jan. 18 and 19 at Little Everglades Ranch and the Race for Humanity criterium will be in downtown Dade City on Feb. 8 and 9. State championship organizer Dan Millstead is excited by the addition of a third east Pasco event on the cycling calendar and hopes to see the sport continue to boom in the area.
"The Tampa and Orlando areas are cycling hot beds so Dade City is a great location for a race cause it's not too far from either one," Millstead said. "I think Josh's course is going to be exciting and well put together because of his experience riding. He's got a lot of good ideas, so hopefully his event can just bring more people to the area. Dade City is kind of becoming a cycling mecca for all of Florida."