DADE CITY — Four years ago, the sport of cyclocross was foreign to Pasco County, but thanks to Little Everglades Ranch embracing the sport, the state championship now calls Dade City home.
The ranch hosted its annual cyclocross event for the third time on Sunday. Event organizer Dan Millstead hadn't organized cycling races for long and never anything on the scale of a championship race. But in a few short years, he has educated himself on course structure enough that the Florida Cyclocross Series chose to hold its premiere event at Little Everglades Ranch.
"We've had a couple hundred riders out here this weekend," said Millstead, who manages the ranch. "I went to a promoters meeting in January and they all voted to have the championship here. They really liked the landscape of the ranch so I studied other courses and came up with a few for our setup. To have the state championship here in only our third year of hosting cyclocross is an achievement."
The two day event saw the ranch host dozens of campers and a unique festive atmosphere that only Little Everglades could offer. On Saturday, races were run in all age categories using the same course as last year. At night, bands played as cyclists cooked out and talked racing.
On Sunday, the redesigned state championship course challenged riders to conquer portions of a grass horse racing track while navigating their way through obstacles such as barriers, stairs and sharp turns at the peak of a hill. The course challenged riders to the maximum of their abilities, some so much that they felt almost helpless.
"This course plays to the strengths of a certain type of rider, unfortunately that rider isn't me," Gainesville resident and 10-year cyclocross veteran Ryan Fisher said. "It's fun, though, because this is such a beautiful venue. Usually these races are just held in city parks so this is a little different. The change in course keeps it interesting but it's a lot of grass so you need to have a lot of power."
Regardless of whether they like the course, every rider at the event had seemingly arrived at a consensus that there is no better venue for a cyclocross event in Florida.
"The courses at this event are a little less technical than most in the sense that it's not so much about how well you dismount the bike and get through the obstacles," University of Florida student David Wreich said. "Here you can do well if you're strong. Regardless of the course this is a great event though. You have challenges up here that make it special like the wind and hills. This is Florida's best cyclocross event without a doubt."