DADE CITY — Cyclists wound their way through downtown Dade City at high speed last weekend as onlookers cheered and fellow riders discussed their strategy for navigating one of the toughest courses in Florida.
The Race for Humanity is in its 12th year. What started as a simple event intended to promote local businesses has turned into a two-day affair benefiting Sacred Heart Catholic Church and the East Pasco Habitat for Humanity.
"It's morphed over the years and gone through peaks and valleys as a competition, but now we're hoping it's on its way back up," race coordinator Tim Molynax said. "We've got about 600 riders this year. The race has gotten bigger, and I think it's because of the road race through the hills. Everyone loves that. This year we've had beautiful, dry weather, which quite often we've been unlucky with in the past."
The event hosts two different types of races. The Saturday road race ran through miles of hills in San Antonio and Dade City, while the Sunday event was a criterium race on one of the most difficult courses of the Florida racing season.
Six turns in less than a half-mile, along with changes in surface, made the route one of the most technical courses riders will find statewide. It's one that most cyclists say is a big race to win because it leaves little room for error.
"It's got more corners than any other course so this is a good race to win if you can get it," said Shaun Redman of Boca Raton. "You have some guys in the field that aren't as experienced, so it creates trouble in the field if they aren't used to the corners or can't handle it when the surface goes from road to brick. This is one of the hardest criteriums you'll find in Florida. The last few laps everyone is bumping into each other, and it gets really competitive."
The race offered spectators a display of speed and technique. Terry Martin was part of Sacred Heart's volunteer staff for the event and sat roadside for Sunday's race through downtown after working throughout Saturday's challenge in the hills.
"I've never seen one of these events before, and I have to say it's pretty entertaining," Martin said. "The speed of it is amazing. Most importantly, this event is really effective as a fundraiser. There is a lot of people coming and going all the time and I think everyone has been entertained by the races, especially this one because it's so spectator friendly."
Many riders came from all over the state, but Al Standley made the journey from Indianapolis to get some time on his bike during the winter. What awaited him over the weekend turned out to be a much bigger surprise than he expected.
"Where I live there is a lot of snow on the ground right now, so I can't ride," said Standley, who rode Saturday but withdrew from Sunday's race. "I was warned about the hills for Saturday's race, but I was still surprised. As for the criterium race, I'm just not in that good of shape. It's a really difficult course because it's really tight, and I'm just not ready for it after a few months of not riding."