Chasing summer

Saturday, February 13

Clowning around with our morning downtime; little chair, big beard, bigger book:

Still recovering from our close call with hypothermia on Friday and faced with the very real possibility of not being able to ride again from our present location, we decided to head even further south and salvage what we could from the trip.

Coach Randy's brother Dean was in Orlando, and once he got hold of him and his okay to crash there, we were on our way. A quick check online also netted us a criterium just 90 minutes away in Dade City.

I wasn't too sure if I wanted to race or not, or even drive that far. The weather looked pretty good in Savannah, too, just five hours away, instead of 10. But the consensus was definitely in favor of a free place to stay and a race, so I wasn't going to stand in the way of that.

The weather is looking up that night:

Near the GA/FLA border in Valdosta, we found a very popular and tasty BBQ place:

It was just a straight shot down I-75 from Atlanta to the Florida Turnpike, and then another 30 or so miles to Dean's place. It was 11 pm when we arrived. I'd joked that he'd better have a grapefruit tree. The last time I was in Florida we'd enjoyed fresh grapefruit every morning. Not 10 seconds after walking into the garage, Dean said, "I hope you like grapefruit! We just picked over 300 of them."

There were already air mattresses and blankets set out for us, and after settling on an action plan for the morning, we were all asleep pretty fast.

Sunday, February 14

We drove an hour and half west after the nine of us enjoyed a breakfast of oatmeal and fresh grapefruit. It was a gloriously sunny morning, not a cloud in the sky. Arriving in the parking lot and going through my prerace routine - getting dressed, checking my equipment - all seemed like a dream. It was the middle of February and, yet, here we were standing in sunshine as the temps climbed above 50 (yet all the locals had on coats and scarves!).

I was simultaneously nervous and lackadaisical regarding the race about to happen. I hadn't planned on doing my first competition for another month, and Friday's climbing was the first real intensity I'd had since cyclocross in early December. I knew these Floridians had been going for a month and some would already be on form. But, just being here was surreal enough, so why not throw in a race?

Getting ready:

It was a six-corner criterium, part of a weekend of racing; we'd missed the road race driving down yesterday. The corners came quickly, starting with a slightly downhill right onto jarringly rough cobbles, then right-right-left-right-right-start/finish.

First race of the year, over a month ahead of schedule and I was definitely off my game. I went straight to the back, and there I stayed; afraid to move up through the rapid-fire turns. Partly to blame was that I wasn't as diligent with my equipment check as I should have been; my needing-to-be-replaced left cleat came alarmingly loose early. I didn't want to have my foot come detached during a dig in front of the whole pack. So I sat in, grabbed wheels, worked on my cornering, enjoyed the unique training.

Tom finished the best out of us four, 13th. Ben, wearing our XXX Racing kit for the day, was 18th. Liam was 26th, but that finish is deceiving: he spent over 12 minutes off the front, chasing the 2-man break up the road. I was 24th, out 33 that finished.

Randy, Dave, Brian, Ed, and Seth raced the Pro/1/2 event, 85 minutes plus 5 laps. Ed and Seth, either fighting or recovering from sickness, dropped out before the halfway point. The pace looked very fast. We watched Randy and Dave sit in the rear lounge for most of the race while Brian was very active at the front, even after a crash split the front nine riders in a breakaway from the main group. And off they stayed. Oddly enough, our boys weren't the only familiar face in the race: Andy Crater, formerly of Milwaukee's Wheel and Sprocket team, now racing for a team out of Asheville, NC, was in the break.

With five to go, crafty Randy suddenly worked his way all the way to the front of the main group. Brian put in a couple more digs over the final laps to string it out, and then it was over. Crater, who'd sat in on the break the entire time needed only six turns of his biggest gear to come around the leadout for the win. Brian, Randy, and Dave all finished in the top 30 spots.

We regrouped for a picture, removing our knee and arm warmers as the temperature topped 60, and headed out on a training ride over a couple laps of yesterday's road race course.

Things got pretty heavy pretty fast. Ed, bummed about his early departure from the race, decided to get some major work in and spent almost all of our second 17 mile lap at the front. The first lap was at time trial pace - it doesn't take much to get the stampede going, just a couple of overeager pulls or leg openers off the front. A fun ride for sure and great workout.

We spent another night in Orlando with Dean and Ginger's hospitality, enjoying a delicious white bean chili.

Monday, February 15

The next morning was a 6:15 departure and breakfast at McDonald's. Randy and Ed had an evening flight out of Atlanta, so their ride today couldn't end any later than 10:30. We drove a bit to a state park along the turnpike, and headed out on a trail in the growing sunshine and rising temperatures (although at that moment, my fingers were ice cubes and we all had on knee and arm warmers:

Rolling out of the state park with Ed behind me, it was a bit chilly:

Randy and Ed said their goodbyes at 10ish after 40ish miles, and the rest of us turned around and Brian led three more laps on the state championship road race course, nearly breaking all of us off on two giant hills. Each were about twice the size of Spring Prairie's penultimate climb, and followed by a raging descent. The second had a round about at the end of it, which you could zoom right through, no brakes, with the right line.

The second lap was the hardest and I was dropped on both climbs. Almost all of us were dropped by Brian on one of the laps. It was easy to reconnect however, and the four and half hours we spent riding that sunny Monday in 71 degrees were easily worth all the driving and Friday's suffering in the snow.

Computer geekout moment:
  • 4.5 hours ride time
  • 87 miles
  • 211 watts avg
  • 280 normalized
  • 318 TSS
Post ride - Dave, Brian, Liam, Tom, Ben, Seth, me:

Whoa. We were destroyed. And had a 10-hour drive back Lake Burton, GA to look forward to. Luckily, we had time for another stop at the Smoke 'n Pig, which actually put us in an even worse stupor:

...and the weather cooperated as well, with no snow until the following day. Tuesday morning, I was incredibly tired, and slept in while Newt, Tom, Dave, and Liam got a spirited hour to town and back. As they were returning, I headed out for a short 30 minutes to explore the neighborhood around the lake.

Soon, we were off in our loaded van returning to Chicago.

47 hours of driving. 14.5 hours of riding.

It was all worth it, and if the van showed up outside my apartment right now, I'd jump in without any hesitation. I still can't believe I was ever in Florida, riding in the sunshine in my shorts. I sit writing this, fighting a cold, hoping I can manage even 30 minutes on my trainer, dreading the forecast of almost a foot of more snow coming overnight and into tomorrow.


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