I modified my typical weekend training (long bike + run & Long Run) so that I could watch Karel and his team at the Sugarloaf race. My #1 training goal this year - Quality over Quantity.
5:37am I was on the trainer for a 1 hour interval ride. Campy and Karel stayed cozy in bed.
6:50am I was out the door for a 9.3 mile run (1hr and 13 min). It was nice and cool out and I enjoyed seeing the sun poke out of the clouds during my run. I've been pretty tired this week due to my intense effort at the 15K last sat. so with a few modifications in my workouts this week, in addition to a few Hammer Endurance Amino's (1 a day Sat, Sun, Tues, Wed) I finally felt recovered/good for this workout.
After my run I quickly showered, ate 2 hard boiled egg whites, packed my goodies for the day (PB&J, peach, apple, trail mix, yogurt, banana, lots of water), and prepared my oatmeal concoction (for some reason, it was super scrumptious this morning) for the road.
8:45am Campy, Karel and I were off to Clermont, which is outside Orlando (2 hours and 45 minutes away from us in Jacksonville)
The drive was uneventful. Campy slept, I read a little and Karel and I talked about random stuff. I knew Karel had a lot on his mind with work and racing so I tried to avoid any cycling-talk. This race was a big race as far as competition and being a Florida Cup race (Karel is still in 1st place with his points) but most of all, it is a super tough race course.
Although Karel has raced here twice before (he was 2nd as a Cat 4 and 2nd as a Cat 3) I have never been and I was anxious to watch the race.
The race included a 11-12 mile (separate start and finish) circuit which included several big climbs and Sugarloaf Mountain. If you have ever climbed Sugarloaf, you know it as "THE" mountain of Florida. For most people (including myself) it only takes one time of climbing Sugarloaf to feel the burn...and to feel incredibly out of shape. Well, the Pro 1,2 guys + Cat 3 climbed Sugarloaf 6 times. Yep- 6 loops of rollers, steep climbs, fast descends and the mountain known as Sugarloaf.
The Sugarloaf climb (the actual "climbing part" is around .5 miles long, is the second highest point in Florida, is a 310 foot climb and averages around 12% grade (some say 17% but I'm not exactly sure-however, I know it is steep).
You can be the judge looking at the picture but let your legs decide once you battle your way up it (especially if you are from Florida and consider bridges "hill" work).
We arrived to the race parking lot around 11:45 (after a few potty stops) and met up with Jeff, Clint, James and Curtis (Karel's teammates on the Lindner Capital Advisor Elite Team). Campy, Karel and I walked to registration to pick up Karel's number and I let Karel do his thing while Campy and I walked around the open parking lot field.
Around 12:30 I filled up Karel's 3 bottles w/ his sport drink and walked Karel's spare wheels to the wheel truck w/ Campy (my two jobs at his races - nutrition and spare wheels). Campy and I walked around until 1pm (10 min. late for the start) and after the race rules were given to the HUGE field (at least 100 guys for Pro 1,2 + Cat 3) the guys were off.
Campy and I walked back to the car and drove 3 miles down the road to the finish.
Because the race wasn't difficult enough, the finish was at the very top of Sugarloaf. Nothing like a sprint finish after climbing.
Each 11-12 mile loop took around 25-30 min (Not sure exactly) so Campy and I killed time by walking around and chatting with people. There was another race going on (Masters 35+ and 45+ so that was entertaining to watch them as well). Campy met a few dogs but he wasn't being on his best behavior for the day. A bit barky and was in no mood to socialize with the big dogs. I really wish he wouldn't have such an attitude and I hope that one of these days he stops barking at bikes.
Well, at least he met a little friend and didn't seem to mind her at all.
When I saw Karel and the boys in the first loop, the field was still big but already, there were stragglers on the back. Come loop two, the field was smaller than before. I knew Karel was a bit tired going into this race but him and James were near the back and that wasn't typical for Karel.
Apparently (after hearing from Karel when the race was over) there was a crash before Sugarloaf and Karel dodged the crash by going into the grass. When he was swerving to miss the crash, his chain fell off and rather than switching gears to put it back on (sometimes if your chain falls off you can just change gears/rings to put it back one) he had to stop, get off his bike and put the chain back on the ring. James also dodged the crash so they had to work double time to get up Sugarloaf in order to still be in the race w/ the main pack.
By loop 3, Jeff and Curtis were nearing the front and Karel and James were in the middle. Karel told me that there were 2 breakaways by Z-motion (I think) and with several of the Z-motion riders in the chase group, no one wanted to catch the break. Since Karel's teammates were working for him in order for him to place as high as possible for this race (to get points for the Florida Cup Series) Jeff and Curtis did a MONSTER pull (let's call it a Time Trial effort) in order to "bridge the gap" (cycling term for bringing the main field to the breakaway group). Shortly after they bridged the gap, there was another attack and Jeff and Curtis did a huge pull to bring the field to the break. James has a lot of experience with racing so he was helping Karel respond to attacks and covering him in case there were any breaks.
By loop 4, the field was even smaller. In cycling, as opposed to triathlons, if you can't stay with the pack, then you done for the day. For Jeff, Curtis and James, they finished 4 loops and left the rest up to Karel. Karel's teammates did a lot of work out there to put Karel in a great position to possibly land in top-15 and it was awesome seeing the team work so well together.
When I saw Karel come through in loop 4 (2 laps to go) he was in a group of 6 or 7 and they were in a small breakaway. I was really excited for Karel and I was thinking he could possibly land on top-10 for this race (which would be amazing considering that this is one of the hardest, if not the hardest, races in the Florida Cup series). With Campy in the car for a quick minute, I stood at the feed zone in case Karel needed another bottle. He needed the bottle but because of the breakaway, there was no time to grab it.
I was really nervous for lap 5 (last lap) because I knew anything could have happened in the last 11 miles. When I saw the lead police car, I was anxious to see Karel (with only 1 lap to go). Bummer. There was an 8-man break and the chase group was at least 1 minute behind. Just a reminder, I was parked at the finish which is at the top of Sugarloaf. If you could only imagine how tired these guys were after 50+ miles of racing. Karel told me that in lap 4, when Karel was in the break, Ivan Franco (amazing Pro cyclist) was making several attacks. Karel and the other guys responded but after two attacks, Karel couldn't handle it anymore. The chase group ended up catching up with Karel's breakaway so I guess it was good that Karel could rest for a little (although there is really no resting on this challenging course).
So, when I saw Karel (not knowing then about the attacks) he looked beat just like everyone else. He was at least 20 back and the group of 8 in the front included some super strong guys. The front group was a good minute in front of the chase pack and I figured Karel would be shooting for a top 20-finish (or a sprint finish for the chase group).
After briefly talking with James, I came to the conclusion that regardless of how Karel finished, he really put a solid effort into this race and could not have done it without his teammates. Plus, with so many people dropping out, Karel should be happy that he could finish this race. Also, with a big race next weekend (Downtown Tampa Twilight Crit at 6:30pm) Karel has really felt the pressure of being in 1st place with his points. Also, with his 2 second place finishes 2 weeks ago, it's really tough, mentally, to go into races and to feel pressure to perform at the top of your game at every race. Karel handles his races really well so I guess I was just trying to make the most of this situation in case he ended up out of top 10 (which would be a first for this season).
When the announcer said that the lead vehicle was approaching I just waited for the big group to see if I could spot Karel. The announcer said that Ivan Franco was the winner and a job well done for his solo win. What an effort to finish the race alone. 2nd place was a young kid who just upgraded to Cat 3 (on Wed from Cat 4) so this was a shocker. What a bright future for this cycling superstar.
I could see the chase pack in the distance and it was surprisingly, fairly big. With Cat 3 and Pro's racing together, the next Pro and Cat 3 over the line would be racing for 2nd place.
Note to self: Always remember the first rule of cycling races "the race is never over 'til you cross the line".
With my camera in one hand and Campy in the other. I couldn't believe what I was seeing. Here's Karel at the front of the group, sprinting for 2nd place.
Despite Karel sprinting, in what looked to be slow motion, I didn't even get a pic of him at the finish. I couldn't believe what I was seeing.
Karel told me that he took a risk and kept his chain in the small chain ring while others switched to the big ring for the "sprint" finish. Although everyone (including Karel) had cramped muscles and expressed totally exhaustion on their faces, Karel felt as if he could put out whatever power he had left (which was hardly anything) better on the small ring, standing, than in the big gear (which is what he would typically sprint in to get out the most power possible).
All of a sudden I hear the announcer "Karel Sumbal wins the sprint for 2nd place".
Wow - after 2 hours and 24 minutes, 64 miles later (pretty impressive I must say), Karel landed a spot on the podium in the hardest race, thus far, in the season. Karel's teammates were SO excited for Karel, as were so many of the other riders. There were lots of congrats given to Karel and like the last race weekend, Karel couldn't believe it himself. Not like the last race weekend, he was in shock that he even finished the race. He said after lap 5 and the two attacks by Ivan Franco, he was a second away from quitting.
Congrats Karel for not giving up, for suffering through the pain and most of all, for having such a great team!