The last time (and only time) that Karel won the the Florida Cup (and Florida Points Series) was in 2006. Might I add that Karel was a category 3 rider. In an effort to upgrade to Category (Pro 2) he had to race consistently well throughout 2006 and 2007. Once Karel moved to the Pro 1,2 category as a category 2 rider, he was determined to move to Category 1 in an effort to race on a national level. Moving from Cat 2 to 1 was no easy feat but with determination and strength, Karel raced as much as he could in the summer of 2007 and with a few top-10 finishes, Karel quickly moved to Category 1. It is an honor to be a cat 1 rider. Rather than asking for an invitation to Speed Week, Athens Twilight crit and the US 100K classic, Karel was able to register and race due to his category 1 status.
Last year, as a Category 1 rider, Karel did really well and was really pleased with a few top-10 finishes. I still remember Karel's first two Pro 1,2 races when Karel told me that there was no way he would be able to race at "their" level. Knowing that many of the Pro riders raced cycling as a full-time job, Karel wondered if he could ever race at a higher level while working a 40+ hr week as the General Manager of the Trek Store of Jax.
This season has been amazing for Karel. After 4 HARD years of training, Karel has really peaked throughout the season. With a very long season, starting in Feb/March and ending next month, Karel has certainly had his ups and downs with training this year. Starting with crisp air and arm warmers, Karel hated the welcome of summer races and despised racing in the heat. However, with a few exceptional results early this year (in some of the hardest races in the Florida Cup series) Karel set himself up as the athlete-to-beat in the Pro 1,2 category. With the help of the Lindner Capital teammates, Karel has lead the points series ever since the first race. Not know if this dream was possible, Karel and his teammates worked wonderfully together at every race and Karel managed to have his best season to date.
This past Sat was the 8:45pm, 70 min criterium race in downtown Bartow. After Karel worked all day (10-3), we left our place around 4pm for a 3 hr and 20 min drive. Karel left his "racing" legs at the last race in Dade City for the Labor Day Cup race and wasn't really in the mood to race in Bartow. Even thought it was a night crit and Karel LOVES night crits, Karel was really hoping to help Curtis win the Bartow race and work for him during the entire race.
Karel figured out that he would need to crash out of the race or get 33rd AND the 2nd place Cup series guy would need win the race, for Karel to get 2nd in the FL points series. Although the pressure was kinda off, you never know what will happen in a criterium race with 4 sharp corners.
My friend Jennifer met me at the race with her dog Molly so Campy and Molly smelled and pottied on every push and twig around the course.
Before the race we watched Curtis win the 35+ race. I had a feeling that Curtis was not going to win two races in a row (although he is a power house!) and I could tell from Karel's expression on his face that he was really excited for this night crit. We saw a bunch of our Gearlink friends staying around to watch the Pro race and the crowd was quite large for the little town of Bartow.
Because the race was 70 minutes, a lot happened in the first half of the race. Like most crits, there is typically a break away or two but it never lasts. Curtis worked really hard during the race, as did Karel. I don't think I've seen Karel so active in a race in a really long time. Every time I saw Karel breaking away (solo) or chasing down a break away, I wondered if Karel would have enough in his legs to sprint at the end of the race.
Karel is not the type to ever sit-in during a race and just take it easy until the sprint finish (although many guys do that) but as the race progressed over an hour (nearing 9:45pm) I had a feeling that Karel was feeling good and anything could happen.
With about 5 laps to go there was a break away of 2 riders staying away from the group. With 5 laps to go, the riders are no longer able to stop at the wheel pit to change wheels due to a flat or mechanical. Anytime between the beginning of the race and 5 laps to go, you are allowed to change wheels if you need to, and are given one "free" lap.
The break away was getting further away from the 50+ group pack and all of sudden Curtis exploded and drug back the entire group to the break away. For a moment, Curtis, Karel and another top rider were in the front but the field kept changing after every loop.
I heard from Karel that in the 4th loop, Karel's handlebars got caught with another guys' bars and Karel was ready to crash. They were making a left hand turn but Karel and the other guy (tangled together) were heading straight. However, Karel had a rider on his right who was turning and nearly brought him down. Karel was looking for a place to crash and his entire body clinched up. By some miracle, Karel managed to loosen his bars from the other guy and they safely made the turn. If Karel would have crashed, he would have been out of the race and out of the FL CUP series win.
With 2 laps to go the announcer gave away a gamblers prem. The next rider over the line with 1 lap to go would get the prem of $160 (money that was collected from the crowd). A gambler prem always spices things up...do you go for the glory (overall win) or the money (gambler prem with 1 lap to go). Obviously, you can't go for both cause your legs will be trashed by trying to sprint with 1 lap to go.
With 1 lap to go, Karel was working his way towards the front and the crowd was gathering at the finish. My heart was pumping and I was holding tight to Campy. The excitement was growing because I knew Karel had a sprint in him for a top finish.
I could see Karel sprinting to the line and before my eyes, Karel crossed the line in 2nd place!!!!
I ran over to Karel after he cooled down a loop on the course. The announcer gave the top 10 results and also congratulated Karel for WINNING the FLORIDA CUP SERIES!!! I think Karel won the series by a large margin (he was 33 points in the lead before this race) and he was congratulated by a lot of the other Pro 1,2 riders. Although everyone competes during the race, Karel is really close with a lot of the other Pro 1,2 guys on other teams.
Nearing 10:20pm Karel finally got his award money for the race (which he split with Curtis for helping him out) and he couldn't believe that he won the Florida Cup and almost won the last race.
Driving home LATE sat evening, Karel and I were thinking back to 2006. Karel won the Florida Cup and I was training for the Ironman World Championships. Four years later, Karel wins the FL Cup as a Pro 1 rider and I just qualified for the Ironman World Championships. I think we are in a great place in our racing career because we are both loving our life as athletes, as well as making the most out of our life as doggy-parents, hard-working career individuals and husband and wife. We are not professional athletes, nor do we strive to be pros (although I have a feeling if Karel had the choice he would ride/race his bike all day, every day). I firmly believe that with hard work, balance and goal setting, anything is possible :) As an athlete, I have trained differently almost every racing season. This season, both Karel and myself trained during our peak season with very low volume training weeks (although high intensity) compared to years past. We didn't worry about miles or time but rather quality... I find with quality (not quantity) training you feel much more control over the rest of you life and can quickly notice performance gains in your athletic life.
*I took this pics of FB...