On any given Sunday in San Antonio Florida, whether in the middle of summer or in the middle of winter, riders from central Florida converge on this small Florida town about 30 miles north of Tampa for one of the fastest and most competitive group rides in the state.
This is no leisurely Sunday group ride where you can ride with your buddies and chat. This group ride is more like an unofficial race with constant attacks and accelerations and three designated sprint points along the 50-60 mile route.
The ride course is both challenging and scenic with many short steep hills and over 2000 feet (650 meters) of elevation gained by the end of the 50 miles. The steepest hills take around 1 minute to climb and have a gradient peaking at 10-12 percent. These hills are usually attacked at sprint intensity with the strong guys using them as launch pads for breakaways.
On any given Sunday, this group ride attracts any number from fifty to over one hundred cyclists. Many of Florida’s best pro and category 1-2 riders come to San Antonio to “play” and fine-tune their race form. Having personally participated in this ride for the last seven years, I can say that it is often harder than many of the local races.
On this particular Sunday, I rode up with a group of clients and friends to add some extra mileage. The sun was rising as we rode up to meet the ride starting at 8am.
The friendly rivalry between Florida Velo and Ride and Roll, two of the best local teams, was ready for another showdown. Being both rider and coach of the Florida Velo team, my goal was to go on the attack and also to help set-up our best sprinters with a great lead-out. For the first part of the ride, I followed a big attack and immediately found myself in a three-man breakaway with two of the best local riders; Joel and Danny Chavez. The San Antonio ride would not be the same without the Chavez brothers who are always on the attack, breaking away or sprinting.
At the first sprint line I conceded defeat to Danny Chavez, one of Florida’s best sprinters. After the first sprint a short neutral zone follows, where riders congratulate each other on their efforts and take time to regroup. The second sprint follows about 10 miles later and is preceded by short hills with the names of: “Ice Cream”, “Boat Ramp” and “Triple Step”. This time a small breakaway with Joel Chavez and my Florida Velo teammate Jimmy Page would break clear on “Triple Step” only to be caught on the line by the best sprinters.
A short rest stop at a local store follows the second sprint. Riders stock up on some well deserved nourishment while discussing the day’s action thus far.
The remaining 20 miles of this ride continues to be challenging with fast windy roads and three decisive hills to break-up the rides. The final sprint point is always contested by a select group or breakaway. This time Florida Velo teammate Derek Bennett won the final sprint in a select breakaway group.
I rolled in a minute back with some of my Florida Velo teammates. The race action now done, it was time to regroup and head home while others headed back to the start area at a local sports complex.
I have ridden in many countries and on many group rides over the last 20 years. The San Antonio group ride is my favorite for many reasons; there is a strong respect and friendship among the best riders who are always ready for action and keep the ride challenging and interesting. The scenic course on quiet farm roads are some of the best riding roads in Central Florida and help make the ride all the more enjoyable. I would not miss it for anything.