One thing I like about riding annual events is that it marks the calendar for a personal fitness gauge. With 600 participants, The Homestead Speedway Century is just that sort of gauge. Everyone who attends prepares to bring their best legs including clubs who train together in a mission to display their unified force.
I arrive with plenty of time and begin my pre-ride ritual. You can feel the energy in the air surrounding the parking lot filled with anxious riders pumping tires and kitting up in the dark. Just before lining up I catch up with Willy Suarez. Willy and I forged a bond in the crucible of pain back in 2009/10 when I was just returning to cycling. He and I would sometimes (read often) get dropped on the return trip from Bay Front Marina during our regular Saturday morning group ride. One would catch up with the other and with an exchange of friendly if somewhat humble smiles we would drag each other against prevailing headwinds back to Miami City Hall. Things changed in 2010, both of us were mixing it up a bit and began riding at the front of some pretty spirited groups.
Every year the Speedway commences with a lap around the NASCAR track and heads out to the Homestead farmland. This year was different with an out and back to Key Largo for the first 60 miles. As you can imagine, weeding your way through 600 riders to find the right place with riders keeping the right pace can be a challenge. I look down to see that my speed had climbed to 29 mph with hits to 32 mph within the first two miles and I am keenly aware I am out of my league for my current fitness level.
So I dial it back to a 23-24mph. There is an absence of riders at this pace leaving me caught out alone as I watched my speed slipping to 22-23mph. The strain in my legs lets me know that I am in need of a group to provide some respite if I think I am going to keep up the pace. After a few more miles I can hear the leader of Team Sindicato, Jorge Gonzalez, dispensing orders and keeping things tight. I pull out left and slow down to let the blue and white kitted riders slide on by knowing I can count on them to provide a steady pace. It was then I realize that they were pulling just about everyone left in the ride and so finding a hole in the pace line was more than a little difficult. I was likely thirty riders back when I finally found some space amongst the minions. A quick look around confirmed there was another thirty more wheelsuckers in tow.
Riding mid-pack of a large group has its own set of challenges not the least of which is the potential for crashes. I open a gap in front of me to let a stray rider into the lee. It wasn’t long before I realized my mistake; he was a coaster. Yeah, the kind of rider that races up to the wheel in front of him then coasts and opens a gap of two bike lengths and then does so repeatedly for the entire ride.
Cooooaast, pedal, pedal, pedal – Cooooast, pedal, pedal , pedal, Coooast….
Nothing saps the energy out of a pace line like a coaster. The accordion effect he creates cascades all the way back to the last riders who will be likely become exhausted from the repeated efforts to hold on and then subsequently dropped . So I wait until he begins his coast, pull out, and jump in front to him in the gap he creates. I am sure he thinks me rude, but I just can’t take it anymore.
Card Sound Road Bridge is just a quarter of a mile at 4.5% but still steep enough to shake me loose from the group. No worries, the dropped riders regroup and forge ahead keeping a steady effort to finish out the 30 miles to the first rest stop. Things are a bit crowded at the tents so as the masses forage for bananas, PBJ sandwiches and granola bars, I tuck into a little tasty morsel of rice, eggs and bacon I have been carrying in my jersey pocket. These delicious rice cakes contain 270 calories the majority of which are supplied by carbohydrates from calrose rice and further flavored with liquid amino acids and parmesan cheese. I whisper a thank you for my wife, Renate who lovingly prepares these nutritious tidbits without request for big riding weekends.
Riders are gathering to leave and so I top off my bidons, find a wheel and hold on for the return trip. Head and crosswinds keep the effort high. This group dwindles from about 20 riders down to 6 as the wind and miles take their toll. Returning to the Speedway, I am surprised to find so many riders hanging out post ride in jovial spirits enjoying each other’s company as announcements are made and raffle swag is distributed. I reflect on my previous Speedway full century rides and remember clearly much smaller gatherings of fatigue fogged riders with that far away look in their eyes. It seems the party subsides in the time it takes to do the additional 40 miles of a full century.
I grab some food, a Pepsi and find an open seat soon to be joined by another riding buddy Alex Labora. Alex is a bit of a social butterfly and enjoys chewing the fat with just about, well… everyone. In fact, I don’t think there is a group ride in Miami that Alex has not ridden. I have never witnessed Alex in a foul mood apart from the occasional confrontations with errant motorists. We enjoy each other’s company until I find my energy waning and bid Alex adieu.
This year’s Speedway I have been measured and found wanting. It does appear, however, that I still have some friends out on the road and discover I am all the richer for it.