Each year when the mild weather conditions arrive, cyclists begin to prepare their equipment and plan weekend outings for the fall season. Now is the long-awaited time for touring and racing cyclists to break out the arm warmers for early-morning rides.
Some local triathletes are pumping up the knobby tires, following professionals such as Lance Armstrong and Ironman champion Wendy Ingraham, who ride off road as part of their off-season training.
"I think there's a healthy overlap of roadies who like to race with the mountain-bike riders," said Largo recreation department supervisor Lance Riddile. "Road riders know that mountain-bike riding can help develop your bike handling skills, and it's an amazing power workout," he said. "And, for the people who don't race, it's just fun to get into the woods in the fall."
Riddile is an active USA Cycling racer and NORBA mountain-bike cyclist. Riddile and road racer Tony Prioli of Clearwater have organized the Citrus City Cyclocross Series Of Largo, which will begin in January. The series is part of Largo's Centennial Celebration.
The sport of cyclocross is a fall tradition in Europe and combination of cross-country running, steeplechase and mountain-bike racing.
Cyclocross in France and Italy dates to 1940, and nowadays competitors ride lightweight road bikes fitted with off-road brakes and pedals. Skinnier knobby tires give cyclists speed for riding through flat, grassy sections of a course.
"Citrus City was a nickname for the City of Largo about 100 years ago," Riddile said. "The cyclocross series will have courses set up in dry lake beds of Lake Largo. Tony and I will set up a 1-mile course near the Nature Preserve.
"Riders will have to navigate through running sections, dirt and water. Dismounting sections will be the fun places to watch them, where they will hike-a-bike, taking off running while carrying their bikes. Each category, including kids, will ride multiple laps around the course."
Riddile has been receiving calls from many riders, including racers, tourists, kids, parents, triathletes and mountain bikers. They want to know what type of bicycle will be the fastest and what the rules will allow.
"Kids will show up on all kinds of bikes, we know that much," Riddile said. "If they want to come out with their BMX bikes, that's okay. Some people will try their hand at cyclocross with a heavy mountain bike. All we ask is that they have two working brakes, that their bikes be in good, safe working condition." Mountain bike champ Eddie O'Dea of Tampa has moved to Atlanta but says he plans to start his season with an appearance at Riddile's first cyclocross. "I'm coming down in January for sure, and I'll combine a visiting trip with a racing trip," O'Dea said.
The cyclocross series is scheduled for Jan. 9, Feb. 13, March 20 and April 17. Like their European counterparts, U.S. riders have begun training for various cyclocross events throughout the country. For information, go online to www.eddieodea.com or call 727 518-3021. MOUNTAIN BIKE CHAMPIONSHIPS: Stage 3 of the Florida State Mountain Bike Championships is scheduled for Sunday at Santos Trails in Belleview.
Kids racing begins at 8:30 a.m., followed by the second group at 9:30, Juniors, Clydesdales, Masters, Women and Novice. At 11:30, there will be racing for Experts, Sport, Masters and Grandmaster men and women.
Santos Trails are in Marion County, north of Belleview and just southeast of Ocala. Take I-75 north to Exit 67, proceed east to 441, go left or north on 441, left on 338, left on 25th Avenue, then look for course signs.
For information, go online to www.goneriding.com SUNCOAST TRIATHLON: The final stage of the Tampa Bay Triathlon Series is scheduled for 7:30 a.m. Saturday at Fort DeSoto Park.
The race will consist of a .33-mile swim, 11-mile bike ride and 3.1-mile run. The expo, early packet pick-up and registration are set for 2-8 p.m. Friday at the Holiday Inn Sunspree Marina Cove, 6800 Sunshine Skyway Lane, St. Petersburg. Top series awards will be given at the Cha Cha Coconuts Dinner & Party from 4-8 p.m. at the downtown St. Petersburg Pier.