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Dade City becoming Triathlon haven

Star athlete and coach Cyle Sage says the area is ideal for becoming a training mecca for this grueling sport.

By JAMAL THALJI

© St. Petersburg Times, published April 29, 2001


SAINT LEO -- San Diego; Boulder, Colo.; Albuquerque, N.M. -- all are havens for triathletes.

Is Dade City next?

East Pasco County already is a training home to a small but growing contingent of serious triathletes, working out under the well-trained eye of 12-year veteran triathlete star and coach Cyle Sage.

Sage, 35, helped bring Dade City to the attention of the triathlon world. He is the athlete development director for USA Triathlon, which oversees the U.S. Olympic triathlon team and is this country's governing body of the sport.

Sage also is helping the College Triathlon Association, based at Saint Leo University, which is trying to develop the sport -- a grueling combination of swimming, cycling and running -- at the collegiate level.

And he also is a personal coach and helped local triathletes -- including U.S. pro Alison Hayden of Dade City and Brazilian Olympic team member Sandra Solanon, who also resides and trains in Dade City -- prepare for Saturday's ITU St. Anthony's Triathlon World Cup.

Sage himself will compete today in his fourth St. Anthony's Triathlon.

Sage said triathletes biking along Robert Barnes Road and through the orange groves, swimming in the Saint Leo pool or running laps at the Pasco Middle School track soon will become common sights in east Pasco.

"There are certain parts of the country, San Diego, Boulder, Albuquerque, that are considered spots where triathletes congregate," Sage said. "What they look for is rolling terrain, facilities they have easy access to, that aren't very crowded, and access to an international airport. That makes for the perfect location for training."

Hence, Dade City's sudden popularity. It's near Tampa and its international airport, and Clermont in Sumter County, where the USAT's National Training Center is scheduled to be completed in August.

As many cyclists already know, the rolling, rural roads of east Pasco are perfect to train on -- or just to ride on.

"There's not a lot of traffic out there," Sage said. "Just a lot of pretty, rural, rolling terrain, which is what cyclists look for. It's not crowded, and it has a peacefulness that enables athletes to focus on what they're doing."

Sage grew up in Tennessee, but while working for the Ironman Institute in Tampa, he started looking for a place to train near Clermont.

"I put my finger on the map and hey, Dade City is right between the two," he said. "I understood it's a popular cycling area. I just drove through and took one look and fell in love with the place."

That was three years ago. Now several Brazilian Olympic team members train in east Pasco, including Solanon and Armando Barcellos. Several top-ranked German athletes also train locally. There will be more to come, as two junior national teams make the trip to Dade City in June, and the Chilean junior national team will arrive in June to train.

The triathlon is what brought Hayden, 29, an All-American swimmer at the University of North Carolina-Wilmington, from the Everglades to St. Petersburg to Dade City.

"I came to Pasco County because I like the area," she said. "I like the ruralness."

"Growing up as a competitive swimmer, I was swimming four or five hours a day since I was a young child," she said. "When you graduate from college and you don't have that anymore, you're kind of lost. That's what got me into it. I had to have that, the endorphins."

It is just the start, Sage said.

"There's going to be more and more coming to the area," he said. "Once one person likes it and they tell other people about it, more people will show up."

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