Well, the wonderful revelation of cycling in central Florida's "mountain" range continues. I rolled into Windemere, about 15 miles east of Clermont, to hook up with a group ride on Sunday. I had no idea what to expect but with a publicized start time of 8:00am, at 7:50 there were about 10 of us there and I thought, "Oh well," but then, talk about a late arriving crowd, they came in waves and waves and within 10 minutes, there were 70-80. Of course, being a typical midwestern shlep, I could not find anyone I thought to be kind of parallel with my fitness level. Everyone fit the mold of "Euro tour/Columbian pro cyclist on vacation/Cat 1 domestic" type cyclist and you know why? Because everyone was a Euro tour/Columbian pro cyclist on vacation/Cat 1 domestic type cyclist. It was as if I had wandered into the start line of the Tour de France and getting the strange sense I did not belong. I'm not kidding! I heard more people speaking foreign languages then I did hear speak the "Queen's English". About 10 rolled in with of course matching jerseys and shorts but get this...they had matching helmets, shoes, bikes and gloves! I saw Tem Compass, AVD or ADV or something like that, lots of cycling teams.
Scanning the crowd, I saw one guy who appeared to be over the age of 30 and so I befriended "Bill". A nice guy who proved to be very helpful. He told me the speeds were, "fast hills or fast flat and that's it". What to do, what to do????? Bill told me when the group got to Hancock, the fast hills group would turn right and the others would stay straight. We rolled out, picking up others along the way and I have no idea how many were eventually in the group other than rounding turns, I needed glasses to make out the front of this enormous peloton. Cars in the rear just stacked up and made no attempt to pass us. We owned the road.
So, the mass of cyclists hit the first hill and a couple of guys dropped but we rolled inexorably on, a swarming mass of superfit (with one exception) headed toward Hancock Road. I was conflicted until the group hit Hancock and 40-50 went right and normal looking humans went straight and so I too went straight. Later, someone well versed in the area's cycling scene told me the right turning group was comprised solely of international pros, Cat 1 and Cat 2 racers. They would travel 27 on the flats, 27 up the hills and 27 on the downhills. Soon I was introduced to "Two women who race in Europe" and many others. Unfortunately or fortunately, there were a couple of mechanicals that slowed the group but eventually, we arrived at a 7-11 at mile 33 and took a break.
Some split for a flat return and others, including my buddy Bill, went for the hill return. We hit Scrubjay Road and others with nice hills and then the infamous Buckhill. I led over the first hill, saw there was another and led over that, saw there was another and...oh well.....the lady pros kicked my ass on that last one. then we hit Sugarloaf Mountain Road, grinded up that and stopped at that nice guy's house with the free water.
Motorcyclists parking at the overlook of Lake Apoketa or some name like that. We continued on and ended with 70 miles and a 20+mph average. To be frank, I held up well and was pleased. I noted that while the group kills the flats, on the real climbs, they don't have a lot of experience and I led up most of the climbs. One guy told me I was a hell of a climber and all I could do was think of the multitudes in Ohio who would laugh at that comment. Nice day, temps in low 70's and looking forward to Monday.
One way to measure the health of an area for cycling is the quantity of bike shops (lots and lots around here) and the quantity of bannana peels on the road (lots and lots of those too) so this area is the real deal.