“The toughest road ride in NorFla – the 5th Annual Strada Bellamy Sportif. Covering 207 kilometres / 128 miles of paved and unpaved roadways, Strada Bellamy takes its inspiration from the Strade Bianche held each spring in Tuscany, Italy. Our route incorporates several sections of historic Old Bellamy Road, the first federal highway constructed in Florida during the 1820’s. Participants will also ride many back roads familiar to regulars in the local scene, and take pride in introducing them to you. The 207 kilometre course includes 23 unpaved sectors totaling 125 kilometres. This year we’ll also offer a 99 kilometre option – the “Strada Bambino” – for those of you lacking time (or fitness). This ride is not supported, not sagged, and not forgiving.”
With the ride introduction out of the way, JOM, Pfaff Daddy, Mrs K-Dogg and Dr. Pain of the Gravel Cyclist crew rolled to the start in Jonesville, Florida, an event that is local to our home town of Gainesville, Florida. I was on the tail end of some dodgy chest infection, so I thought it wise to stay local versus traveling.
Of more pressing interest was the greatly increased attendance for the 2016 edition of the Strada Bellamy Sportif. The crew from JC’s Bike Shop out of Deland, Florida was there (riding the Bambino route), as was a gent all the way from South Carolina. Tic Bowen out of Orlando was rumoured to appear, but he has a history of running late…
Running early was Lambert, a local rider also known as the Belgian Diesel. He’d departed at 7am and left the note above. Incidentally, he is my second favourite Belgian, Steven Van Olmen is #1!
Previous attendance at the Strada Bellamy has averaged about 10 – 12 riders, with many of those riders cutting the route short. But with the continued growth of the Florida gravel scene, more than double this number committed to the Full Monty 207 kilometre distance… and quite a few people for the Bambino route too.
Rules of the Road
“This is a sportif event and we aim to be sporting. Given the distance and surfaces involved, it will be more than difficult enough without any early miles surging. Therefore, we will be fully neutral until the second feed zone – which is at 156 kilometres / 97.5 miles. Neutral does not mean a no drop ride, nor does it mean a gentle touring pace. The peloton will ride an even tempo agreed upon in consultation with the ride coordinator. So no drilling it on the front while everyone suffers behind you, then cutting the course when the going gets tough and you crack. That would not be sporting.”
“A reminder – it is nearly 100 kilometres between the first/second feed zones and there are NO options on course. Plan accordingly. Or call your mum.”
I didn’t call my mum in Australia until later that evening.
The ride began and within the first mile, the cry of “flat” had the group crawling to a halt. There were three Todd’s on this ride – event organiser Big Head Todd aka BHT, MTB Todd (a newbie to gravel) and Fake Todd (not the real Todd), who had the flat. Thankfully, Fake Todd’s malady allowed time for me to fiddle with my own bike. My machine was suffering a sympathy flat, or rather, a temporary tubeless leak that had dropped tyre pressure to an alarmingly low level. While Fake Todd and helpers took their sweet time fixing their flat tyre, I got busy removing, pancaking and shaking around my rear wheel, distributing sealant before re-inflating with a mini-pump whose action resembled a bloke having a solo good time. Many thanks to long-time friend Michael Boyco for holding my bike aloft, saving it the indignity of laying sideways in the dirt.
Some 15 minutes later, mechanical issues were sorted and the group rolled. About a kilometre down the road, the group turned onto the first of many dirt, gravel, sand and limerock sectors, at which time the pace lifted. It was steady, but not quite enough to put everyone into duress – yet. As I’ve found out from personal experience, it isn’t wise to throw one’s nose into the wind too early, so I covertly hid myself about four or five wheels from the front, mostly to be on the lookout for potholes and such.
As the group made its way over local landmark sectors such as the “aircraft landing strip” and the “Flappalachians”, it was apparent one or two of the lads were keen on keeping a high pace. Notably, local strong men Dr. MSG and Frozzie (the French / Aussie rider). Dr. MSG possesses power and skills on all terrains. He’d lay down a strong tempo on the front along the dirt and gravel sectors, while everyone else was lined up single file behind. Frozzie on the other hand, has terrible skills on the dirt and gravel. However, he’s an ace time trialist and laid it down hard on the paved sectors. Frozzie is such a nutter, he does most of his interval workouts on a trainer, and at one time knocked out a seven hour stationary trainer session. I ask, why?
After 40 miles had rolled beneath our wheels, we stopped in High Springs, Florida, home to the first of two store stops for the day. The front group had shrunk a little, with some wiser folks choosing to sit up a little and roll into the store at a more relaxed pace. Someone who was riding a frenetic pace, was Tic Bowen. Mentioned earlier, he is a habitual late starter. He missed the start of the Dirt(y) Pecan 150 by 10 minutes, and at the 2016 Strada Bellamy Sportif, he started some 24 minutes later than yours truly. Granted, we were slowed by some early mechanical issues, but he chased solo and arrived only a couple of minutes after the front group. Tic’s riding abilities are other-worldly.
The group stuffed their respective faces with food and drink, and stashed excessive clothing where it could be stashed. Unseasonably cool for this time of year, the start temperature was 50 Fahrenheit / 10 Celcius but was warming rapidly. Using my 65 F rule, I was adorned in Gravel Cyclist kit with base layer, lightweight arm warmers and knee warmers. Arm warmers can easily be stashed – jackets and such, not so much.
Between High Springs and the next scheduled stop of Trenton, Florida, lay just shy of 100 kilometres / 60 miles of the “no support” zone. As in, no petrol stations or convenience stores for miles. But do you reckon anyone heeded this warning? Nope. The same two blokes as before, Dr. MSG and Frozzie, stayed on the front for much of this leg, increasing their tempo along the way.
NE 48th Avenue / NE 38th Place in BFE Florida is situated close to the unincorporated community known as Craggs. These two roads are heavily potholed and pass through what I believe is a country subdivision. No pavement, huge lots and nobody around. Someone thought it wise to hammer through this sector.
At Paris Roubaix, they say if you ride the cobbles fast enough, you float over them. That doesn’t work for potholed roads in Florida. What ensued was a mad dash to stick close to the bloke ahead, while steering around or bunny hopping the pot holes and ruts at the same time. Yours truly went into self preservation mode and “sat up”, wisely leaving a 10 metre gap behind the front lads, mostly so I could see where I was riding.
Back onto pavement and after a regrouping, Frozzie returned to his place at the front and tapped out a 24 – 26mph tempo all the way to the outskirts of Bell, Florida. He was on fine form and hadn’t showed any signs of cracking… yet? Dr. MSG took over at the front as the group turned onto the dirt sector of NW 20th Avenue / NW 30th Street. This sector has plenty of rolling hills, which promptly split the group under the pressure of Dr. MSG’s tempo. Somehow I found myself off the front in the company of Dr. MSG, Pfaff Daddy, Dr. Pain and Gerbil (aka Joe) from Pleasant Cyclery. I glanced down at my Garmin 800 which was indicating speeds topping out at 46km / hr – or 28.75 m/hr if you prefer the imperial system. With 86 kilometres / 54 miles still to ride, this was a little too fast for my liking, so I legitimately “sat up” on the last of the hills, hoping to save a few microns of energy for later.
Approximately 19 miles from the second and last convenience stop of the day, one of the two ladies on the Full Monty 207 kilometre ride, Amy, suffered the indignity of a flat rear tyre, which sprayed strongman Tic Bowen in tubeless tyre spooge – chalk one up to a rare tubeless sealant fail. It should be noted that Tic had been absent from the front of the ride since the stop in High Springs. He’d certainly made an extraordinary effort to catch the group earlier in the ride, but was he recovering back there, possibly to show his hand later? As Amy addressed the issue of her flat tyre, the rest of the group congregated beneath the shade of a Live Oak tree and discussed the Paris Roubaix race. Frozzie and I had learned of the results and had serious trouble containing ourselves – but didn’t spill the beans. Mathew Hayman – Yes!!!
For the remainder of the journey to Trenton, those miles were a mix of steady tempo and hard riding. The hard riding saw several riders unceremoniously ejected from the rear of the group, but thanks to the modern miracles of GPS and computer technology, riders followed the course plot to join us at the BP petrol station in Trenton. Tic finally appeared towards the front of the ride, on the final piece of pavement that lead into Trenton… at about 26mph / 42 km/hr. He was fresh.
At the convenience store / petrol station, I took mental notes of the food and drinks my fellow riders were consuming – as I sat cross-legged in an attempt at a relaxing yoga pose. Gatorade, Powerade, salted peanuts, hot dogs, ice cream sandwiches, Coke and Pop Tarts – and various sundry items comprised mostly of rubbish and a crapload of sugar. I could have murdered a bowl of white rice about then, but alas, there was none to be found. The group took plenty of time at the store, blowing at least half an hour chowing down, not thinking about the final leg of the journey.
With 51 kilometres / 32 miles left to ride, mostly in an easterly direction – and into a block headwind, it would be a rough ride. The group sauntered away from the store at a mellow pace, until the first section of dirt, limerock, sand and gravel was encountered.
Citing the rules of organiser BHT – “After we leave the second feed zone, anyone who feels they can ride away from the group is welcome to try. We may find you slumped under a tree by the roadside with 20km to go. But perhaps you’ll happily solo in the final 50km. Now that will be sporting!”
Tic and Dr. MSG decided this would be the moment to really begin riding hard. Initially, they had some help in the form of a short-lived rotating paceline, but one by one, the paceline fell apart leaving just two riders working on the front; Tic and Dr. MSG. Once in a while, one of the brave souls suffering behind would head to the front and pull a brief turn, only to be violently spat out as the tempo steadily increased into the block headwind.
Eight kilometres / five miles after the rest stop, the front group was down to seven riders – Dr. MSG, Tic, JOM, Pfaff Daddy, Dr. Pain, BHT and MTB Todd. About a mile later, Pfaff Daddy and MTB Todd dropped… followed by BHT which prompted me to say “that’s it!”, and pull the pin… although technically, I “sat up” Dr. Pain clung onto the back for at least another mile, but eventually he too cracked.
Our quintet of riders chugged along at at steady 18 – 20mph / 28 – 32km/r as the leading duo of Tic and Dr. MSG rode away and out of sight. Everyone in our group was evenly hammered, which helped moderate our efforts and share the workload evenly. At 20 kilometres / 12.5 miles remaining, the route takes a southerly turn that adds 14 kilometres / nine miles to the course. Our group resisted the temptation to cut the course short, but there are some riders behind who were beyond cracked, and took the straightest path home. It was at this intersection that our group of five became four, when MTB Todd cracked. To his credit, he did complete the entire course.
The final obstacle to traverse was the goat track road of SW 154th Street. This tricky little road begins innocently enough, but soon turns to a potholed mess complete with some house bricks thrown in for good measure. Not exactly the sort of road you want to risk life and limb on towards the end of a tough ride. Dr. Pain did the smart thing and went to the front, and set a hard tempo. He was astride his Monster CX bike, and thus had the advantage of big tyres for plowing over obstacles. Pfaff Daddy, BHT and I had to be much more careful picking our line with our relatively narrow 40mm wide tyres. I suspect Dr. Pain was trying to drop us, but he’ll probably refute that claim and state he was guiding the way safely… along the lines of the first point in this article. Cheeky bugger.
Overall, the 2016 Strada Bellamy Sportif was a fantastic ride with great company. Despite the ride’s tough nature, nary a bad word was spoken among everyone present, just smiles.
If you’re wondering, we never did catch that Belgian who left early… and Mrs K-Dogg, who I’ve barely mentioned, chugged along at her own pace after dropping off the group at about 80 miles into the ride. She finished fresh as a daisy, while I sat in the open hatch of my car, exhausted, and feeling too unwell to eat for a while – too much sugary crap will do that to you.
Thanks for reading!