GREEN COVE SPRINGS - There was a little bit of truck traffic during one event due to the Monster Truck Jam that was staged at the Clay County Fairgrounds, but cyclists from around the United States …
GREEN COVE SPRINGS - There was a little bit of truck traffic during one event due to the Monster Truck Jam that was staged at the Clay County Fairgrounds, but cyclists from around the United States were more than willing to share the roads as the Great American Road Race cycling festival held Oct. 10-11 showcased more than just a great cycling event.
“We had our recreational vehicle parked at the fairgrounds for three days and, on that Saturday night, the truck jam was there and it was loud,” said womens champion Carlee Hemmerlein, a University of Central Florida cycling team athlete who dominated the Womens Category 1-3 races with wins in all three disciplines; time trial (At Camp Blanding), road race (staged at Penney Farms, and criterium (at Thrasher Horne Civic Center). “We were able to sit atop our RV and watch a little of it and that made the weekend pretty cool. It’s been a beautiful weekend.”
Two area officials, Kimberly Morgan, director of tourism in Clay County, and Mike Cella, a county commissioner, were both on hand for the road race event Saturday morning in Penney Farms to see the fruits of the plan to bring world class cycling to Clay County.
“We were scheduled to host the USA cycling qualifier in June, but the COVID cancelled that,” said Morgan. “We couldn’t get the event as a national qualifier, but we will host that national qualifier next year. We are the first national cycling event in the United States and we combined with Airstream Ventures in Jacksonville to put this on as sort of a test run for next year’s event.”
Morgan noted that 10 states were represented in the racing including as far as California and Minnesota.
“I think that the cyclists nationwide were just ready to compete,” said Morgan. “This is the first racing events in the country. We appreciated all involved, public safety, the sheriff’s office, Camp Blanding for the time trial, our friends in Penney Farms, the Velobrew Cycling team all made it a great team effort.”
For Cella, the event was granted through the county’s bed tax and considered the event a two-fold benefit.
“That TDC (Tourism Development Council) money is generated to put on events like this because it brings out of state tourism into our county,” said Cella. “The other part is the quality of life aspect of sharing our county with people from around the country. Residents like to have events like this in their hometown. It creates a buzz and we can showcase our community. We have had great feedback already from this event and great anticipation of the next one.”
On the mens side of the racing, in the criterium Pro Category 1-3 division, area racers got to see one of the southeast’s best young cycylist, a Artem Shmidt, just 16, of Georgia, who brought his national age group champion pedigree to battle with the some of the best veterans of Florida cycling including Florida state champion Owen Schott of Ponte Vedra.
“We had a three-man break and we worked out, but I had a little more to win the sprints,” said Shmidt. “I had some junior gears on my bike, but was able to breakaway on the sprint. Owen was hanging for a while at the end.”
Shmidt, 16, who has won multiple national titles in his very young cycling career, battled with Schott, 40, a endurance athlete with the Jacksonville-based Velobrew Racing Team, in Sunday’s exciting criterium that circled the Thrasher Horne Civic Center in a 0.8 mile loop of fast action on College Avenue.
“This was awesome to see the Under 18 national champion, an Under 23 national champion all in one spot made the two days very competitive,” said Schott, who brought a slew of the Jacksonville-based Velobrew Racing Team athletes. “I think Clay County was well represented and the community really supported the efforts of everyone who put it on.”
Schott reiterated that the original plan for the cycling event was the USA nationals qualifier in June, but that the COVID experience cancelled that event.
“The goal is to bring the best amateurs here to compete in a world class event,” said Schott. “I can’t think of a first-time event that was run so smoothly. This could really double in size in the future and have hundreds of cyclist in each event.”
In the final surge of the Sunday criterium, Shmidt’s youthful legs of speed outkicked Schott for the win. Justin Bolde, 33, finished third just a hair off the pace as he was part of a mid-race breakaway.
In one of other race that featured youthful exuberance, Stephen Pimentel, 22, of Fresno, California, a Category 4 and 5 racer in the Penney Farms road race, took a two-mile jump on the Peloton, the chase pack of cyclists, on the turn from Thunder Road to CR 218 and held on past Lake Asbury to outlast the chase pack to the finish line in front of Penney Farms.
“We drove all the way out just for this,” said Pimentel, who was competing with a group called Velo Kings Racing in his first pro cycling event after a tennis career in California. “I broke away at that turn and had some attacks throughout the race on that big hill (on Thunder Road). We got mountains in California.”
Pimentel also finished seventh in the criterium and was the Omnium champion.
“We are going to compete in the state championship races next week even though we can’t win a title, but the racing is intense here,” said Pimentel.
For event director Joel Lamp of Airstream Ventures out of Jacksonville, who orchestrated all three days with a lot of Clay County officials.
“On a scale of one to 10, this has been a 10 for the event,” said Lamp. “I think everyone enjoyed the course here in Clay County. Overall, it was a great event with everyone contributing to make it well run and with just some small hiccups. I think we’ll see more of these type of events. This was a great criterium set up that the racers all loved. Everyone got to see a part of Florida and compete in some very competitive and challenging races.”
At the Florida State Road Race Championships, held Sat., Oct. 17 in Ocala, Hemmerlein won the 19-29 state title and took third in the Pro 1-2 race, Shmidt finished fifth in the Pro 1-2 race and second in the Under-35 race, and Michael Hernandez, a racer for the Florida Velo team out of the Tampa area, was Pro 1-2 champion. At the Clay County Great American Road Race, Hernandez won the road race title and was fifth in the time trial and criterium.