Ride report (with photos): 2015 Sugar 8 Challenge
People are always amazed when they see how much elevation can be found here in Central Florida. While it’s true that we don’t have any true sustained mountain climbs, there are places with a surprising amount of vertical. The Clermont area, which is very hilly, is a favorite for local cyclists.
One can do do a relatively short ride in Clermont and easily wind up with 3,000 feet of vertical. With a longer ride and a little planning, however, single ride elevation totals can exceed five, six or even seven thousand feet.
The most well-known organized ride featuring Central Florida’s hills is the Horrible Hundred, which is held every November. I’ve done this ride a few times, and it’s always a fun and challenging century with about 5,200 of vertical.
Towards the end of October my friend Hector told me about a ride called the “Sugar 8 Challenge”, which was held this past Sunday. This ride contains more elevation than the Horrible Hundred, and it packs that elevation into about 14 fewer miles. Unlike the Horrible Hundred, the Sugar 8 course is a ~21.4 mile figure-8 loop that is designed to deliver the maximum possible elevation per mile. Each loop includes some of the area’s most challenging and well-known hills: Buckhill road, The Wall and Sugarloaf Mountain (Sugarloaf is ridden twice per loop, for a total of 8 times–“Sugar 8”). Sugarloaf Mountain is about the closest thing we have a real climb around here. The actual climb is about a half-mile in length, with an average grade of 8.5% (~12-15% in spots).
Anyway, the challenge is to complete 4 complete loops. That comes to a little over 86 miles and, depending on whose Garmin you believe (the damn things are all over the place), 6,200 – 7,000 feet of elevation (my Garmin Edge 810 registered 6,998 feet).
I didn’t get a formal head count, but I’d estimate that somewhere around 60-70 cyclists showed up this year to test their legs. Among those were my friends/KBS teammates Hector, Jose and Alfredo. A couple other KBS guys were there, along with a few other guys I know/have ridden with.
This ride was challenging enough on its own, but we were also dealing with one of the hottest November days on record. It was fairly hot and humid from the outset, but by the time we started the third lap it was broiling. My Garmin recorded a maximum temperature of 97° (F) at mile 64.3. While this temperature was certainly inflated by the sun beating down directly on the Garmin, I think it’s a fair representation of what it felt like out there. It was HOT, HOT, HOT!
Another challenging aspect of the ride was the wind. The wind was strong, and some of the gusts were really strong. The initial group split up very early on, and the front group was quite small for most of the ride (and it became even smaller as the ride progressed). We were really working out there.
I don’t know how many people completed the ride, but I’m pretty sure it was less than 10. I was told that historically only 4-5 riders are able to complete the full ride. Alfredo, Jose, myself and Tony all completed it, and I think only a couple of others were able to overcome the hills, wind and heat and go the distance. Hector has been sick, and off the bike for three weeks. He didn’t complete the ride, but somehow managed to complete 3/4 of it. Pretty amazing after a three week layoff. Great job, guys!
This ride would have been tough even under ideal conditions, but the heat and wind really took it to another level. I think I speak for all of us who completed the ride: the final loop sucked. We were so hot and tired that it took a tremendous amount of discipline and desire to pedal past our cars and keep going (each loop passes the start location twice).
Here are a bunch of pictures (with captions) from the event. Click any image to enlarge.