Luis Rodriguez, the owner and lead trainer at WinStrong Crossfit in Horizon West, has a budding cycling career that already includes two state championships to his credit.
It happened around the intersection of Avalon Road and New Independence Parkway.
Luis Rodriguez was still fairly new to cycling, but when he found out that the Windermere Roadies cycling club met for their Wednesday ride each week in front of the gym he owns and operates — WinStrong Crossfit on Winter Garden-Vineland Road — he knew he wanted in.
And, on that first Wednesday back in the spring of 2015, he did not last long.
Rodriguez recalls being dropped – or left behind when he could not keep pace — just a few miles into the ride, near the intersection of Avalon and New Independence. The experience was humbling, but where others might have been discouraged, Rodriguez remembers riding home full of excitement.
“That’s really when I was hooked,” Rodriguez said. “I was a bottom-feeder again. I feed off of the journey. So I said, ‘OK — I’m going to get better at this.’”
Although it was another two months before Rodriguez could even finish the ride with the Roadies, that marked the beginning of a progression that — over the past 18 months — has seen the Windermere resident collect his second state championship jersey at the Florida State Road Race Championships Oct. 15 in Dade City.
READY TO RACE
It was January 2015, and Rodriguez — who lives about three miles from his Crossfit gym — was looking for a little variety. So, Rodriguez, 35, went to David’s World Cycle and purchased a commuter bike, with the idea of riding to and from work.
The commuter bike didn’t last long.
Within a month, as he started to experiment with how fast he could go and began to increasingly enjoy his rides, Rodriguez had upgraded to a road bike. Once that happened, the Pine Castle Christian alumnus started doing more than just commuting to-and-from work.
Rodriguez’s rides on the West Orange Trail quickly increased from 15 miles to 20 miles and eventually 30 miles.
“It was one challenge, get that challenge done; check. Next challenge."
Then he began his rides with the Windermere Roadies. First, he worked to finish the rides on Wednesdays. Then, he joined for Sunday rides in Clermont — rides that include climbing Sugarloaf Mountain, the highest point on Florida’s peninsula.
Once again, he got his butt kicked — and loved it.
“It was one challenge, get that challenge done; check. Next challenge,” Rodriguez said. “So then it was like, ‘Now I’m ready to race.’”
One of the first things that stands out about Rodriguez on a ride is that he is often the most muscular cyclist in the group.
Rodriguez has a background that includes bodybuilding, powerlifting and Crossfit. At his WinStrong Crossfit gym, Rodriguez does the workout of the day each day along with his members. At a lean 215 pounds, his body type is not what most would think of when recalling a cyclist and, at first, even he thought his success would be limited as such.
Then, on a ride one day before he started formally competing, Rodriguez remembers something — or rather, someone — catching his eye.
“I looked over and I saw another set of (muscular) thighs like mine,” Rodriguez said, laughing. “We had a nice little conversation and (the cyclist) rode up a little bit. (Then) one of my other buddies goes, ‘Do you know who that is? He’s a world champion.’”
The muscular cyclist that caught his attention was Grant Potter, the gold medalist of the 2010 Worlds Masters Stage Race.
Once again, Rodriguez was inspired.
“That’s when I started saying, ‘OK, I can do this. I can stay big and strong and I can continue trying to win,’” he said.
ROAD TO REPEAT
Rodriguez only had been competing formally for a few weeks when he won first place in the Men’s Cat 4 at the Florida State Road Race Championships last fall in Brooksville.
An impressive feat — but he felt it came with a qualifier.
Because the race course that year finished downhill, and because Rodriguez already had built up somewhat of a reputation as a powerful sprinter, it was believed that the course actually favored his abilities.
“Hearing that — and I agreed with it — in my head, there was a little discredit because (it suggested) on another course, maybe I couldn’t have done it,” Rodriguez said.
It became apparent that further validation was needed. In 2016, Rodriguez has embarked on a regular schedule of competition and joined the Compass Research Cycling Team.
He has molded much of his training at his gym to fit his needs as a cyclist. Rodriguez works to maintain strength and power, doing fewer metabolic routines than before since he gets much of that out on the road. It is a hard balance to strike — but one he believes has benefited him against other cyclists. He’s invited teammates and friends into his gym to add some variety to their workouts.
“There’s just things you can’t do on your bike … and vice-versa,” Rodriguez said.
Everything this year built toward repeating at the state championships — this time on a course finishing uphill. Motivated by the doubt that lingered from the previous year, Rodriguez won again in Dade City.
“I wanted to prove to myself — and anybody else — that it wasn’t the course,” Rodriguez said.
WHAT LIES AHEAD
Oddly enough for the owner of a Crossfit gym, Rodriguez said he never found Crossfit competitions that satisfying.
Although he loves the training and the tangible effects it has on his everyday life, he believes he has found in cycling the ability to whet his competitive appetite — and he isn’t slowing down. Though it may have seemed like a pipe dream when he bought a commuter bike in 2015, Rodriguez now has his sights set on competing in the USA Cycling Masters Road National Championships in Georgia next June.
As always, it’s about the next challenge.
“I’m like that dog that keeps chasing the car,” Rodriguez said. “I need the next challenge.”
He credits a lot of his success to the support of his wife, Samantha, and his small staff at WinStrong. Then, of course, there is his daughter, Nicole, who will be turning 4 soon — perhaps his biggest fan.
“My daughter expects me to win,” Rodriguez said. “I came home and I had got third one time, and she said, ‘Why didn’t you get first?’”
“My daughter expects me to win. I came home and I had got third one time, and she said, ‘Why didn’t you get first?’”
As long as those little eyes are watching, Rodriguez will compete both as a cyclist wanting to win and a father wanting to model the pursuit of excellence.
“I want her to see that you can chase whatever you set your mind to,” he said.
Contact Steven Ryzewski at [email protected].