Sosa to Slovenia: summer biking in Europe

Published 12:22 pm Friday, August 4, 2023

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By Carey Reeder | Managing Editor

Isabella student and avid cyclist Jake Sosa’s stellar performances in Alabama landed him a summer 5,103 miles away from Chilton County. Sosa became a member of the Pogi Team in Slovenia, one of the most decorated cyclist teams in the world, and spent two months learning from some of the world’s best cyclists and coaches.

Ljubljana, the capital of Slovenia, is 5,103 miles from Chilton County, and there is a seven-hour time difference. However, the Pogi Team wanted to recruit some junior American riders to participate in races during the summer to see how they would fare and how much they would enjoy it.

Sosa came upon their radar by way of the record-breaking performances he has put in the last two years. At age 12, Sosa became the youngest rider to complete the Skyway Epic at Lake Howard and Cheaha Challenge Century in Jacksonville. At age 13, he became the youngest rider to complete the Skyway Challenge 100+ Mile and the 127-mile Cheaha Challenge Ultra. Sosa finished third in the under 18 riders and 10th overall in the Skyway Challenge 100+ Mile, and took home the win in the under 18 riders and ninth overall in the Cheaha Challenge Ultra.

Sosa competes in high school mountain biking with the Red Mountain Composite Team. In May, one of his coaches approached him about the opportunity to join the Pogi Team and travel to Slovenia.

“Right when we heard about it we did not know much, just that this coming summer there would be an opportunity to go to Europe, and I immediately wanted to go,” Sosa said. “My parents were iffy about it, but we figured it would be a good opportunity to go, so we went for it.”

Sosa was joined by three other cyclists from the Birmingham area — Wilder Correll, Quinn McCurry and Maggie McCurry, and the quartet all decided to take the leap and join the Pogi Team for two months of cycling in Slovenia.

The four took two fights to get to Europe, one from Birmingham to Atlanta, Georgia, and then from Atlanta to Venice, Italy. A short bus ride from Italy, and they were in their home for the next two months on May 23.

“When we first got to Slovenia, it was not that different (from the United States),” Sosa said. “It is a smaller country, but obviously the biggest difference was the language. Everything was smaller, and there were mountains everywhere.”

The group jumped right into cycling and Sosa competed in his first race three days into the trip. He also had the privilege of staying in the house of Andrej Hauptman, the assistant sports director of the UAE Team Emirates professional cycling team. Hauptman is also a coach for 24-year-old Tadej Pogacar, a Slovenian cyclist and Pogi Team founder who won the Tour de France in 2020 and 2021.

Sosa said he picked up a lot of stuff from Hauptman, and he plans to use those things picked up and incorporate them into his cycling. Sosa also received training from Miha Koncilija, one of Pogacar’s coaches during his two Tour de France victories.

Most of the races Sosa did were one off races across Slovenia, but he did race the Tour of Slovenia 2023 that was a three-day, four-stage race across the country. Sosa returned to Alabama on July 20.

He said there are not as many junior riders in Alabama as there are in Slovenia. There are more juniors in mountain biking in Alabama, but there were 50-100 juniors in each road race Sosa competed in overseas.

“(Cycling) is a lot bigger over there,” Sosa said. “There is soccer, and then cycling. Those are the two biggest things.”

Sosa added that the most surprising thing about Slovenia was the number of bikes that were around towns each day.

“If you walk outside, there are as many bikes as there are cars over there,” Sosa said. “Everything is closer together, so when most people get groceries they will just ride their bikes. People normally only take their cars if they are going longer distances.”

Team Pogi is working to have Sosa and the American junior riders back over next summer as well.

As for Sosa’s immediate future with cycling, he is looking forward to the next season with Red Mountain Composite, and he plans to look for other races to do in Alabama and nearby states in the southeast. Sosa plans to keep his cycling disciplines open and compete in road racing, mountain biking and circle-track racing.

“I try to do a little bit of anything,” Sosa said.