In recent years my road season peaked at the end of the summer when the team traveled to my hometown of Saint Louis, Missouri for four days of crit racing at the Gateway Cup. Unfortunately a variety of schedule conflicts ruled the team out of this year’s edition of the Gateway Cup.
Instead in late July I headed to Chicago, Illinois for five days of crits in the Windy City as part of the Intelligentsia Cup. As it turns out, a variety of current and former New Yorkers also made the trip to the Windy City, providing plenty of company in what proved to be an exceedingly hot and very competitive weekend of racing.
Day 1: West Dundee River Challenge
As was the case earlier this year at Rasputitsa Gravel Race my advance preparation for Intelligentsia Cup was limited, though while browsing the race website I did marvel at Thursday’s planned u-turn heavy course. Unfortunately my brief online research failed to reveal the steep kicker in the finishing straight of Wednesday’s crit. That was an unwelcome surprise during my preview lap: all it took was a single loop around the short 1KM course to know that I was in trouble before the race even started.
When the racing kicked off, things started off reasonably enough. I was able to hold position in the first ten or so wheels, recovering on the back side before dropping #ALLOFTHEWATTS to maintain position on the kicker. All things considered my legs felt OK. But my primary concern was actually my long-troublesome lower back. Which true to form – following the flight to Chicago, the lumpy hotel bed and not enough stretching – went out on me halfway through the race. And so my race ended early, laying in the grass on the side of the road writhing in pain. Further confirmation that I hate climbing.
Day 2: South Chicago Kermesse Road Race
Thankfully Thursday’s race provided a complete change of scenery as we shifted to an abandoned and completely flat stretch of lakeshore in South Chicago. Formerly a giant US Steel Manufacturing site the remaining industrial ruins served as an unique and barren backdrop even if the course was a touch on the boring side after one of the two planned u-turns was eliminated. That said the weather more than made up in any boredom in course design when a sudden storm kicked up in the middle of the Women’s 2/3 race. As the sky darkened and the wind started gusting barriers were sent flying into the course. The race was neutralized and barriers pulled off the course but even then part of the finish line scaffolding collapsed. Racing eventually restarted and Lisa from CityMD Women’s Racing scored her first of many podiums.
By the time my race rolled around later in the afternoon the weather had died down. This combined with a tailgun happy course left a pretty straight-forward race strategy: remain patient and look for the field sprint. Of course that’s always easier said than done and I wound up burning mid-race matches that I probably should have saved for the finale. As the race wound down Tim was throwing out some of his patented late race attacks, escaping off the front on the final lap. I moved to the head of the pack to slow things down through the u-turn, though realistically I only managed to put myself in the wind earlier than necessary. Tim and the rest of the escapees were reeled in during the final meters as I fought it out on the seemingly never ending finishing straight – it was far too long of an effort, but I held on for a top ten placing.
Then, because I have a tendency to do silly things on the bike, I lined up for the P/1/2 race. The second race of the day turned out to be a blur of achy legs with a bit of tail gunning required to get across the line with a pack finish. After an exciting and successful second day at Intelligentsia we headed off toward downtown Chicago in search of an excessive quantity of tamales for dinner.
Day 3: Elmhurst Cycling Classic
Friday’s Elmhurst Cycling Classic brought with it one element of racing that would characterize the next three days: heat, heat and more heat. After Thursday’s wide open landscape this was back to a more traditional crit course around the neighborhood surrounding Elmhurst College, which combined with temperatures in the nineties promised a tough day of racing.
While Lisa scored podium number two in her field, in my race I was very much second guessing my decision to double up the day prior as my legs never really got turning. On a course that was a battle for positioning I was constantly a few wheels further back than I wanted to be and my legs were not cooperating with my desire to get to the front. This was especially dangerous as the race was single file through many stretches of the race. Eventually four riders scampered off the front midway through, while I was hanging out ten or so wheels back. I fought my way forward for the field sprint but my line was swamped around the final corner and that’s all she wrote.
Of course with post-race activities featuring a slide-and-slide, a post-race chili covered sausage from Portillo’s and a dip in the hotel pool (in that order) it was hard to be too upset by the result.
Matthew Vandivort is a New York City based cyclist and sometimes photographer who was also a founding member of To Be Determined. You can follow him online at @photorhetoric or http://photo-rhetoric.com/