Starting Off at Intelligentsia Cup 2017
After a terrific experience at the 2016 edition of Intelligentsia Cup I was determined to make the trip back out to the Windy City for the newly extended version of the event featuring ten days of racing action.
It didn't take much convincing for several teammates to join in the fun, allowing us to make a road trip out of the journey in the same vein as our epic Gateway Cup experience from a few years ago. As we approach the midway point in the 2017 version of Intelligentsia Cup here is a quick recap of the first three days in Chicago tossed together as the clock approaches midnight in our hotel.
Day 1: Beverly Hills Cycling Classic
Our original plan was to depart New York City on Thursday afternoon, arriving in Chicago in time for the opening race of the 2017 Intelligentsia Cup on Friday afternoon in Beverly. Unfortunately as is so often the case with cross country road trip adventures things didn't go exactly to plan.
Rush hour traffic kept us at a snails pace in New Jersey so by the time we bedded down somewhere in Ohio around midnight we were facing a 7AM departure if we wanted to hit the Windy City in time for my early 2/3 field. We weighed our options and I pretty quickly abandoned my race aspirations in exchange for a few extra hours of sleep and the opportunity to do a bit of morning TDF viewing over a Denny's Grand Slam breakfast.
Fortunately we still arrived in Chicago with plenty of time to spare before sunset. As a result we snuck in an surprisingly scenic ride at a nearby nature preserve while Steve and Torpey, who took a more aggressive approach on the drive West, were racing at Beverly. We put in a few efforts on our ride, though I would soon learn that it wasn't enough to open my legs up after twelve plus hours in the car. Eventually we regrouped with Steve and Torpey for post-race beers and dinner - not bad for our first day at Intelligentsia Cup.
Day 2: Tour of Lake Ellyn
And so after a leisurely arrival Saturday's Tour of Lake Ellyn would be the first day of racing for Lisa, Chris and myself. The setting was absolutely beautiful - looping around a well groomed park that is surrounded by stately homes - with a challenging, technical course worthy of the backdrop. In fact Lake Ellyn is one of the more memorable criterium courses I have encountered with a mixture of fast turns and quick elevation changes that make for an absolutely leg ripping venue.
With racers spread out throughout the day we headed to Lake Ellyn on the early side with a car full of supplies including our trusty inflatable couch. Regardless of what happened on the bike our crit squad was definitely going to be the chill squad when not racing.
Lisa was the first of our number to go into action - despite legs that were still coming together after the long drive she rode away from Lake Ellyn with a very fine fourth place finish after just narrowly missing out on the podium by a matter of an inch or two.
Steve was up next - racing well in a strong Cat 3 field in one of his first criteriums back in action after his collarbone injury. Torpey and I followed things up in a very fast paced M2/3 field. Unfortunately after going into Intelligentsia with three weeks essentially off the bike my legs wanted nothing to do with racing and I was shelled nearly instantly. Thankfully Pat carried the load in my stead and had a great race with only half of the riders surviving to finish on the lead lap.
Chris closed things out for us - racing in the last field of the day as the sun was setting over Lake Ellyn. He was in rare form and on the front from the gun. In fact the field was absolutely demolished their first time through the start/finish line. Chris was constantly attacking in his race and while he wasn't able to escape from the pack he still managed a very fine eighth place finish for the squad.
Day 3: Willow Springs Road Race
Sunday brought about a change in format as Intelligentsia Cup shifted into road race mode at Willow Springs. The nine-mile circuit was quite pleasant, with one modest KOM that felt similar in gradient to Harlem Hill with perhaps a touch more duration. Unfortunately the finish line location left something to be desired. Coming at the end of a long headwind section with rough pavement and a downhill finish it was the perfect recipe for a sketchy finish if large groups came across the line together.
Thankfully my legs felt much improved after my dumpster fire of a race at Lake Elynn - I put in a few efforts here and there throughout the race and tried to sneak away for shits and giggles but given the course and the wind conditions a big, messy field sprint felt inevitable even in the early stages of the race.
When we got neutralized in the second half of our race to allow a break in the masters field to pass us that field sprint was all but guaranteed. When it finally arrived it was purely survival mode as the field swung left and right amidst the sound of squealing breaks and shouting riders. After grabbing a fist full of brake several times in the final mile I was thankful just to keep it upright in one of the sketchiest finishes I have experienced in quite some time.
Unfortunately in his field Chris wasn't so lucky - he was taken out by another rider even after deciding not to contest the field sprint and sitting up. The crash left Chris' front wheel in pieces and his Garmin lost somewhere along the roadside but thankfully other than a nasty cut on his cheek that required a trip to urgent care (if only CityMD had locations in Chicago!) he came through with no serious injuries.
Meanwhile in the Women's 2/3 field Lisa overcame an early race crash (sketchiness was apparently the theme of the day) that left quite the bruise on her shin to score another fine result with 6th place in a field sprint.
Given the road race format we didn't get much in the way of photos but many post race beers were enjoyed at the brewery where registration was located, helping soothe wounds from a messy day of racing.