Best of the Bunch: Elmhurst Cycling Classic
With each passing year we get a stronger and stronger sense that we are at a seminal moment for road racing in the United States. Against the backdrop of the domestic professional racing scene all but collapsing gravel events are seemingly moving to front of mind (from an industry perspective at least), the fixed gear scene is experiencing a maturation phase (see the RHC Milano press conference for some interesting discussion whether the RHC Series will continue in its current form), and Zwift racing is becoming an actual thing (“physical e-sports”).
At the same time “traditional” USAC racer days are down once again in 2018 (see this Twitter thread from Adam Myerson for some related stats). There are some positive signs - USAC license counts grew slightly for the first time in years. But as racers we often wonder what will come of the events we know and love from year to year (RIP Bethel).
In this context we plan to spend some of the looming 2019 season commemorating some of our favorite races in a series that we’re calling “Best of the Bunch” or BOTB. We’ll aim to document the atmosphere and excitement that define these races, be they more grassroots oriented as is often the case here in New York City, or top tier events straight off the professional race calendar. It is in that latter vein that we call out the first race in this series: the Elmhurst Cycling Classic in Chicago, Illinois.
We have touched on the Elmhurst race throughout our various Intelligentsia Cup coverage but in many ways Elmhurst is the most exciting race in a week long series that we would argue is one of the best in the entire country. If Intelligentsia Cup is the Series that we wish we could transport to the East Coast then Elmhurst would be the centerpiece of that Series featuring a full assortment of racer and spectator amenities that haven’t been seen in New York City since the glory days of the Harlem Criterium (during the Rock Racing days for anyone still around from that era).
How does this translate into the race experience? By the time the pros roll off under the lights there is a full blown block party underway throughout the suburban Chicago course. The beer garden ($10 all you can drink for racers) may be the highlight, and one that we enjoyed perhaps a bit too liberally, but on any given straightaway there will be tents, music, beer, food and partying on someone’s front lawn. Which is how we found ourselves - legs tired from many days of racing and bellies full with beer and barbecue - wandering the course as the elite men blazed in and out of the darkness, making new friends with residents and enjoying some of the live music on tap. For New York City racers it is an almost otherworldly experience that is unavailable locally (RHC is as close as we get). And for that reason the Elmhurst Cycling Classic is our first entry in our “Best of the Bunch” (BOTB) series on our favorite races.