Intelligentsia Cup: The Guide
Over the past two years Intelligentsia Cup has been a regular feature on the TBD Jouranl for good reason: it is one of our favorite races of the entire year. The competition is high, the quality of the race organization is even higher and it is a unique team bonding experience to spend ten days racing crits in the Midwest. We love the grassroots racing CRCA and other race directors provide in New York City but as we wrote about in last year's Intelligentsia Cup feature, this higher level national level race is something every amateur racer should experience at least once in their racing 'career.'
Now that we have gone through multiple years at Intelligentsia Cup we consider ourselves grizzlied veterans capable of providing a few tips, so to help streamline the Intelligentsia Cup race experience here is our handy and completely unofficial guide to Intelligentsia Cup 2018. Have any additions? Let us know via Twitter or e-mail (firstname.lastname@example.org) and we'll update this guide!
Chicago. The Windy City.... home to deep dish pizza, a second rate baseball team (#cardinalsnation) and of course the Intelligentsia Cup. Though Intelligentsia Cup isn't so much in Chicago as it is spread throughout the greater Chicago area with races spaced in a 45-60 minute radius in various directions from downtown Chicago. Thus whereas Gateway Cup in Saint Louis is geographically concentrated such that you can ride to every race, for Intelligentsia Cup car based transportation is recommended (but not required), especially with the addition of a race well to the Southwest of Chicago for this year's edition (Joliet). Our strategy in recent years has been to find centrally located lodging west of downtown Chicago. This leaves you in close proximity to five of the ten races in the series with longer drives to races like South Chicago.
The Races Of Intelligentsia Cup
Beverly Hills Cycling Classic
Over-simplified summary: two technical corners and a kicker = welcome to the jungle.
The Race: The Beverly course features a sharp right off the finishing straight that leads you straight into a kicker that promises to string out the field pretty quick. From there a tight, technical two-turn section leading back onto the finishing straight only makes things more dire near the back of the pack. It is a tough course, particularly when you are racing straight after getting out of the car following a 15 hour drive from the East Coast (a drive slowed by Friday rush hour traffic in Chicago). Overall Beverly is a true kick in the teeth, and a tone-setter for the rest of a challenging, fun week of racing at Intelligentsia Cup.
Everything Else: For food we are partial to Buona for their hearty sandwiches, just a few blocks to the Southwest of the course and we received tips for Horse Thief Hollow, Open Outcry and the delicious sounding Rainbow Cone as well (h/t @KatydogRiordan).
Northwestern Medicine Lake Bluff Criterium and Block Party Dennis
Over-simplified summary: flat, fast with enough turns to be constantly strung out. Don't miss the post-race swim.
The Race: Lake Bluff is one of our favorite venues at Intelligentsia Cup with a flat elevation profile to keep speeds high but enough corners to insure the field spends most of the race strung out. It is usually a hard day of racing with the fun coming from a more technical course that gives breaks a shot at success (which is rare at Intelligentsia Cup) as Pat Torpey proved for TBD last year when he scored a podium after initiating a late race 3-man move. Traditionally held late in the week at Intelligentisa, this year Lake Bluff moves to the opening weekend which will help insure things start with a bang with three challenging courses out of the gate. The atmosphere around Lake Bluff is excellent with a jumbotron display setup in town last year and lots of great coffee and food options. And to top it all off the race is right on the shore of Lake Michigan making a post race dip in the waters to cool off an obvious tradition.
Everything Else: For coffee we like Hansa Coffee Roasters and for post race refueling we typically hit The Otherdoor for Mexican treats but the line can be long with the race crowds. Other recommendations we have received include Lake Bluff Brewing for adult beverages, Suzy's Swirl for frozen yogurt (a short drive from the venue) and Bluffington's for sandwiches. Overall Lake Bluff is one of those days that makes Intelligentsia Cup so enjoyable.
Jurs Memorial Road Race (Elgin)
Over-simplified summary: many turns, a few bumps including one short steepish kicker, finished off with a straight and flat finish.
The Race: Elgin is a quietly challenging course thanks to more corners and chicanes than we care to count combined with some short little risers on the back-end of the course. These combined for a leg sapping day under oppressive heat last year but with a long, straight finish it was another day that ultimately favored a (strung out) field sprint in our races. For 2018 the road-race format venue (1 lap = 5.73km) will also serve as the Illinois Road Race Championship so expect large fields that likely race aggressively while everyone is feeling fresh early in the series.
Everything Else: As for amenities there is plenty of parking available adjacent to the start/finish but food and drink is limited to vendors that setup in the race village so we don't have much guidance to provide as far as on-site food and drink options. We did receive the following inbound recommendation for nearby dining options: eight blocks south of the Elgin's race start and finish is the north end of the "down town" district. There you will find Danny's on Douglas Sports Bar & Pizzeria open until midnight with outdoor seating and lively music. Elgin Public House is located on Chicago Ave and opens at 10am. This pub features a wide variety of menu items and drink specials and has been a big supporter of the race. Other quick bites include Jimmy John's and Blue Box Cafe. Grab coffee in the morning at Domani Cafe or Arabica Cafe. For more restaurants, things to do or hotel information visit www.ExploreElginArea.com
Autobahn Country Club Road Race (Joliet)
Over-simplified summary: its new so who knows!
New for 2018, we don't have much (any?) insight to offer on the Autobahn Country Club Road Race. The race replaces last year's Willow Springs Road Race that had some beautiful stretches and a great brewery in the race village but a finishing straight that received decidedly mixed reviews so we are excited for the change even if it will require a long drive down to Joliet for the race. The course map suggests a twisty but presumably not super technical course but we'll just have to see how it shapes up on race day. As another road race format venue (1 lap = 3.56 miles) this will be another day to hope for no bad luck with mechanicals.
South Chicago Kermesse Road Race
Over-simplified summary: no brakes, lots of tail-gunning finished with a hectic 180 hairpin into the longest straight and flat finish known to man.
The Race: Flat and fast and with the potential to be windy. South Chicago is one of the less technical courses at Intelligentsia but it is still memorable thanks to its positioning right on Lake Michigan on the site of the old US Steelworks (currently abandoned and awaiting eventual redevelopment). Two years ago severe weather blew through and, thanks to the venue's entirely exposed location, threatened to demolish most of the finish line infrastructure, which made for some interesting racing and spectating. But when the weather cooperates the course is straight-forward with a few corners and huge tailgun friendly straightaways. The finish is a bit trickier with a u-turn into an extraordinarily long finish straight that makes for some of the most hectic (e.g. 8 wide) sprint finishes of the entire series.
Everything Else: Food and other amenities are limited at the venue (there was a vendor serving BBQ in 2016 but they were absent last year) so pending additional information about this year's race come prepared with whatever you need for the day. Or if you're willing to drive a bit for food here are the recommendations we have received (several of which sound particularly delicious): Taco Mex, Skyway Doghouse ("try the Shaggy Dog"), Calumet Fisheries ("a South Chicago classic - smoked fish; fried fish dinner - no indoor seating, cash only") and Dulce's Cafe for coffee.
West Dundee River Challenge
Over-simplified summary: RIP anyone who is not a climber
The Race: Pain. That is what the West Dundee River Challenge is all about. Coming the day after a flat race at South Chicago the West Dundee River Challenge is anything but flat. The "Legbreaker" finishing kicker up Washington Street combines with a short 1.48KM loop to insure a hard day of racing, particularly for anyone who doesn't like to climb. For vertically inclined riders it is a fun course with a few corners on the back stretch into a long descent and a ~120 degree turn onto the finishing straight that favors riders with good positioning. From that corner expect to do #ALLOFTHEWATTS up the finishing straight. Arguably a fun change from the flatter days at Intelligentsia but definitively one of the hardest races of the entire series.
Everything Else: For food and drinks it is far from original Chicago style cooking but we admit to going to the Chipotle that is just a few blocks from the venue - a liquor license to pump out easy-to-drink margaritas won our business last year though we have received some new recommendations for beers, burgers and donuts on the East side of the course this year so we'll probably check out some combination of Emmett's Brewing, Bleuroot, Van's Frozen Custard and Craft Donuts and Coffee at this year's race. Assuming we survive that climb of course.
Holiday Inn Express Niles Cycling Classic
UPDATE June 19: the Niles course has been tweaked slightly, moving a few blocks to the Northeast and closer to parking at Notre Dame College Prep. The revised course appears similar to last year with six corners and a pancake flat elevation profile.
Over-simplified summary: approximately 0 feet of elevation change, some mostly wide open corners, and you guessed it: a long, flat finishing straight.
The Race: Similar to South Chicago but with a much shorter finishing straight, Niles is one of the fastest courses at Intelligentsia Cup with a completely flat elevation profile and a few wide open corners. In fact the most challenging aspect of Niles at last year's Intelligentsia Cup was staying cool as the race fell at the peak of the heat wave that hit Chicago. For the race expect to go fast with minimal braking and another long finishing straight that is so typical at Intelligentsia Cup.
Everything Else: Given the venue is located in the heart of a residential neighborhood food and drink options are limited but for post-race trips our (now not so secret) strategy is Pequod's Pizza just a short distance from the race (it is small so expect a potentially long wait). For other options in the area we have heard Papagalino Cafe, Booby's Ribs and Dear Franks of Niles are worth considering.
Superior Ambulance Elmhurst Cycling Classic
Over-simplified summary: trickier than it looks with an uphill bump into the finishing straight.
The Race: Alongside Lake Bluff, Elmhurst is one of our favorite venues at Intelligentsia Cup thanks in no small part to the huge community support - the slip and slide on the back side of the course is a favorite memory every year. As for the actual course: on paper Elmhurst is a straightforward rectangle with two chicanes squeezed after the first corner. However for the past two years those chicanes have been sufficient to string out the field and unlike so many of the other venues the finishing straight has a slight rise to it which overall makes for an often challenging day of racing and less time in the hot tube zone compared to the tailgun friendly venue at South Chicago. Featuring the same community party atmosphere as Lake Bluff, the finishing stretch is a great spectating location.
Everything Else: for food and drink we head across the tracks and into downtown Elmhurst for any of a plethora of restaurants to choose from - we went to Bearhead last year but there are plenty of good choices. Inbound recommendations including in the Google Map include 151 Kitchen & Bar, Pints (sports bar), Victory Meat & Seafood and for caffeine Brewpoint Coffee.
Tour of Lake Ellyn
Over-simplified summary: bat-shit crazy. So much fun.
The Race: Lake Ellyn is a bonkers course in an absolutely gorgeous residential neighborhood West of downtown Chicago. The course starts with some fast chicanes that require handling confidence, a short kicker to stress the legs before taking a 120 degree turn back and through a traffic circle (a little traffic furniture in a crit is always a good time). The second half of the course features a fast little descent before tossing in a 180 degree turn and a few greater than 90 degree corners before another very long finishing stretch, this time with a very slight rise (less so than Elmhurst). If it sounds wild it is - but it is also a brutally fun course to race with plenty of opportunity to make life painful for those at the back. Lake Ellyn Park is a beautiful venue with plenty of shade if another heat waves hits Chicago for this year's Intelligentsia Cup.
Everything Else: For food there were a few vendors on site last year though we headed to downtown Lake Ellyn post race where we had some great burritos from Javi's Burritos with several other options to choose from as well in the area. We have also been told that Maize + Mash, Fire + Wine and A Today Madre are all worth checking out.
William Blair Grand Prix at Goose Island Beer Co
Over-simplified summary: a straight-forward essentially flat four corner course but run in reverse for 2018!
The Race: Intelligentsia Cup winds down with the only race in the series located in downtown Chicago: the Grand Prix at Goose Island. After some crazy courses at West Dundee, Lake Ellyn and others the final day of racing is the perhaps the most straightforward course of the entire week: a four corner crit with a small chicane on the back stretch. If you race bikes in the NYC area, the pavement and cars often still parked alongside the course (as happened in 2016) will make you feel right at home. Overall it often makes for a tailgun friendly day of racing where you can rest tired legs in the hot tub zone for much of the race before what has been for the past two years another very long, straight, flat finishing sprint. However new for this year it appears that the course is going to be run in reverse from the past two years, shortening the finish straight dramatically.
Everything Else: Drinks are available at Goose Island though we don't have a preferred food option for this final day of racing - we usually hit the long road back to NYC immediately post race and fast food it on the drive but Cobra Lounge is close to the venue and comes recommended to us, specifically their fries.