Intelligentsia 2019: A Blur of Late-July Crit Racing
In contrast to last year’s trip to Intelligentsia Cup, this one came about a bit more haphazardly. After much hesitation and internal debate, I settled on racing the last half of the 10-day race series, packed my car, and headed west from New York City. Now, the drive to Chicago is 800 miles of highway that can typically be covered in 12 hours, but, this time, I encountered an accident that turned the interstate into a parking lot for 2 hours and delayed my arrival. Not ideal race prep given my planned evening spin, but at least my parents timed dinner to be ready when I eventually made it home.
West Dundee River Challenge (Wednesday):
I had a bone to pick with this race after getting dropped in it last year as my first exposure to Intelligentsia racing. On my drive from NYC, I actually visualized how my “ideal” race would play out, but my legs felt questionable after the extra car time. In the morning, I did a gentle spin to loosen up and started feeling slightly more optimistic. To my benefit, I had not raced multiple days in a row like many of the folks on the start line, but many of them looked like flyweight juniors and West Dundee has a heck of a hill for the finish. When the race started, I led out the first 2 laps so I could identify bad spots on the road (there were a lot) and which corners I could pedal through. Then, I settled into the field. I contested the first prime sprint and lost by a tire, then immediately worried that the effort would mean the end of my race as the same thing happened last year, but I was able to regain some composure and settle back in. I opted to sit out the second prime sprint, which is when the winning break of two went away. I gambled on it coming back; it didn’t. One racer sat on the front for the final few laps, trying to pull it back for a teammate; he couldn’t. Going into the bell lap, I moved into 3rd wheel going up the hill and stayed there until the final corner. Out of the final corner I just powered down (well, up actually) to the line to take the field sprint and finish 3rd on the day.
Holiday Inn Express Niles Cycling Classic (Thursday):
I remembered this race from last year as having some mildly sketchy rubber/tar strips in the start/finish stretch. This concern was highlighted in the final sprint of the race immediately before mine as a rider rounded the final corner and lost control of his bike. When my race started, I spent the first few laps trying to figure out the best lines to take out of that final corner to avoid a similar fate. As the race wore on, I chased down a few promising looking moves, only to watch the winning break of three riders counter one of these catches. The field came close to bringing back that trip several times, but a lack of cohesion in the bunch allowed those riders to make it to the line and decide the final podium amongst themselves. As the rest of us entered the last lap of the race, I found myself 8th wheel and worked up one spot at a time to 4th or 5th wheel as we approached the final corner. Taking my ideal line at speed, I was able to get across the line for 1st out of the field and 4th on the day. No podium coffee this time, but a new max heart rate and a bit of confidence for the next day.
Superior Ambulance Elmhurst Cycling Classic (Friday):
Last year, I was able to take 2nd at this race and I hoped to do one better this time around. Elmhurst is a great, relatively straight-forward crit course with one tricky chicane and a slight uphill rise out of the last corner to the finish. I rode what I thought was a smart race: attacking some to toughen it up early on and try to draw out some of the stronger guys into a break. I chased some moves that had a chance of sticking as the laps counted down but started planning towards a sprint on the last lap. I planted myself 5th wheel as the strung-out field approached the chicane for the final time. Then, disaster struck as the rider immediately in front of me lost traction and slid out through the apex of a corner. Time sometimes slows down when you’re crashing, and I was able to identify a patch of grass for a softer landing. I was able to walk away without much bike, body, or kit damage. Ironically, the race was sponsored by an ambulance company which allowed me to quickly get some road rash bandaged post-race. I felt more annoyance than anything as the crash cost me an opportunity to sprint, but that annoyance became laughter later on when my mom, upon seeing my bandaged arm, immediately asked if my bike was okay.
Chill Out and Reset (Saturday):
Though there was a race today (the Northwestern Medicine Lake Bluff Criterium), I opted to skip it. After the crash, I wanted to give my body a day to recover, so I went for an easy ride, ran errands, and got in some family time instead of racing. I certainly made the right call as it allowed me to mentally reset and prepare for one last crack at Midwestern crit racing on Sunday. A note here about recovery: the back-to-back race day experience really gave me an opportunity to practice a solid routine to, hopefully, keep my legs ready for each day’s challenges. Easy spin in the morning, foam rolling, hydrating, warming up, hydrating, racing, post-race hydration, cooling down, hydrating, foam rolling, and leg compression before bed. I’m not getting any younger.
William Blair Grand Prix at Goose Island Beer Co. (Sunday):
A flat, fast, long rectangle of a crit to wrap up Intelligentsia. I was happy that my race was a little earlier given temps in the 90s most of the day and my last kit standing (pre-laundry) being a long-sleeved skin suit. I went into the race oddly absent of nerves or really feelings at all about the race despite my crash on Friday. Throughout the race, I only did what I had to do to stay in contention. I covered dangerous looking moves and potential field splits, but a strong wind on the long back straight crushed any hopes of a successful break. Channeling my inner meteorologist, I took note of the wind direction: staying shielded to move up on the back side of the course and using the cross/tail wind to get a “free ride” on the start/finish stretch. Going into the last lap, I was in a decent position for the finale, but a few field bunches and sketchy moments on the back stretch forced me to work harder than I wanted to hold that position. In the last 2 turns, I was able to move up to second wheel in the field with one rider dangling and slowly dying a thousand deaths about 30 meters ahead. I sprinted hard out of the final corner knowing that the tailwind would make it hard for the riders behind me to catch up and was able to hold it to the line, finally reaching the top step of the podium. Naturally, I boggled the podium ceremony by trying to put on the winner’s jersey backwards (probably watched too much Tour de France coverage). Not a bad way to end a good week.
After my race, I hung around to drink beer (this race was partly sponsored by a brewery after all) and watch friend of the team Emma (5th Floor) race the women’s 2/3 field and TBD-MDC racer Steph take on the elite women’s field. Emma rode a smart and strong race, only to be taken out of contention by a flat tire on the last lap when she was well-positioned for a sprint. Steph absolutely crushed a prime sprint against a stacked field to bring home some cash money. I managed to miss a photo of that, instead taking one of the inside of a lens cap, but I did take the rest of these shots of their races.