Last year, at the encouragement of teammates Lydia Hausle and Preston Buehrer I made the trek out to Chicago for the 10-day, eight race Intelligentsia Cup series. Despite the fact that I spent most the week getting beat up in the category 2/3 fields, I had a blast shredding the technical and challenging courses and spending 10 days focused on nothing but bike racing. When I found out that the series was adding two additional days of racing, making it a block of 10 straight race days, and introducing stand alone category 3 fields, I knew I wanted to return. I “stretched” the “budget,” hitched a ride in Kenny McNeil’s “mobile command center” and once again found myself overly caffeinated on the starting line of the Beverly Hills Cycling Classic on a steamy Friday afternoon. What followed was more than a week of getting “pitted” on the bike and hanging out with people who have become some of my closest friends over the past few years. Below is a selection of highlights from the week.
Saturday 7/15 - Jerry Haggerty Chevrolet Tour of Lake Ellyn
Lake Ellyn is a crazy 10+ corner “crit” with a 1.4 mile lap around a park in a beautiful Chicago neighborhood. The last Km features some windy turns, a tight hairpin, enough of a kicker to keep things interesting and a tight enough final corner that over cooking it into the curb on the exit is a totally legitamate concern. I raced conservatively as I tried to feel out who the storng riders were. There were a few moves but nothing terribly threatening. On the last lap, Carlo Quicho launched a huge attack into the hairpin. Everyone jumped and tried not to die as we took the turn notably faster than any previous lap. In hindsight, I think I hesitated too long to come around some blown riders in the finale, but I managed to put down just enough of a sprint to hold on for 5th, in the money AND the upgrade points. Carlo held on for 3rd and the day was officially a success. We spent the rest of the day eating rice and beans (“The Kenny Special”), drinking Intelligentsia cold brew in the park, hanging out with friends, and watching the New England crew smash it in other categories. The night concluded with the annual pilgrimage to Urban Vegan.
Sunday 7/16 - Wintrust Willow Springs Road Race presented by Tower Racing
Willow Springs is the only true “road race” in the series, featuring a short climb directly after the start finish and a fast run in to the sprint. Despite my success at Bear Mountain earlier this spring, I was not particularly optimistic of my chances in a downhill sprint, but also knew the course was not hard enough for a break to get away. The Kallisto-FCV juniors kept the race spicy by attacking throughout the early laps, apparently they were not hyped on sprinting downhill on junior gears. Nothing stuck though and on the third lap out of five, I decided to attack up the climb, hoping I could take a few people with me and hopefully get a break to roll. Long story short, no one followed, I hung out in the wind alone for a while, ultimately decided that was a bad idea, and came back to the field. I hung out in the back with some familiar faces from Green Line Velo for the next lap, moved up on the last lap up the climb, and braced myself for the scariest last 5 Km of a race I’ve ever participated in. There was yelling, longitudinal cracks in the pavemenet, and cones marking the lanes. I somehow rode the wave well, shot a few gaps, and snagged 6th in the sprint - more points! We spent the afternoon hanging out on the climb and cheering on our friends in the P/1/2/3 and 2/3 fields.
Tuesday 7/18 - Dennis Jurs Memorial Race (Elgin)
This was a new venue for the series this year and probably my favorite of the week. The technical 3.5 mile lap which featured plenty of turning and elevation changes seemeed perfectly suited to my riding style. This was also the first day of racing for B2C2 road captain Lydia Hausle, so I got to warm up watching her and Leslie Lupien smash the Women 2/3 field. This was also the frist day in which the typical Chicago summer heat arrived in earnest. Because we are experienced bike racers we made sure to pack agressive ice socks. Between that and our thoroughly vented team Castelli San Remo Speedsuits, we managed to stay cool despite the rising temperatures. After a lap getting comfortable with the course, Carlo launched an attack at the begining of the second lap that was immediately covered by a Kallisto-FCV rider. They had a small gap on the field when Ken Griem (Greenline Velo) jumped across the gap. I got on his wheel immediately and because Ken likes to ball hard he kept the gas on as we came around Carlo and the Kallisto rider. Another junior, Tyler Curtis (Spin Devo), also came with us. Tyler mentioned he wanted the KOM prime and Ken and I both informed him he could have his $50 as long as he didn’t blow the group up and we kept working. After the KOM we worked well together, rotating smoothly around the course and growing our lead lap by lap, despite a strong yet ultimately failed bridge attempt by Carlo. As we came into the finale, I was admittedly more focused on not getting caught and securing a guaranteed podium than racing for the win. In hindsight, we had enough of a gap that I could and should have been more cagey with my efforts. Tyler jumped Ken and I early, I hesitated and let Ken attempt to cover the move. Ultimately though, neither of us had enough gas left to get on Tyler’s wheel. Coming out of the final corner, I jumped Ken and managed to just edge him out for 2nd. Despite not taking the top step of the podium, i was overjoyed with the race and it was made even more special thanks to all my friends cheering both at the venue and on Twitter.
Thursday 7/20 - Holiday Inn Express Niles Cycling Challenge
Niles was another new course on the circuit, and pleasantly located about 30 minutes from the Buehrer household. I was quite excited about the short, six-corner course with some tight, yet flowy corners. This was also the first race in which I had a teammate, as our beloved Colin Reuter had flown in the night before. I told myself the race to the race didn’t matter due to the small field size, so I lined up at the back. For future reference, this is the wrong read on this course, and it took me almost five full laps to move up to the front. Almost as soon as I got there, Ken decided we were not balling hard enough and launched another huge attack. The field hesitated until a Kallisto-FCV rider covered the move. I followed his wheel and let him pull me almost all the way across the gap (Pro Cat 3 tip: juniors really enjoy pedaling hard). Once I got to Ken I decided to “send it” and we started rotating, taking strong pulls to establish the gap. We saw 18 on the lap cards and I knew the move was early, but also that both Ken and I are strong, smart riders capable of making the move succeed. After a few laps, we dropped the junior, and we rotated until two more juniors bridged up. One of the juniors ultimately got dropped from the group and the final selection was Daniel Nordemann-Dasilva (Kallisto-FCV, evenutal omnium winner and future pro, probably), Ken, and myself. We rotated well, however, unlike at Elgin, I was suffering in the move (despite a steady soundtrack of "Wild Thoughts" in my head) . I was sitting third wheel coming out of the last corner, Ken jumped first, and Daniel immediately went with him. I was completely empty and simply couldn’t get on the wheel, and rolled in for third. I was slightly frustrated at missing another shot at the top stop of the podium, but even I can’t be terribly upset at two podiums in three days.
Friday 7/21 - Elmhurst Cycling Classic
Elmhurst may be my favorite race in the series. A techincal six-corner course with a sweet chicane and a neighborhood block party. That being said, I don’t know if it was the heat or the larger field size, but this felt like the hardest day of the series, and I was suffering just following moves. Ultimately nothing got away (despite Carlo's best efforts) and it came down to a group sprint. I positioned well (right on the Green Line Velo "train!") in what was a surprisingly fast last lap and came out of the final corner 7th wheel. I launched my “legendary” 800w sprint and managed not to bleed any positions AND to come around someone who had jumped too early, making this a decidedly above average sprint for me. I rolled in 6th (just barely), which was not a podium finish but was in the money. We spent the rest of the evening dodging severe thunderstorms, marveling at the rainbows, and watching our friends scramble in the rain-shortened 2/3 race.
A solid ride at Lake Bluff on Saturday helped to offset a disappointing performance on the final day at Fulton Street and I was ultimately able to hold on to 2nd in the Cat 3 omnium. This was an amazing ending to an already successful week, and I was honored to share the omnium podium with Daniel and Zach Zionts, both juniors who have bright futures in cycling ahead of them. Carlo, Lydia, Preston, and myself celebrated a successful week with some beers and proper recovery food, including a burger the size of Carlo's head. And the Carlo, Kenny, and I continued the proper recovery routine with a 18-hour drive from Chicago to Boston on Monday. The trip simply wouldn’t have been possible without the support, encouragement, and advice of all my B2C2 teammates throughout the years, the support of our sponsors (JRA Cycles for keeping the equipment dialed, Boloco for fueling my overanxious training, and BikeReg for making registration easy enough that even I don’t mess it up), or the cheering from the countless New England and New York friends throughout the week (seriously I think I saw Ceasar cheering every single lap while I was off the front at Niles). Most importantly, thanks to Preston’s parents, Jennifer and Carl, for graciously housing our motley crew of bike racers for 10 days. A huge shout out to the team at Intelligentsia Cup for making this series happen (and making it better each year!) and Intelligentsia Coffee for believing in the value of cycling as a marketing vehicle. I can’t wait to be back next year, hopefully “knife fighting” in the 2/3 field.