So this past weekend I drove down with Kristie and Shannon to Chicago. Friday night we got a late start and didn't make it to Chicago until 11-ish. The next day we were busy with the Northwestern vs. MSU football game and the 60th anniversary of the 1949 Rose Bowl team. My grandpa, a trainer on the team, is one of only a few still around from that team, and since Rose Bowls don't exactly come around every other year for NU, they make a pretty big deal about the two teams that have ever visited Pasadena in January.
Saturday after the football game we had a nice dinner with all of the former players but it was a long day and I was pretty exhausted. Sunday morning I managed to get a spin around the hotel parking lot before breakfast, which was the first time I made it on my bike in over 48 hours. My legs were accordingly stiff and non-responsive, so I was hoping for the best with my "late" race time of 1:00 Chicago time.
Shannon, Kristie, and I arrived at Hawthorn Woods city park around 11:30 or so and we were greeted with WARM temperatures and a packed parking lot. The Chicago Cyclocross Cup series is a well-oiled machine considering that all of their races are put on by different promoters across the Chicago area. Fortunately for me this race was only 16 miles away from the hotel! After registering in the 1/2's for "only" $25, I took a pre-ride lap of the course between the 11:00 and 12:00 races. I managed one lap, and was quickly amazed at the sheer size of the sledding hill within 200 m of the start.
Our start found the first 10 called up from the Chicago series, so I was in the second row with a total of 23 starters. At the gun it was a bit sketchy, as the start straight was narrow (maybe 3 m maximum) and there was an off-camber turn within about 100 m of the line. We headed off to the right and quickly swept around for our first jaunt up the far right side of the sled hill. At the absolute top we did a 180 degree left hand turn and bombed down the hill, only to be greeted by another 180 degree right turn into a single barrier (at the bottom of the hill). I remounted and rode to the top again (all but one lap was ridden) where we turned left one last time and bombed down the hill again.
The course then twisted around the back side of a baseball field and onto some very curvy pavement. The wind cut across from the right as we did a "munson-esque" out and back (all on pavement). We hit one fast barrier which required a swift remount before being back on cobbled pavers within 10 m of the barrier. There was one small section of mud when we rode through a ditch and then rode around the perimeter of a large grass field. A few more turns by the pits brought us back through the Sram start loop, only to be greeted once again by the beastly sled hill.
Considering my lack of riding and overall lack of energy and power lately, I felt pretty good. I rode with the group of 10th through 16th place for most of the race, but couldn't respond to the attacks in front. 10th and 11th were separated by about 10 seconds, with 12th and 13th taking it to a sprint. I finished about 15 seconds back from them and was pretty happy with 14th on the day. Most fun of all was the sweet cheering section I brought with me...Kristie, Shannon, my mom, dad, uncle, and two cousins all came out to support me. It is always nice to get some encouragement while you're suffering like a dog around a HOT course.
One thing I took away from this weekend was that we have a pretty sweet set up for 'cross racing in Michigan here. Except for Robert's rope, which is difficult to see in sections that wrap on itself, we have two great series available for 'cross (plus the Ithaca GP and the pumpkin series...). Sometimes it is pretty easy to criticize but until you put something on yourself it is also important to remember how much work it takes to put on a quality event. The Chicago races were well-run and aside from a few narrow sections here and there, it was a fun course. I'm glad I was able to get out and see a different race from a different series, but was a bit sad to miss the UCI's in Cinci.
Oh yeah Cyclocross Magazine's issue 4 should be out any day...check out the Ithaca article when you get a chance! Thanks Kristie for some sweet pics from Sunday!