Race Report | Prairie State Intelligentsia Cup | Chicago Criterium
Saturday was the Intelligentsia Cup/Chicago Criterium, the penultimate race of the Prairie State Cycling Series. I signed up for this race in late June, and was so freaked out about it that I decided to do a Michigan road race in early July just so I didn’t have to contemplate the outcome of my first race for an entire month.
This was my first criterium. For the non-cycling peeps, there are a few major types of road cycling races: road (a longer course, longer mileage, sometimes staged), time trials (you’re competing against the clock, not a pack) and criteriums. Crits are usually shorter closed circuits, more technical, and the race is limited by time, not distance covered.
Since I’m Category 4 (the categories for women racers start at category 4 and go down to 1, the pro category), we raced for 30 minutes. The cool thing about this criterium was that the course runs along my commute to work every day through the far west loop, past the Intelligentsia and Goose Island factories. All the people who raced got a free beer and free coffee, good motivation for me. It was also cool because a lot of BFF teammates and affiliates were in W4 category race. Ifi (first race!), Amy, Dana, Kim, Jennie, and a few others.
Everyone convened at the corner of Damen and Fulton around 9am, with a start time of 10:10. They opened the course for people beforehand. I warmed up on a trainer at home for a bit before I came down, then rode the course for maybe 20 minutes. I moseyed over to the start/finish, went to the bathroom, drank some iced coffee, and muttered incoherently at Jef for a period of time until people started to line up.
Just like in Michigan, I didn’t line up early enough to get a front spot. At least this time I recognized that I really needed to be up there if I wanted to better my odds of hanging on. In Michigan I thought I could hang off the back and just “watch the action.” HAHAHA. From the sidelines, I could see Vanessa frantically motioning for me to move up, but I was SOL. The Spidermonkeys in front of me had formed a wall, and I was Samwell Tarly, too scared to scale it.
So the race is about to start, and I’m bugging out. The worst thing is that this time, people I actually know are watching me bug out. Nobody knew me in Michigan. You know that quote from Alien? In space, no one can hear you scream? In Michigan, nobody has to watch you poop your chamois.
They counted down, and off we went. The woman ahead of me had trouble clipping in and I was immediately separated from the pack. Wheee! This is going great!
The first ten minutes of the race are a blur. I do remember time passing very slowly during the first bit. I have this same memory of the Michigan race - my stomach dropping when I realized that, after riding for what felt like an eternity, I still had 20 miles left.
Cornering. The course only had four corners, since it was just a big rectangle of city blocks. But still. Riding the course last week, I came to the conclusion that taking the outside would be safest option. I wouldn’t get trapped by people taking a more aggressive line through the inside or trapping anyone behind me. During the race I quickly realized that this was stupid and started taking the inside, since I was at the back of the pack and only a few people were behind me anyway. I jammed on the brakes a few times in the corners, but on the whole I did an okay job of not breaking. And all of the advice I got from my teammates was right…the few times I did brake in the corners, I was almost dropped and had to really hustle to catch back up on the straights. So I was very motivated on the no-braking point. I also accidentally popped a few wheelies coming out of the corners in my haste to catch back up with the group. Not the cool Vincenzo Nibali type of wheelies. It scared the shit out of me.
The stuff I was worried about pre-race - cornering, being in the middle of the pack, sitting on wheels of people I don’t know or trust - turned out to be the tactics that kept me with the pack, albeit dangling off the end (to borrow a phrase, like a dingleberry). It was cool to see firsthand how quickly I overcame my fears when faced with potentially being dropped.
Twenty minutes into the race, I realized that I was still with the pack, more or less. I started to feel more comfortable moving my position into the center of the group, or at least experimenting with moving around and drafting off whatever wheel I could find. Note that one of my fears was drafting off of strange wheels at high speeds…halfway through the race, I didn’t care if the wheel belonged to the Queen Mother or to Rick Ross. ANY WHEEL WILL DO. Deliver me from this dingleberry hell I’m trapped in, Rozay. Please.
It was cool to watch the BFFs skirmishing with the Spidermonkey and xXx ladies, all of whom were trying different tactics. The Spidermonkeys kept attacking up the outside of the group, to little avail. Very interesting. Though in the moment, it was less “very interesting!” and more ”FUUUUUUUCKKKKKKK WHYYYY ROZAYYYY AHGDSFHSDFA”
Cut to the last four laps. The pack was a-blazin’. I was worried about maintaining that pace for four laps. Turns out I misheard the announcer dude and it was the LAST lap. Everybody got strung out and I heard a yell – my teammate Dana was caught behind someone who had caught a wheel (I think) and she was taken down with two others, colliding into a barrier and the curb. It was BAD. Mass panic from the rest of the group, especially since tensions were very high, anticipating the sprint down the last straight-away. Luckily BFF teammate Carrie was stationed at that very corner as a volunteer course marshall so she was able to help those who had fallen. I sprinted once I was out of the corner and passed a few people when I saw the leaders HAULING IT far in front.
I felt much better about this race than I did about Michigan, where I was in no-man’s land the entire time. It was cool to see progress. One thing to consider next time: I have no idea how my etiquette in the group was. Pretty bad, I think, in terms of wobbling/braking in corners. Nobody said anything to me during the race, but I could tell. I have much to learn on that front in particular.
My teammates did amazing, especially Ifi. She and I started riding with the BFF group in May. Her first day with the group ride was also my first day. She trains harder than anyone I know, and is incredibly supportive and encouraging to everyone around her. She was super nervous about doing her first race and it made my heart happy to see her kill her first race dead.