The crits of August can have their blue skies and dry roads. It's spring, and no spring campaign is complete without a few races held in what meteorologists refer to as "the suck."
Take Saturday's Leland Kermesse. Host Flatlandia promised Belgian-like conditions, but mostly that was in reference to a milelong stretch of gravel. Little did they know that mother nature would visit with Merckx-ian fury.
Indeed, the much-ballyhooed gravel was the easiest stretch of the course. Road bikes had no trouble navigating the two smooth, packed-down lines left by years of cars and tractors. The limited line made it difficult to come around cracked riders, but not impossible. And riding straight into the headwind was almost a reprieve from the vicious crosswinds. Save for the absence of thousands of screaming fans, it was easy to pretend you were barreling through the Arenberg.
The crosswinds. A steady 20 mph breeze from the south --
with gusts to 30 --
slammed riders into the gutter for the first 4 miles of the course. You had to lean at what felt like a 45-degree angle just to stay upright. Few fields made it through intact.
In a combined 1/2 and 3 race, a suspiciously tan Mark Swartzendruber
(Verizen Wireless) can be blamed for a tempo that reduced his race to 10 riders by the first turn north. He'd drill it again over the gravel, reducing the lead group again to just six riders. This group would stick for the balance of the race. In it were two 3's: Ben-Jamin Widoff
(Team Powerbar) and Al Urbanski
(Chicago Cuttin' Crew). If it were me in their shoes, I'd have sat in and enjoyed the ride, but Swartzendruber tells me they took more than their share of pulls.
And then the sky darkened. The wind picked up, hail strafed the riders and furious bolts of lightning struck what felt like mere meters from the road. With just a few miles left, Widoff attacked. Urbanski followed. The remaining 1/2's gave them the ol' "Not our field" shrug and they were off. Urbanski created a gap on the now slick and muddy gravel stretch (shown above) and held it all the way to the line to take an impressive overall victory. Behind them, Swartzendruber again drilled it over the gravel, but he was unable to shake the others, and Jim Flora
(South Chicago Wheelmen) sprinted for the 1/2 win.
Earlier races had their share of wetness, too, and broke up in similar fashion. In the 30+/40+ open, Matt Smith
(Burnham Racing) and Jeff Wat
(Burnham Racing) thought they were on easy street after they successfully made the first selection and noticed that they were the only youngsters there, giving them an inside line on the 30+. Unbeknown to them, 56-year-old former Olympian Tom Doughty
(Amgen/Giant Masters) had cheekily registered as a 30+. Doughty was able to break off with 40+ winner Dan Verner
(PACT/Dish Network) to start the final lap to take the 30+ win.
Other results of note: Roselle's Alex Bolivar
(Venezuela) soloed away for the 4's win, having whittled the race down to just him and cyclocross specialist Ben Popper
(Killjoy), who no doubt was right at home in the dirt. XXX Racing-AthletiCo took five of the top 10 spots in the 5's behind a win from Chris Koster
. XXX Racing-AthletiCo also constituted three of the four women's open riders, finishing 1-2-3 with Jeanette Schrand
in 1st. The women's 4's field was not much larger, with Janette Rho
(Bouledogue Tout Noir) taking the win.
Feedback has been overwhelmingly positive. We're lucky to have a course like this so close to the city, and I hope it returns next year with even bigger fields. I do worry about the width of the roads: The fracturing of fields kept things safe, but it would be a different story if, say, a field of 80 were to stick together. Fortunately there was good visibility and little traffic, and none of the blind corners or rollers that we get at Hillsboro.
In other action this weekend, a few locals traveled to Iowa City, Iowa, to race. In Saturday's road race, Chris Padfield
(Team Get a Grip Cycles) picked up 8th in the 3's and Jessi Prinner
(ABD) got 2nd in the women's open. Sunday saw Padfield's teammates Aspen Gorry
and Ben LaForce
go 2-4 in the 3's bunch sprint.
In Wisconsin, Ricardo Otero
(WDT-Allvoi) finally got that elusive win, picking up the 30+ 3/4 in Muskego. Mike Heagney
(Vision Quest) placed 2nd in the 30+ 1/2/3. Brian Haas
(Alberto's) got 5th in that race, and Francine Haas
(Alberto's) placed 2nd in the women's open. Not too many Chicagoans made it to Sheboygan for its rain-soaked crit on Sunday, but you will not want to miss John Wilke's photos
Full Saturday results
Muskego Spring Criterium
Iowa City Road Race
Full Sunday results
Fon du Lac & Oshkosh Cyclery Criterium
Old Capitol Criterium
Leland Kermesse race reports
(Flatlandia): "Now the goose bumps set in. The rain is pouring down, mud is everywhere, and Al is putting down the hammer. I scramble to find my camera to record this moment of beauty."
(Wheel Fast Racing; 4): "It was the 2001 stage to Pla d'Adet all over again."
(Unattached; 4): "The exceptionally high winds and threatening conditions made life exceptionally hard, but there was some indefinable charm about the race."
(XXX Racing-AthletiCo; 3): "I'd occasionally catch someone, or get caught, work together, but never was able to work for more than 3/4 of a lap with someone. I suffered in the wind mostly alone."
(Team Tati; 5): "I jumped out of the line into the headwind and heard two people shout 'TATI left!' Ah, now that sounded nice."
(Beverly Bike/Vee-Pak; 5): "I was headed into the wind doing 13-14 just dying."
(Killjoy; 4): "I sped up into the corner, took it fast and stood up with the wind, hammer down."
(Half Acre Cycling; W-4): "I looked around me at the lightening striking the nearby fields and the rain driving in the blustery winds. Now this is a spring classic."
(XXX Racing-AthletiCo; 3): "Lightning struck to the west. I crouched as aero as possible so I wouldn’t be the tallest rider out there. "
Ben Van Couvering
(Team Pegasus; 4): "There was no way I was going to let my brain end my race when my body could still keep going."
(Spider Monkey Cycling; 4): "Because everyone wanted to be out of the wind, no one would create an echelon."
(Bicycle Heaven, 1/2): "The 1,2,3 fields were combined for into a five-lap race. That was plenty, I promise you."
(Chicago Cuttin' Crew; 3): "That shit was tailor made."
Leland Kermesse photos
Project 5 Racing
Fon fu Lac & Oshkosh Cyclery Criterium race reports
(XXX Racing-AthletiCo; 4/5, 30+ 4/5): "A pool of over rim-high water flooded the back stretch of the course, and water streamed down Evergreen Park’s elevation and across the road."
(XXX Racing-AthletiCo; 5, 4/5): "My legs were like frozen hams that refused to move."