Over the past few weeks I have updated the CBR race calendar with what I know about the 2011 season. I won’t be doing weekly previews this year, but I thought I’d put together a list of the races I’m most excited about. For new racers or anyone else planning their season, this may be a good place to start.
As always, your mileage may vary. Important factors in my ranking include character, prestige, difficulty and proximity—
with concessions for personal bias and sentimentality.
20. Monsters of the Midway
It’s not the most exciting course
a flat rectangle with unrestricted sight lines —
but it’s a beautiful and historic location and always has a collegial atmosphere. (It is a college, after all.)
19. Team Wisconsin Spring Classic
Several races take place in this botanic garden near Milwaukee, but this is my favorite. Three short stairstep climbs facilitate breakaways, and the uphill sprint is always exciting.
18. Wheels on Willy
Madison is crazy for bikes and it shows here. It’s a fun, interesting criterium course that gets a great turnout from local residents.
17. Spring Prairie Road Race
So popular among Chicago riders is this race that a few years ago it added an out-of-state 4/5’s field so that we wouldn’t muck with the Wisconsin riders’ state championship. It’s a simple, rolling rectangle of a course, notable for a short wall of a climb that will not only define the final sprint but can cause a selection on any given lap.
16. Tour of Elk Grove
It’s not a popular course
the U-turn in Turn 1 is a doozy —
but it’s hard to say no to the obscenely large purses up for grabs. This year it’s a UCI race, our first since ... well, I’m not quite sure. We haven’t had one since I got involved in cycling. That’s a big deal. We can only hope this draws some pros from the European scene.
15. Tour of Galena
This is a new event and an untested locale, but this three-stage omnium has the potential to bring high-caliber stage racing to Illinois. Galena is famous for its quality riding and hills, and it hosts one of the Midwest’s biggest triathlons. At three hours away it’s a bit of a trek from the city, but it is hoped that the location and purse will draw not only the best riders from Chicago but also from nearby states. (Full disclosure: This event is being put on by my team, XXX Racing-AthletiCo.)
14. O’Fallon Grand Prix
It’s a challenging hilly, winding course and for the second consecutive year is our state championship
but dang is it a long way from Chicago.
13. Winfield Twilight
The Sunday race may be the ABR national championship, but for me it’s the Saturday criterium that’s not to miss. The course is much more interesting, including a long slog of a climb, and few races enjoy better neighborhood support. Here that support takes the form of a block party at the top of a climb, complete with king- and queen-of-the-hill contests.
12. Giro d’Grafton
This twilight criterium gave birth to the Tour of America’s Dairyland and with great crowds and large purses, it remains one of the top races of the series and is also part of the USA Crits series. Other recommended ToAD races include the sole road race, the Greenbush Road Race, and Tuesday’s unique, hilly criterium at Schlitz Park in Milwaukee. The Madison race at the Capitol should also be cracking.
11. Melon City Criterium
10. Quad Cities Criterium
Two of most historic and fastest criteriums of the season and an unforgettable way to spend Memorial Day weekend when combined with Snake Alley (No. 2). This year the top racers will be hoping to parlay their performances into a spot at the prestigious Nature Valley Grand Prix.
9. Evanston Grand Prix
I’ll admit it: I fear the BK Stacker, that treacherous Turn 5 that has claimed many a collarbone. Nonetheless, this is a very fun downtown race and draws a huge crowd, and this year it’s on the National Racing Calendar for both men and women, so the elite races should be smashing. (Note that while the former Evanston Grand Prix strikes out on its own, Superweek still intends to return to Evanston in July, although no schedule has been released yet.)
8. Fox River Grove Cycling Challenge
I know my bias for climbing may be clouding my judgment, but every year I’m astonished that more people do not come out for this leg-breaker of a criterium course. With a steep hill that runs up to a ski jump, it shares many qualities with the famous Snake Alley Criterium. I’m also fond of the promoter, Ron DiSilvestro, whose events may be small and local but are rooted in a deep love for bicycle racing. We’re lucky to get a podium at most races, but here the podium comes complete with trophies, flowers and of course podium girls. Ciao, bella!
7. Leland Kermesse
In only its third year, the Leland Kermesse is living up to its aspiration to be a Belgian-style spring classic. Like Hillsboro-Roubaix, it takes place on narrow, challenging roads, and for many riders just finishing will be reason for a victory milkshake, especially if there’s a strong wind. Although Hillsboro-Roubaix has history and prestige on its side, Leland is less than two hours from the city and this year joins the Illinois Cup.
5. Beverly Cycling Classic
There is only one race, a twilight P/1/2 affair, but this is a must-attend event for everyone. It’s the kick-off to Superweek, so all the riders still have all their skin and are eager to be the first to wear the series leader’s jersey. The neighborhood is fantastic, a hidden gem on Chicago’s South Side, and the neighbors provide a fun festival atmosphere.
4. Leland Grand Prix
Road races are getting fewer and farther between. We lost another one this year with the departure of the Circuit of Sauk. Many of us prefer them to criteriums, however, and are happy to drive three or four hours to take one in. Hillsboro-Roubaix may have more cachet, and God knows that in early April we are all champing at the bit to race, but this is my favorite and well worth the trip north of Madison. Each lap includes two long climbs, the kind of climbs whose tops you can’t see from the bottom, the kind where you spend most of the time thinking, “Does this ever end?” The kind of climbs we dream to contest while on the trainer all winter.
3. Grand Cycling Classic
Michigan and Indiana races do a pretty good job of escaping our radar, but in 2011 this six-corner crit in Grand Rapids, Mich., will be one not to miss as the men’s national criterium championship takes place outside of the Chicago area for the first time in 30 years. There will be a full day of amateur racing leading to the main event, which for the first time will be open only to American riders.
2. Snake Alley Criterium
This is one of the most unique criteriums in the world and it may also be the hardest. The course features a steep, famously crooked switchback paved with brick, followed by a steep, technical descent. As the day goes on, the hill becomes a spectacle as rowdy spectators badger and cajole riders struggling to negotiate the climb. The carnival atmosphere is a one-of-a-kind experience, everyone owes it to themselves to enjoy it at least once.
1. Glencoe Grand Prix
In just a few years this race has established itself as one of the best-run in the area. The new course introduced in 2010 was a hit, and although it won’t be a national championship in 2011, it will be our state championship and will be on the National Racing Calendar for the men.