CBR Interview: Rob Curtis, Race Director Fox River Grove Criterium

May 12
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The next race of The Pavé Liga is the Fox River Grove Criterium, this Sunday, May 18th.  Minute for minute this is hands down the hardest race of the year. Here’s what Rob Curtis, Race Director and Owner of PSIMET Wheels had to say about the FRG Crit:

CBR: Tell about yourself. How long have you been invoked in the sport, do you race/ride, etc.

Rob Curtis: I started riding in the late 80’s.  I have a defect in my back that eliminated my ability to keep playing soccer and baseball.  I had recently started cycling and the doctor listed it as one of the only sports I was “allowed” to do.  Right around then Andy Hampsten won the Giro and I was thumbing through the issue of Winning while my mom was shopping and stumbled across the now famous picture of him crossing the Gavia while covered in snow.  That one picture hooked me on the sport for a lifetime. I have it hanging next to my truing stand where I build every wheel I make.

I’ve ridden and raced off and on since then.  The first USCF license I pulled was in 1992.  I went back to riding and racing again after college in the early 2000’s. I joined up with Bicycle Heaven in 2008 and quickly started as their team manager.  By 2010 we had our own team under the PSIMET wheel company I had recently started.  I picked up doing the Fox River grove race, the Woodstock cross race, then added the Elgin criterium and the Norge CX race.  This year I am also adding a duathlon in October Run and Roll the Dole in Crystal Lake.  I have steadily raced through then until about 2 seasons ago when the schedules and the business and my level of support for the teams and races have sidelined me for most everything except for some track and cross racing.

PSIMET is also the main sponsor for 4 other races during the year, the Vanderkitten Pro Women’s Cycling Team, Individual racers such as Laura Van Gilder, Chad Hartley (Cross), Samantha and Skylar Schneider (cross), Jessica Cutler, Kelly Fisher-Goodwin, Starla Teddergreen, Wayne Simon, as well as a small number of local teams like the new Intelligentsia team and xXx Racing. We also just got back from the Joe Martin Stage Race where we fielded an elite women’s team comprised mainly of local Chicago women giving them an opportunity to compete in a large NRC pro stage race with full mechanical and management support.

CBR: Give us some background on the race. 

Rob: The original criterium was started by RDS racing.  In 2009 I signed up for it (doubling up as well as that was my habit).  I had heard rumors this was near a ski jump and that it had a “hill”. I didn’t even get a chance to pre-ride the course.  I toe’d the line, took the first turn and my world changed. David Fowkes kindly pulled me from that race and my follow-up effort within only a few laps.

In 2011 it was announced on CBR that the race was to be cancelled by RDS citing lack of sponsorship.  I felt that it was a truly unique race for this area and that by letting it disappear for a year we would likely lose access to the venue forever.  Most municipalities are usually hard pressed to allow a race and if you stop for a year then you give them a chance to really ask the hard questions that plague our sport – was it really worth it for them?

I met with RDS with Wayne Simon and Scott Knoepke and offered to fund the race for the year.  He asked to also be compensated for his time.  Those of you that have run races most likely know that’s just not feasible.  So after about 2 hours of being crushed, and a few beers at the Public House in Woodstock, I decided we were just going to meet with the city and pull permits.  The Village was receptive and the local cycling community came out in support of making the race break even.  After being immensely impressed with our first year the Village made the decision that we would be the promoter from that point forward.

2 years ago we added the Elgin Cycling Classic criterium the day before – making the 2 together an omnium.  This was in hopes of allowing the best overall racers the opportunity to shine in technical and climbing style criteriums.  If you look at who the overall omnium winners have been this really has been the case.  

CBR: So this is a challenging course - tell us about it

Rob: It’s a challenging and unique course.  It’s not necessarily in many rider’s wheelhouse in terms of their ability, but it is still quite moderate compared to many of the best crit courses I have seen around the country. Quite honestly if racers from here want to be actual racers and improve in their ability with any sort of hope of being competitive at regional or national level events then this is exactly the kind of crit they HAVE to race and learn to be good at.

Many who are new to the race have no idea there is a full Nordic ski jump tucked into the suburbs of Fox River Grove here in the greater Chicago region.  This race climbs up the back side of that ski jump hill.  It’s a unique and violent effort for many.  Just as your heart is ready to explode from your chest you take a turn at the top and point your tires down a fast and technical descent through the neighborhood.  A simple descent for many who easily race it wide open with no braking.  After a short easy rise on the back and a small run in towards the finish you start it all over again with the ski hill. 

Racers should expect slightly shorter than normal race durations.  This is to reflect the depth of the effort.

CBR: Tell us about sponsors. What involvement do they have in the sport?

Rob: The race is first and foremost sponsored by my company PSIMET, LLC.  I have been a custom wheel builder through PSIMET since 2009.  As a company we have focused on getting riders and racers on to the correct wheels for the application at budget ranges that are simply half what the other guys charge.  This is because we simply love the sport and want you to benefit from our experience and sourcing expertise.

Providing neutral support will be our long time bike shop partner Lucky Brake Bicycles out of Crystal Lake.  Co-Owner Karrie Ozyuk has been active in the racing community for many years.  Major financial sponsorship and backing has come from AmericaOne Bancorp (patron Raviv Wolfe), TRO Manufacturing (patron Scott Sanda), and Tradesmithe (patron Bill Stritzel)

CBR: What’s the best case scenario for this year’s race? 

The best scenario for me running the race would be beautiful weather and safe challenging competition.  For the racers it seems that many times the exact opposite makes for the best stories after the fact.  Best case is that we hold a party, call it a bike race, and all the cool kids show up and bring their friends.

Registration is open at BikeReg through Thursday May 15th.



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