A lot of bike racing happened this week! I went to six races over seven days, skipping the first three stages and Lombard on Tuesday. This was my second year at Intelli, and my main takeaway was just how much I felt myself improve over the course of the week. My positioning, cornering, and general confidence in myself all improved significantly through practice and experience, which is super gratifying.
Monday | Mundelein One important thing to know about these races is the existence of Isaac and Ben Juracich, brothers racing for Washington-based team Liquid Velo Expeditors. One or the other had won every race thus far, so they had a massive target on their collective back. I was feeling pretty good, at least by way of legs. Coming off Cobb Park a couple weeks prior, I wasn't super rusty but still getting used to race situations, especially where we were not the dominant team. The race was largely slow and uneventful; David Dekker of xXx went off the front early and was pulled back by Liquid, on whom the full responsibility for chasing everything was placed. A few more moves tried and failed, slowing to a crawl as the catch was made and no counterattack attempted. Not trusting my sprint, I started looking for places to send a flyer in the last couple laps. I ended up going up the right side through the start/finish with one to go, establishing a decent gap into turn one, a 90-degree left hander. Another rider had a very similar idea at the same time, sending it up the left and roughly matching my gap. However, apparently unaccustomed to how physics work, this rider attempted to take the turn from the inside at 30mph, which naturally ended him up in the gravel on the far side of the road; I was impressed and relieved that he didn't crash. Still, his atrocious line choice spelled the end of my race, as I had to grab a handful of brakes in order to keep from colliding with him as he cut across the road. Having burned a significant match attacking, I shot to the back and didn't have much sprint to speak of. Liquid once again took two of three podium spots.
Wednesday | South Chicago: The longest race of the week at around 20 miles (gasp), this one too was both uneventful and disappointing. After a couple laps of pretty mundane racing, I initiated a move that established the biggest gap of the day--no more than a few seconds--before flicking through a rider who immediately sat up, dooming any chance for that break. Liquid rolled attacks with their two-man squad for a couple laps too, but nothing came of those either. It was to be a field sprint once again. I was in good position, waited until both Liquid riders were boxed in, and left it early with 300m to go while the field slowed down. As I'd hoped, a couple riders quickly came around me, and I jumped on a wheel, planning to come out of the draft with 100 to go and take the best position I could get. However, my choice of wheel to follow was quickly revealed to be the wrong one, and we both slid back as the sprint opened up around us. It was at this point that someone's sunglasses fell off and came bounding across the road toward us, causing everyone around to slow their sprints and once again dooming our chances of a good position. Liquid goes 1-2.
Thursday | Northbrook Perhaps the most frustrating stage. About halfway through the race, I got off the front in a group of three, representing all three multi-person teams. The field, from what I hear, lacked all motivation to chase, and our gap ballooned over what I would guess to be 40 seconds. We worked well together and I was feeling confident about at least snagging a podium, until my chain dropped with two to go. Tragedy. Still, we had so much time on the field that I was able to get my chain back on (a massive thanks to Justin Trayweeks for being my own personal pit crew at this point) as the field caught me. Frustrated and determined to partially redeem my race, I immediately attacked again and was let off the front for the last two laps, finishing fourth (one more rider had bridged to the break in my absence, I would later learn). Liquid took the top step once again.
Friday | Elgin Elgin was the first race I ever took part in, and holds a special place in my memory because of this. I like the course a lot, though it takes some time every year to get used to taking a steep downhill into a left turn at speed. The team was active in this one, but the move that eventually stuck was a solo break by a one of the Liquid boys. I got to the front a couple corners after his attack and put in three hard pulls, but the other team with multiple representatives chose not to help the chase effort, guaranteeing the solo move's success. After accepting that we were racing for second, the race was relatively uneventful. With two to go, David attacked up the hill at the back side of the course and was quickly reeled in. I countered and stayed away for a lap and a half; on the start/finish with one to go the other Liquid rider attacked the field and rode past me like I was sitting still. I couldn't follow on--to do so would've guaranteed that the move stayed away, but I was redlining too hard. I had to let the field pull me back with half a lap to go, and ended up sprinting up the hill for fourth.
Saturday | Lake Bluff Anyone who's raced the Lake Bluff stage knows what this course is. Several tight turns every lap, excellent road surface, and a slightly uphill finish combine to make this one of the best and worst stages every year. I love this course. The plan was to try a move early, and if that didn't work, to sit in and leave it late and try to make a move stick on this supremely technical course. The early moves all were brought back quickly, and I started to plan my late move. David and I were in communication around who was covering what and who was feeling better for the finish. Late in the race, he told me he wasn't feeling it and that we were riding for my result. I'd decided to go through the finish with one to go, but (unluckily) the race slowed down significantly through the end of that lap, and I knew any attempt would quickly be covered by fresh riders. Instead, David got to the front, I moved up with an inside line through the last corner, and the last lap heroics began. David drilled it on the front, performing the leadout duties of at least three riders, and opened up his sprint through the last corner. The field sprinters left it late--around 120m to go, I'd estimate--and I accelerated out of David's wheel as I saw them kick. Expecting to be passed by riders with significantly superior sprint watts than myself, I held it as long as I could on the shallow uphill drag, and ended up winning by half a wheel at the line. "Pleasantly surprised" is an understatement.
Sunday | Fulton St. Despite the success of the previous day, I didn't back my sprint on this pancake-flat finish nearly as much as teammates Miles and David. We decided to have me and Miles cover smaller moves all day, and try to stay on the pointy end of any splits that might form--despite the wide-open course, moving up on the back stretch was nigh impossible due to terrible road surface. This plan went well for the first half of the race, but when I covered a move with the same two riders as the Northbrook break and the other Liquid rider bridged three other non-xXx kids to the break, we knew that was the final selection. That group was reduced to five by the last two laps; myself, the two Liquid boys, and two riders from the nine13 team. I sat on the back as nine13 led it out, basically guaranteeing their downfall to the sprints of both Liquid riders. The sprint opened up through the chicane, and as expected both Liquid sprinters immediately opened a few bike lengths on the rest. Sprinting out of the wrong gear, my cadence somehow reached 150rpm as I secured the last podium spot on the bike throw.