I had no idea what to expect when I arrived at the south parking lot last night. The http://www.soldierfieldcycling.com site was well put together and showed a lot of promise, but designing a website is quite different from designing a race course and playing host to a bunch of twitchy roadies with calories to burn.
When we rolled up, I was impressed by the inflatable start/finish archway courtesy of SRAM as well as the Kozy's Cyclery and Pepsi Max presence. There was a good amount of signage around the start/finish that indicated financial support from other businesses such as Chipotle. For a group who hadn't promoted and hosted a bicycle race before, they seemed to be way ahead of what some well-established teams manage to coordinate.
The registration table was a breeze since I had pre-registered, though the USAC waivers weren't already filled out with my information. (Race Organizers take note - you can make your lives and ours easier if you pre-fill the waivers for preregistered riders!) I whipped out one of my handy pre-filled forms, added the race name and date, signed and recieved my number. With the Women's race down to 5 laps to go, I pinned up and noticed that there sure seemed to be a lot of people warming up - it was later confirmed that the 4/5 race had indeed sold out via pre-registration.
Soldier Field Cycling's course was well marked with cones, barricades, and fencing - and the appropriate medium was in the appropriate place- rather than barriers in tight corners, cones or snow fencing was used to minimize injuries in the event of a crash. Well thought out, Soldier Field Cycling. Recognizing that race organizers can only go so far in preparing a course, I can't complain about the parking lot's surface too much... except for the huge hole in between two of the hairiest turns on the course. I'm convinced this hole is what kept the race so strung out. Between turns 3 & 4 was a 5 foot long, two foot wide gash in the pavement that was filled with water. I'm hoping that Chicago Park District is able to get out and patch this thing before the next race on July 1st.
Racing went well. Being a brand new course and a 4/5 race at the same time, the first two laps seemed rather tenative as people seemed to be sizing up the competition. I started out about 10th wheel and quickly decided that I wanted to use this race as an opportunity to work on things I struggle with and to try something I've never done before... I started with the latter and decided to take a flyer.
With a strong xXx presence doing quite a lot of work at the front, I moved from about 20th wheel to the front at which point I realized that I was going about 5mph faster than my teammates and I'd have to hit the brakes to settle in with them. Rather than letting friction undo my hard work, I shifted, stood, and rocketed off the front to see what would happen. Having watched many, many of these unsuccessful efforts in the past, I expected to be chased down rather quickly. To my surprise, I managed to stay off for an entire lap while a chase effort was put together by the field, no thanks to my blocking teammates I'm sure. I managed to get about 1/3 of a lap on the field at one point, but after passing the time clock with 18 minutes to go, I knew I couldn't time trial my way to victory and soft pedaled until I was caught.
The remainder of the race I shifted from hanging off the back to mid-pack and with single digit laps to go I seemed to find myself on the wheel of the next guy being dropped... I'd realize what was happening and have to sprint to make up not only the rubberband but also make up the gap that had formed between the pack and the dropped rider. Each time I managed to catch the pack, but I also towed a fair number of riders back up with me, who showed their gratitude by accelerating around me as soon as we caught back on.
I had a blast at the inaugural Soldier Field Cycling race last night and I'm very much looking forward to the remainder of the series. It was sketchy at times, but no more so than most 75-rider 4/5 criteriums.
Many thanks to the folks at Soldier Field Cycling and all of the sponsors who helped make it happen. Here's to a Chipotle burrito prime next time!