The Chicago Cyclocross Cup, held Sunday in Carpenter Park in Carpentersville, is just as much a social event as it is a race.
And a big part of the social element is "heckling," which is kind of like a Don Rickles routine, composed of equal parts needling and love.
The racers, like Dominic Bosco of Winfield, are just as enthusiastic as spectators when watching other races at the event.
"This is a sport where you get to heckle a little bit," he said. "It's a little bit more laid back than some of the more serious road races and mountain bike races. It's all in good fun."
When she wasn't racing, Liz Markel of Chicago was ringing a bell and encouraging the riders, balancing kindness and severity, at one point telling riders they were kicking butt, while at another reminding them, "This is a race!"
She said heckling has a special technique.
"There is an art to the heckle," the former Arlington Heights resident said. "You have to be just mean enough to motivate but not so mean that you hurt their feelings."
More than 700 preregistered for the event, said promoter Jeff Provisor of Main Street Bicycles in Carpentersville.
"That's about 150 more than we had last year," he said. "I think it's a fun type of cycling sport that a lot of people get the hang of. It's a fun atmosphere. The courses are short, so it's easier to see the racers, to spectate, as well."
Bosco said the course is challenging, so some strategy is necessary. One has to adjust for holes, for example.
"We tend to run real low tire pressure to get better grip in the corners," he said. "Sometimes if you run low and you peg a tree root or a divot, it could be catastrophic."
In addition to the bumps, there are a lot of turns. During the earlier events, racers also have to deal with a damp course because of the dew. One section of the course ran through a cornfield, with a dirt path that has what amounts to speed humps. And then there is a spot with a ditch where the riders have to dismount.
"The whole idea of cross racing is to create technical aspects, so it's not just flat out riding. It works on all your bike handling skills," Provisor said.
The race Sunday is part of a 12-race series.
"It's really a friendly scene," Steel Bokhof of Wilmette said. "You see the same guys every weekend and you race against the same guys every weekend. It's really fun, because there is always a race within the race."