Why Glen Ellyn cycling race will test the pros

  • Professional cyclists will race around a 1.4-mile course in the Tour of Glen Ellyn Saturday, July 16.

    Professional cyclists will race around a 1.4-mile course in the Tour of Glen Ellyn Saturday, July 16. Courtesy of Ethan Glading

  • A kids race will start at 6:05 p.m. along a flat portion of the course, and professionals will cheer them on. After finishing her race, 2014 series leader Erica Allar gave some pointers to a youngster.

    A kids race will start at 6:05 p.m. along a flat portion of the course, and professionals will cheer them on. After finishing her race, 2014 series leader Erica Allar gave some pointers to a youngster. Courtesy of Ethan Glading

  • The Tour of Glen Ellyn course features 14 turns and other unique challenges for hundreds of cyclists.

    The Tour of Glen Ellyn course features 14 turns and other unique challenges for hundreds of cyclists. Courtesy of Mary Ann Sedor

 
 
Updated 7/15/2016 4:23 PM

Professional cyclists will compete Saturday on a Glen Ellyn course so challenging that the guy who designed it -- an Olympian known for his aggressive style -- never finished a race there.

"They're going to be flying there, absolutely flying," Hall-of-Famer John Vande Velde says of the field in what the Glen Ellyn native considers the toughest leg of the Intelligentsia Cup series.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Vande Velde's course was created in 1969, one year after his turn in the Mexico Summer Olympics. He attempted to conquer the Tour of Lake Ellyn -- an "iconic" race for its decadelong run until the 1980s -- several times to disappointing results.

The new Tour of Glen Ellyn resurrects that route, and it remains just as unforgiving.

"There's nowhere on the course where you can relax and catch your breath," said Vande Velde, who also represented Team USA in the 1972 Munich Olympics.

More than 400 cyclists have registered for races in categories determined by USA Cycling (they also can sign up at Lake Ellyn park Saturday). The first event begins at 8:50 a.m. and the last -- the pro men's -- starts at 6:40 p.m.

With 14 turns, a chicane (S-curve), roundabout and two elevation changes, the 1.4-mile course contrasts sharply with the typical, flat criterium race -- suiting the technical rider with some serious bike-handling skills.

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All those features also mean there are plenty of unique spots for spectators to watch.

"There's a lot of tactics involved in this type of bike racing," says Mary Ann Sedor, a race promoter and founder and head coach at INTENT Inc., a Woodridge training center.

Cyclists from around the globe will ride individually and in teams (see: matching jerseys) this month in the Intelligentsia Cup, billed as one of the largest in the country. The finale is set in Chicago Sunday, July 24.

Sedor won't be racing in Glen Ellyn, but her team from Intent is going in with a strategy. Positioning will be key, especially as riders navigate the narrow roundabout on Crescent Boulevard near Glenbard West High School, followed by a sharp left turn downhill and, later, a 180-degree turn from Lake Road to Grand Avenue.

In other words, expect to see some tumbles.

"You're constantly making choices," Sedor said.

Besides that kind of drama, spectators can enjoy food trucks and business vendors set up at the neighborhood park.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

While the men warm up before their event and the women cool down after theirs, the pros will cheer on kids races for ages 3 to 9, beginning at 5 p.m. The start and finish line for the youngsters is the same as the grown-ups: Lenox Road and Linden Street.

That's also where spectators can reserve a spot in a VIP tent and sample light food by making a minimum $10 donation. Proceeds will benefit the DuPage County chapter of NAMI, the National Alliance on Mental Illness.

Most races will come down to the wire, but Vande Velde cautions from getting cocky on what he calls the "gambler's hill," a slight incline right before the left turn leading to the finish.

"You've got to be fast. You've got to strong," he said. "You've got to be a good bike rider."

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