Glen Ellyn bicycle race returning as opening stage of DuPage Triple Crown
Anyone who is new to the world of professional cycling can become an expert spectator at the Tour of Lake Ellyn by following a few simple steps.
First, head to the iconic Lake Ellyn boathouse on race day July 20. The deck offers views of two dramatic sections of the 1.4-mile course in Glen Ellyn, one of the toughest legs in the Intelligentsia Cup series.
Looking across the water, you can see packs of riders racing out of a roundabout down Lake Road. Looking west, you can cheer on the sprinters in the straightaway to the finish line on Lenox Road.
Second, sip suds from Alter Brewing Co. in Downers Grove. The Beer Cellar, a downtown Glen Ellyn bottle shop and tap room, is running a beer garden at the boathouse deck starting at noon.
Third, repeat. And voilà! You'll be ready to rub elbows with seasoned fans of the Intelligentsia Cup, a premier cycling series expanding its footprint in DuPage County this summer as part of efforts to broaden cycling's appeal and boost sports tourism in the region.
Championing that cause is Ben Raby, a former pro and key organizer of the Tour of Lake Ellyn.
"A bicycle has been a huge part of my life and provided me a career and given me the confidence to go through the challenges that we all go through in life," Raby said. "So I think there's a great empowerment education on a bicycle, and I think there's resources here to leverage that."
In its fourth year, the Tour of Lake Ellyn will draw close to 600 professional and amateur cyclists as the second stage of the overall, 10-day series. But this summer, there's added pressure for riders competing for the "DuPage Triple Crown" title.
The newly created DuPage Sports Commission has partnered with Intelligentsia Cup to add a third stop in the county: the Lombard Cycling Classic on July 23. The Lombard event will join the Ray Whalen Builders Tour of Lake Ellyn and the Superior Ambulance Elmhurst Cycling Classic on July 26 to form the DuPage Triple Crown, a series within a series with its own point system and prizes.
"This is an opportunity to really showcase what DuPage has to offer from the three different communities to the entertainment options in the area, dining, hotels and really that visitor experience," said Justin Roach, business development director at the DuPage Convention & Visitors Bureau.
Launched as a bureau offshoot in May, the commission will work to recruit and retain sporting events to bring visitors and attract tourist dollars to the county. Registered competitors in the Intelligentsia Cup so far represent 29 U.S. states and eight countries.
The commission is taking on a "very hands-on role" as the local organizing committee of the Lombard Cycling Classic, collaborating with village officials to produce a new Intelligentsia event, Roach said. That leg will take athletes through a downtown course seen from the Shannon's Deli rooftop.
"From the restaurant settings to some of the businesses in the area, there's some really unique spectator opportunities to enjoy the race," Roach said.
At the privately funded Tour of Lake Ellyn, the historic boathouse gives spectators views of athletes who have to navigate sudden elevation changes, nearly a dozen corners and hilly stretches at average speeds of 35 miles per hour -- a grueling course distinct from the traditionally flat, criterium formats of other Intelligentsia Cup races.
"There are so many turns," Raby said. "There's some undulations, and there's a nice path within the racecourse that the village of Glen Ellyn has just redone this past year with concrete, so it's easier for families to walk around inside the course."
The venue earned a place in local cycling lore during the decadelong run of the original Tour of Lake Ellyn on a course designed by John Vande Velde, a Glen Ellyn native who would become an ambassador of the sport as a two-time Olympian in the 1968 and 1972 Games.
Parents and kids can experience his course firsthand by biking two laps during the Duncan Law Group Family Fun Ride at 3 p.m., while the professional men warm up for their race and the professional women cool down after theirs. In 2018, 300 riders joined in the ride, and Raby expects nearly 450 this year.
With the family ride and the exposure to elite athletes, Raby hopes to inspire newcomers to take to regional paths and the joy and independence that come from exploring places on a bike.
"I think that enables us to broaden the message and educate those residents in this area that, 'Hey you can comfortably go on your bicycle with your family and maybe go from Glen Ellyn to Wheaton or Wheaton to Villa Park, depending on how far you want to ride on protected paths,' and not every community has that."
Raby credited the support of the village, the park district and fellow foundation team members -- Jim Burket, Anne Elliot, Chip Miller, Barry White and Tom Zurawski -- for developing the event into a summer highlight. The organizers have again named the Glen Ellyn Food Pantry inside Grace Lutheran Church as the tour's charitable partner and plan to donate proceeds from the event to the nonprofit.
"I hope that we get through the fifth annual and then we start working toward our way to making it the 10th annual Tour of Lake Ellyn six years from now and just have the community continue to embrace the event and just really enjoy a day out in the park and get more people on bikes," Raby said.
Cycling race in Glen EllynWhat: Ray Whalen Builders Tour of Lake Ellyn
When: 10 a.m. until dusk Saturday, July 20
Where: Lake Ellyn Park, 645 Lenox Road, Glen Ellyn, with the start/finish line at Lenox Road and Linden Street
Admission: Free for spectators
Details: Beer garden from noon through last race; Duncan Law Group Family Fun Ride at 3 p.m.