Elmhurst Cycling Classic features technical course, party atmosphere
After hearing what he has planned for the Elmhurst Cycling Classic Friday, you'll wish you were friends with George Hutchinson.
He's the party king on race day, the gracious host of a huge front-yard barbecue that puts out the welcome mat for cycling fans and professional riders from around the globe riding in the Intelligentsia Cup series.
Hutchinson sends invites to 100 guests, brews his own beer -- an oatmeal stout is new this year -- and hires a rock band. He and his neighbors best represent Elmhurst by picking an international team to support when the cyclists rush past his house.
His party guests decided to rally behind the New Zealand team this year because the athletes will be far from home and pleasantly surprised by the host crowds cheering them on as they lay chase on Elm Park Avenue. Hutchinson will display the flag of New Zealand in his front yard and "maybe even put their national anthem on the loud speaker."
"We enjoy the music. We enjoy the barbecue," he said. "We enjoy 100 friends."
The party atmosphere on Elm Park and Grace avenues makes the Elmhurst course a distinctive leg in the Intelligentsia Cup, a 10-day series and one of the largest of its kind in the nation. In seven years, the Elmhurst Cycling Classic has become a tradition and the social event of the season with a full day of racing and a family fun ride on the course.
"If we didn't do the event, there would be people who would be very disappointed," said Alderman Kevin York, the race director.
The cyclists feed off the roadside energy as they try to make the podium on a technical, criterium course. The start/finish line has a historic backdrop in the 1860s-era Wilder Mansion, a nearby beer garden and professional race announcers who give commentary on strategies.
"We start right by the Wilder Mansion, immediately go into a 90-degree turn," York said. "Then you go through a little soft turn, and then into an S-curve or a chicane turn down Elm Park, and then another quick right turn onto Grace, and that's all downhill. "And the men and the women pros will be moving between 25 and 45 miles per hour through those corners, depending on how they're bunched up."
The final corner from Alexander Boulevard to Prospect Avenue near the Elmhurst Public Library is a prime viewing area as riders gear up for their sprint to the finish line, said York, who raced with the Cat. 5 field in 2017.
"So there are some sharp elbows and people bumping and grinding through that corner to get position or make sure that they're in the best place they can be coming out of there so they can do the uphill sprint," York said.
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 create a series within a series with its own point system and prizes.
The first two stages -- the Tour of Lake Ellyn in Glen Ellyn and the inaugural Lombard Cycling Classic -- were held last Saturday and Tuesday. The Elmhurst Cycling Classic marks the final DuPage Triple Crown event and the eighth venue in the overall series.
"There's no doubt it drives dollars to the DuPage County region," York said. "A lot of these racers stay in hotels, and they go out and eat, so it's great for DuPage County and the communities involved."
The DuPage Cycling Foundation is the entity that hosts the race and donates net proceeds to local charities and bike initiatives. Through last year's event, the foundation has given close to $100,000 to a wide array of past beneficiaries, including the Elmhurst Memorial Hospital Foundation, the Elmhurst-Yorkfield Food Pantry, the Elmhurst Walk-In Assistance Network and the Elmhurst Children's Assistance Foundation, York said.
"It truly is a citywide event and it takes a lot of people to make sure we do it the way it should be done," said York, giving a shout-out to the support of volunteers, public works crews and emergency responders on race day.
The men's section of Spirito! -- Hutchinson is in the choir -- will sing the national anthem twice, before the professional women's race at 5:40 p.m. and the professional men's at 6:55 p.m. Hutchinson's guitar teacher's band, the Rhythm Giants, also will entertain on a particularly tight-knit block of Elmhurst. "We make the most of it," he said.
Hutchinson similarly overlooks no details when it comes to encouraging the New Zealanders, who are so far having a good run in the series. Team members James Williamson and Kees Duyvesteyn are currently ranked No. 4 and 10 in the professional men's Cat. 1/2 standings, respectively.
Hutchinson has a collection of bells from Mehta Motors for his guests to ring in support of the team.
"It's just a fun time for all, and it's a great event to watch, and we've got some great athletes in town, and people should support it."