A tour de suburbs: Pro cyclists return for Intelligentsia Cup races
For elite cyclists, by the time the Intelligentsia Cup rolls around in July, it's usually late in the season, and their tired legs are running on empty.
This year, many of the earlier races were pushed back to the fall or canceled altogether because of the uncertainty around the pandemic.
That void in the calendar has led to renewed interest in the Intelligentsia Cup, returning next month with nine days of professional and amateur racing around the suburbs and Chicago.
After a year's delay, organizers hope they can top the turnout in 2019, when the series became the largest of its kind in the country based on the number of entries -- more than 5,300. As for the size of the field, the series averaged more than 550 cyclists per day (riders can enter multiple categories).
"Because of the lack of racing, we've seen an increase in the elite professional categories, inquiries from new teams that haven't raced with us before," series spokesman Mark Zalewski said.
The top-tier cyclists will need fresh legs chasing cash prizes at speeds of up to 35 to 40 miles per hour. Here's a look at some of the routes and the itinerary for spectators:
Glen Ellyn, July 17
The second stage of the series has this for scenery: stately homes, a sparkling lake, and a high school that looks like a hilltop castle.
But cyclists in the Tour of Lake Ellyn won't be distracted by the setting.
The Glen Ellyn leg is one of the most thrilling, with punishing hilly sections and a tight turn into the sprint to the finish line on Lenox Road.
"The feedback from the riders at the end of this series is always that Glen Ellyn was the most interesting," organizer Jim Burket said. "You've got climbs, which a lot of these courses don't have. You've got a roundabout. You've got descents into turns over by Lake Road. You've got a hairpin. You've got some crazy elements."
The course originally was designed by John Vande Velde, a Glen Ellyn native and two-time Olympian in the 1968 and 1972 Games. Now in the fifth year of a revival, the Tour of Lake Ellyn turns ordinarily quiet streets into a neighborhood festival. The route is lined with front-yard tent parties, and the Lake Ellyn Boathouse hosts a beer garden.
"It's almost like a second Fourth of July," Burket said.
Winfield, July 18
For many years, a cycling club staged a stand-alone race in Winfield. This year, it was folded into the larger series to coincide with the village's centennial celebration.
The Winfield Criterium will feature an expanded version of a historic course. It'll be an uphill grind on the aptly named Summit Drive.
"That should definitely pose a challenge to our racers, especially the out-of-towners who come to Chicago thinking we're pancake-flat," Zalewski said.
Mundelein, July 19
The Mundelein Grand Prix is a new addition to the schedule. It's another criterium event, or "crit," meaning riders will complete laps on a short, closed circuit.
The course is about seven-tenths of a mile along Seymour Avenue, Hammond Street, Chicago Avenue and Park Street.
Taylor Wegrzyn, a village planner and avid cyclist, championed the idea of races in Mundelein. The village is expecting 1,000 to 2,000 spectators. A beer garden also is on tap, along with live music and children's games.
Elgin, July 23
The Dennis Jurs Memorial Race honors the legacy of an Army veteran who helped build a cycling culture in Elgin.
Dennis Jurs took to the sport to cope with injuries he suffered from a land mine explosion in the Vietnam War.
He shared his passion by organizing the Elgin Cycling Classic and other competitive events. In 2017, a race was named for him.
Jurs died six years ago after he was hit by a car while riding his bike near Hampshire. The 68-year-old was wearing a helmet.
"In the cycling community, the name Dennis Jurs means something, but to most people it doesn't," said Eric Larson, board president of the Northeast Neighborhood Association, the race host.
"So we try to bring his spirit and love of cycling and use this as an opportunity to bring awareness of safety issues and training and getting people to ride bikes safely."
With that in mind, Elgin Community Bikes will host bike safety clinics kids during race day.
Also new this year: the move to a Friday slot.
And organizers have reworked the course into a more spectator-friendly criterium format.
• Daily Herald staff writer Rick West contributed to this report.