'It's like the coolest thing': Downtown Mundelein transformed for day of bike races

Downtown Mundelein was transformed into a professional bike racetrack Monday for the inaugural Mundelein Grand Prix, a series of 10 races that drew about 430 professional and amateur cyclists to the village.

The races were running nearly back to back from 10 a.m. to 8:15 p.m., with riders zooming along the course nearly nonstop at speeds up to 45 mph. The compact circuit - which ran in the shape of a triangle along Seymour Avenue, Hammond Street, Chicago Avenue and Park Street - meant spectators could watch the competitors race by every 90 seconds or so.

Many race watchers brought camp chairs and found spots along the grandstand at the intersection of Seymour Avenue and Hawley Street, where the racers pedaled hard through the straightaway. During the tight turns, like the one near the intersection of Park Street and Seymour Avenue, or around the circle driveway next to village hall, the racers leaned in and coasted, balancing at precarious angles.

Cyclist Rob Sorrel of Columbia, South Carolina, said he clipped his pedal on the ground once or twice from leaning over so much.

"It can be tricky getting around safely, quickly," Sorrel said. "It's a good, fun course."

Sorrel, 34, won his event, the men's Category 3 race, which he said featured experienced amateurs striving to become professionals. He said he is likely too old to advance to a higher rank and is fine with that.

"Some of these guys are 18; they have a lot of time left. I'm happy just doing what I'm doing," Sorrel said.

One of those younger strivers was Marco Palacios of Chicago, who said his amateur race Monday was his first at this level. He started racing two years ago and said he fell in love with the competition and the camaraderie.

"It's like you're meeting people and you become friends just because you're competing against each other," Palacios said. "It starts to be like a family, a competitive family."

The Grand Prix couldn't have happened without the battalion of volunteers posted along the course helping spectators safely cross the track.

Chris Woodard of the Mundelein Arts Commission said she arrived at 6:30 a.m. to help decorate the sidewalks and crosswalks along the course. Once the coloring was done and the races started, Woodard donned a reflective vest and posted up at a crosswalk near village hall.

"How thrilling to have this in Mundelein. It's like the coolest thing," said Woodard, who admitted she didn't know anything about bike racing before Monday.

She had a bell and would shake it enthusiastically as the riders sped by.

"I asked a bicyclist if they thought it was annoying, and he said, 'No, we love all types of encouragement,'" Woodard said. "It may be annoying to everyone else, though."

The Mundelein Grand Prix is the fourth stop of the Intelligentsia Cup, a nationally renowned bike race series that this year includes nine racing events in 10 days around the Chicago area. The cup kicked off Friday in West Dundee and includes races in Glen Ellyn, Winfield, Elgin, Lake Bluff, and two in Chicago. The competition shifts Tuesday to DuPage County for the Lombard Cycling Classic.

  Amateur bicycle racers maneuver through Plaza Circle in front of village hall during Monday's inaugural Mundelein Grand Prix, a series of 10 bike races that are running throughout the day. The event is part of the Intelligentsia Cup, a series of nine racing in 10 days across the Chicago area. Paul Valade/
  Spectators cheer as bicycle racers speed by Monday near the grandstand at Seymour Avenue and Hawley Street during the Mundelein Grand Prix. Paul Valade/
  Amateur bicycle racers take the turn through Plaza Circle in front of the village hall Monday during the inaugural Mundelein Grand Prix, a series of 10 bike races that are running throughout Monday. Paul Valade/
  Riders get off to a quick start in a semiprofessional race during Monday's Mundelein Grand Prix. These competitors were in "Category 4," the second-lowest rank for men. Paul Valade/
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