Intelligentsia Cup cycling race series a local alternative to Tour de France
Tour de France devotees, including armchair racers like me, can satisfy our cycling passion, and ring cowbells (!), at Chicagoland's Intelligentsia Cup July 22-31.
While it's not the 21-stage TdF spanning thousands of miles with mountaintop finishes and cobblestone corridors, this 10-day racing series attracts regional and national racers, bringing intense energy and racing excitement to eight suburbs and Chicago.
West Dundee hosts the first day of racing. The last venue is Fulton Street in Chicago, roastery home of Intelligentsia Coffee, premium coffee company and title sponsor since 2013.
Adding to criterium racing excitement, the DuPage Sports Commission, an arm of the DuPage Convention & Visitors Bureau, established its own Triple Crown championship for the three DuPage County races in Glen Ellyn, Winfield and Lombard.
Igor Bakovic, DuPage Sports Commission's director of sports, explains, "We will be awarding a jersey to the Triple Crown leader in Glen Ellyn and Winfield in the five categories as well as a jersey to the overall winner at the end of the Lombard Cycling Classic."
The five racing categories are Men Cat 3, Masters 50/60+, Women Cat 2/3, Men Cat 2, and Masters 40+. In road racing, categories rank one (highest) to five (novice). Besides the winner jersey, overall category winners earn $300 cash and, best of all, bragging rights.
Per Bakovic, the omnium (multiday event) prizes are distinct from those of the Intelligentsia Cup series.
"It's an added incentive for cyclists to compete at the Ray Whalen Builders Tour of Lake Ellyn, Winfield Criterium and Summerfest and Lombard Cycling Classic," said Bakovic.
Beth Marchetti, executive director of the DuPage Convention and Visitors Bureau, notes the three racing dates in DuPage "allows the CVB to capitalize on that advantage for our hotels, restaurants, downtown shopping districts and more."
Racers hang tight at the start of the 2021 race at Fulton Street in Chicago, neighborhood of Intelligentsia Coffee's roasting works.
- Courtesy of Ethan Glading
Criterium Road Races
Criteriums, aka "crits," are short loop courses, 0.5 to 1-mile long. Racing involves a predetermined time duration, not a set number of laps. Each racing course offers unique challenges based on terrain and sharp turns.
Rounding the course, cyclists jockey for position anticipating a race bell, rung by a race official at various intervals, announcing "preems" (spelled "primes"), special prizes -- cash or merchandise -- for whoever wins the next lap. "It might be $50 cash," notes Intelligentsia Cup Race Director Marco Colbert, or, jokingly, "a loaf of bread. No matter the prize, racers will go crazy."
Omnium points are scored by one's overall finish when the last lap bell is rung. Winners earn 20 points, runners-up 18, etc. Final omnium score is total point accumulation over the series. The more races entered, the more points one can accumulate.
"We name an omnium winner in each pro and amateur race category," explains Colbert.
Racers string out on the course in 2021, at the Lombard Cycling Classic. This year riders roll July 26.
- Courtesy of Ethan Glading
Intelligentsia Cup Origins
In its 10th year, the Intelligentsia Cup started after Colbert organized a 2012 bike race in Lake Bluff.
"Simultaneously, Olympic cyclist and national champion Tom Schuler and some guys from Wisconsin approached me who were thinking about creating a bike race in Illinois," he explains. "St. Charles was the first venue. It expanded to a few more, then five or six." In 2013 Intelligentsia Coffee joined as title sponsor.
"Ten races in 10 days in 10 different venues is like running a circus -- set up the race, run it all day, tear it down, travel to the next venue. Then do it all over again," Colbert said. "But it's beneficial to the racers. With crits, the more race venues in a given area, the better, especially nowadays with travel costs so high. Racers can travel to one location and race multiple days."
About 5,300 race entries were logged in 2021, with many of the same individuals entering multiple races, some doing all 10. While men constitute 75-80% of entries, Colbert detects a growing number of women racers.
"We are actually conducting programs to bring more new women riders into the sport."
Based on total entries, Colbert claims it's the largest U.S. road race series with "some of the best competition in the nation. It's not for the weak of heart, attracting very intense high-level athletes, racing their brains out."
Based on accumulated points, winners also earn an actual cup, besides cash prizes. Those taking the top three spots in each category receive an inscribed Intelligentsia Coffee cup, per Colbert.
Three DuPage racing venues are recognized on the DuPage Sports Commission Triple Crown logo.
- Courtesy of Igor Bakovic
Northbrook Grand Prix -- July 28
Colbert is very pleased Northbrook will host the race for the first time. Known for cycling, Northbrook has been home since 1960 to the Ed Rudolph Velodrome, located just 10 blocks from the 1.1 kilometer (0.68 miles) criterium course circling Village Green Park. The second oldest U.S. cycling velodrome, it hosts Thursday night races each summer organized by the Northbrook Cycling Committee.
Matt Curin, Pedestrian and Bicycle Commission chairman, worked several years to bring the cup to Northbrook. A friend of Colbert and Olympic cyclist Tom Schuler, he is very excited about the upcoming race, having raced since age 15.
At the University of Michigan, Curin served as president of the cycling team and competed in collegiate nationals. His pharmacy degree took him to several pharma companies where he also managed racing teams including the Astellas professional cycling team from 2012-16, as recounted in Jamie Smith's book, "American Pro: The True Story of Bike Racing in America."
Like the other nine venues, Northbrook Grand Prix offers $5,000 in cash prizes and winner jerseys to category victors, plus $1,000 in primes. Racing extends 10 a.m. to 8 p.m.
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The Intelligentsia Cup Chicago races
The Intelligentsia Cup Chicago races run 10 days straight in July:
• July 22: West Dundee River Challenge
• July 23: The Ray Whalen Builders Tour of Lake Ellyn
• July 24: Winfield Criterium & Summerfest
• July 25: Tighthead Mundelein Grand Prix
• July 26: Lombard Cycling Classic
• July 27: South Chicago Kermesse & Bicycle Celebration
• July 28: Northbrook Grand Prix
• July 29: Elgin Classic in Memory of Dennis Jurs
• July 30: Northwestern Medicine Lake Bluff Criterium
• July 31: William Blair Grand Prix at Goose Island Beer Company
• Join the ride. Contact Ralph Banasiak at firstname.lastname@example.org.