Countryside Criterium packs ’em in
Racers love the course, hope event returns in 2018
By Steve Metsch
The first-ever Countryside Criterium on Saturday attracted bicyclists from around the Chicago area and Midwest, all dressed in colorful racing gear as they sped around the course at speeds up to 35 mph.
The competitors were having a great time. So were residents like the boisterous crowd in front of the Smentek home on Lorraine Drive. Enjoying cold libations, they loudly rang bells supplied by the city of Countryside whenever bicyclists roared past.
Heck, they even rang their bells when a boy who looked to be about 5 years old carefully negotiated his bike along the grassy lawn.
“We’re having a great time. We’re all here to support Countryside. We’re excited to see a new event for the city. It’s really cool,” Kirsten Smentek said. “They did a wonderful job putting this on. It’s great to see a lot of people come out for something new. We’d love to see this every year.”
An encore is yet to be determined, Mayor Sean McDermott said. The decision to host a day of bicycle racing was made because the city wanted to have special events in each ward, McDermott said.
“We’re trying to do different events in each neighborhood. The St. Patrick’s Day Parade is in the 3rd Ward. This is in the 2nd Ward. And we’re working on an event, maybe a craft beer festival, for the 1st Ward next year,” McDermott said.
The city co-sponsored the criterium with the Countryside Business Association. Lead sponsor Autobarn Subaru of Countryside donated $5,000 in prize money. “We’re grateful to them,” McDermott said.
The criterium helped city coffers.
“We’re always trying to be proactive in economic development. The city of Countryside does not levy a local property tax, so we’re always look at ways to bring sales tax dollars into our community. And, these are the type of events that draw people. I met a gentleman from Utah, one from Kansas City, a couple people from Indiana. So, we’re getting people from out of state. They’re staying in our hotels, they’re eating in our restaurants, and they’re brings sales tax revenue to our community,” McDermott said.
Race Director Stuart Nelsen, of Oak Park, said “there’s more to do than you can imagine, but we got great help from the city.”
A total of 141 racers had pre-registered, Nelsen said.
“It’s all run smoothly, considering the chaos. Facebook is really powerful. We used social media heavily (to promote the event). This course has some real nice features, a bit of elevation which can change things, and it’s really wide, which racers like,” Nelsen said.
One of those racers, William Edwards, of Chicago, was all smiles after he finished second in the men’s category 4-5 event. The higher the number, the less experienced the racer.
The rectangular course took riders south on Lorraine Drive, east on 71st Street, north on Sunset Avenue and west on Forestview Road back to Lorraine.
“Great course. It’s wide open. The turns are fast. And you’ve got a little bump on the backside, a little bump at the finish. It’s not a plain, vanilla rectangle. It has a couple spots where you’ve got to be tactical,” Edwards said.
One of those “bumps” was a hill on Lorraine Drive leading to the finish line.
“It makes you gauge your sprint at the end a little more because not only is it uphill, but you still have 70 meters from the crest of that hill to the finish line. So, you’ve got to not only get to the top, but you have to finish it off if you want to win. The backstretch (on Sunset) is up almost the whole way, so if you want to make an attack there, you’ve got to be pretty strong to make it stick,” Edwards said.
Edwards, 43, began racing four years ago “against guys young enough to be my son.”
He especially liked the $60 prize money. “You don’t usually have prize money at our level. So, it’s pretty nice,” said Edwards, who later raced the men’s category 3-4 event. That was the most crowded race with 42 entrants.
Sheila Benson, executive director of the Countryside Business Association, reached out to businesses for donations.
Chick-fil-A donated 100 breakfast sandwiches, Starbucks donated coffee, and many other businesses donated things for the riders’ gift bags, Benson said. “Some gave gift cards. Countryside Bank will give you $10 if you take a 10-minute tour,” she said.
Near the corner of Lorraine and Forestview Road, 6-year-old Grace Nwasor had set up a lemonade stand, figuring spectators and bicyclists would be thirsty. She had planned to charge a buck a glass, but mom Jenny Nwasor convinced her 50 cents was fair.
“The bikes are cool. I ride a bike,” Grace said.
Jenny was impressed: “It’s pretty cool to watch. It’s a lot of hard work.”
Grace’s grandma and Jenny’ mom, Judy Bashor, said she hoped the criterium returns next summer.
Juan Giron, who lives in the neighborhood and serves on the city’s fire board, said residents he talked with were supportive. They had to park their cars a few blocks away to ensure safe passage for racers. He enjoyed the festive mood. “Neighbors are getting to know each other,” he said. “We can’t live on an island.”
The city will “evaluate afterwards and get a sense of whether the community wants to bring it back,” the mayor said.
Men Category 4-5: Sergey Kilbanov, Downers Grove
Men 9-14 Junior Open: Melroy “Will” Holzhauer, Geneva
Women 9-14 Junior Open: Ellie Hosey, Western Springs
Men 15-18 Junior Open: Hassan Najfi, Schaumburg
Women 15-18 Junior Open: Lydia Chinchilla, Glen Ellyn
Men 35-99 Masters Category 1-3: Andrzej Krzysiak, Westmont
Men 45-99 Masters Category 1-3: Bradley Menna, Chicago
Men 55-99 Masters Category 1-3: Stuart Grinell, Highland Park
Women, Category 3-5: Rachel Pearson, Forest Park
Men Category 3-4: Geoffrey Albert, Columbus, Ohio
Women Pro Category 1-3: Leah Sanda, Western Springs
Men Pro Category 1-3: Igor Shvytov, Chicago
— Desplaines Valley News