by Kristen Meshberg
SO so so excited to have a race series IN MY HOMETOWN. Yes we have cool individual races in Chicago, and sometimes even two days in a row, but this is the first time I’ve had a whole series so close to home!
The series consisted of 7 races total, 6 crits and 1 road race. The first 3 days were not NCC, and the last 4 were. What does that mean? NCC is our National Criterium Calendar so they would be heavily attended and highly contested. The first 3 days would be mostly local riders with maybe a couple of out of towners. Hopefully this will change in the future when word gets out about how awesome this series is and we can have big fields for the whole thing. But for this year we weren’t expecting the huge fields until the NCC races.
I’ve been targeting this series ever since I found out about it and I wanted to win the overall. Given the weird year I’ve been having I really did not know what to expect going into it. My focus was to do the best I could and treat each day individually. Sarah had committed to coming to as many of the races as she could, so finally we’d get some racing together.
I love this race! I’ve done this course many times when it was part of Superweek, and I love it. My oldest friend lives and works very near to the course, so she always comes and watches, and we get to hang out afterwards, so a good time is always associated with this race. Being the first race in the series and not NCC, we had a very small field. Sarah was sidelined with the stomach flu so I went solo. Our field consisted of a bunch of individual riders going against the Schneider sisters, local riders who ride for Tibco, one on the pro team, and one on the devo team. After an early break of three which included 15 year old Skylar Schneider (who ended up winning) lapped the field, Vanderkitten attacked and no one chased. Then I attacked and no one chased. I finished off the front in 5th place. Given the circumstances, I was ok with that.
Same small field, though today I had my teammate Sarah. The race started just fine but soon I started to struggle. Turns out I had broken a spoke and my wheel had gone out of true and was smashing against my brake. I never heard a popping noise so I had no idea what was happening. I finally went to the pit because I just couldn’t ride any more, I didn’t think I would get a free lap, but I didn’t know what else to do. When they saw the shape of my wheel I was given the ok to be put back in the field. Unfortunately while all this was going on a break had gotten away. I tried to talk my way into being put back into the break, but since it had been established while I was out of commission, it was back to the field for me. The first lap back in they called a prime. I went for it, got it, and then was done. I’m not sure how much energy I expended riding around for the first half of the race on a broken wheel, and I don’t think going all out for a prime was the smartest move. I was majorly bummed. Sarah rode well in the field and finished strong.
The drive to Sharon, which is just across the WI border very near Lake Geneva, was beautiful. The course was flat and we were supposed to do 4 laps but was shortened to 3, for a total of about 33 miles. It was very hot, and I felt pretty good. Mostly local gals, we had a couple strong new to the series riders, including our National Criterium Champion Theresa Cliff-Ryan. Sarah said later she was affected by the heat, but she rode well and I couldn’t tell. The race had a couple of attacks, but nothing stuck, and we entered the final 3k altogether. I found myself in good position at 3k to go, and was planning on going for it, at the clearly marked 1k to go sign. But then the follow moto ref pulled up next to me. He had done this several times during the race and had actually mingled with the field during several corners and at one point caused a separation that had to be chased down. I asked him to please give me some space, and he said no, and I let myself get distracted. He made me very nervous and I had no idea what he was going to do so I slowed down. He finally backed off at 500 meters. Then when I finally sprinted I heard terrible crunching noises coming from my bike! I finished 5th and Sarah was 6th. I was not happy with this result. I did make an official complaint regarding the ref and as far as my bike, I had no idea what was going on.
Very excited to race this course which has always been a part of the now defunct Superweek series in the past, but only for the men. Thanks Prairie State for having women there for the first time ever. This was the first of the NCC races, so there would be a bigger field with lots of strong teams there. On the way to the race, my car thermometer said 100 degrees. The hottest race of the year. Warming up, whenever I put any pressure on the pedals, I heard the terrible noises coming from my bike. So I went to Sram NRS and asked Jose to take a look. Sure enough my wheel was trashed. So he lent me a Sram wheel and I was good to go. The course is in the beautiful south side Beverly neighborhood and we got to ride by gorgeous homes and beautiful streets. Sarah’s husband Eric grew up very near the course and family friends had a party on the course. They cheered for us every lap. My friend (and PWP participant) Cathy was also racing and had a huge family contingent out cheering for her and I swear they cheered just as loudly for me too. There were also tons of other friends and PWP participants scattered throughout the course. It was really fun. When we got into the race, I could tell that the heat was having an effect on people, but I felt great! I was able to move around easily and go wherever I wanted. On the third lap I heard a crash, looked back and was so bummed to see it was Sarah. She got back in the race but ended up dropping out due to the heat. There were lots of primes in this race, including one donated by PWP’s Jen Welch, who grew up on the course and is a big supporter of the race. Thanks Jen!! The course was super cool with a slight up hill and then two semi sharp, fast downhill corners into the finish. I knew the winner needed to be first into the downhill. At one to go I was in perfect position, about 4th wheel. Kelly Fisher-Goodwin from Fearless Femme had gone for a late prime, gotten a gap and held it. The field was content to race for second. On the back stretch I attacked and got a gap. I’m sure part of it was not having the strength, but I think mostly it was lack of guts but I chickened out and slowed so I got passed right before the first sharp downhill corner. I’m not sure how many riders got in front of me before I was able to get in line, but I was still in good position when in the final corner the two riders ahead of me crashed! I had to dramatically slow, but stayed upright and was able to finish in 14th place. I was very happy! Teresa Cliff-Ryan won the field sprint so the Fearless Femme team went 1-2.
Another 100 degree day, I was nervous about bringing the kids, but this was the only option for the day. My good friend and PWP participant Mary Roe had offered to watch them for me during the race. This is not the first time Mary has hung out with the kids while I raced. They have a lot of fun with her, and there is usually ice cream involved, and racing would simply not be possible without help like this. So a great big thank you to Mary! Sarah wasn’t able to get to this race, so once again I was solo. I wasn’t going to be able to get new wheels before the end of the series so Sram let me use theirs for the rest of the series, which made the difference between racing or not racing so another big thank you to Sram. I felt great the whole race where once again I could tell the heat was really getting to people. It came down to a field sprint and I was a little hesitant to fight for position, (as I write this I’m sensing a theme here…) but I sprinted for 14th and felt good about it. Laura Van Gilder won today.
After two positive races in a row with no mechanicals or weird issues, I was looking forward to Lake Bluff. Sarah would be there, and I had raced this course last year and finished well. I knew that it was a tough course. It’s a great break away course because it’s very narrow with tight corners with the only wide part being the very long start/finish stretch which was slightly uphill. Every time through that long section felt like the finishing sprint to me, and I never felt like I was in good position. Also a factor, after the last couple 100 degree races today it was a chilly 86. All those people who had been affected by the heat were feeling much better so I think that was a factor for me. Not sure when it happened but I sadly found myself off the back. Sarah was there too and we started taking hard pulls and after a couple of laps we actually caught back on. Sarah was able to stay connected but I was almost immediately dropped, and stayed dropped this time. My only solace was that I wasn’t the first to go and I finished 23rd on the day though it really didn’t make me feel much better, and I earned no points. Erica Allar took the win out of a break of 6.
I was determined to end this series on a positive note. The race was also our state championship race, which meant that the title and a championship jersey would be awarded to the first rider from Illinois across the line. It’s always a fun thing to win, so I was going for it. The course was 4 corners of wide open road. The race seemed very slow, for which I was grateful. There were a couple of attacks, including a good one by Sarah. I was in front and could block, and she held it for almost two laps. When they caught her, it was on a prime lap, and she saw that I was near so after being solo for two laps she led me out for it! Unfortunately Pepper Palace was on my wheel and it turned out to be a better lead out for her. While I didn’t get the prime, it did establish a break of four. Unfortunately we did not have Pepper Palace’s sprinter with us, so we weren’t cohesive. It got exciting for a moment when the race leaders bridged up, and we had our original four along with Theresa Cliff-Ryan, Erica Allar, and Laura Van Gilder. But it didn’t stick, and soon we were reabsorbed. In the final lap I was in great position and got around the final corner with the leaders. I was able to avoid some mayhem and I didn’t stick around to find out, but I believe a rider may have gone down. Due to the mayhem, I didn’t have a good wheel to the line but I sprinted and finished 10th! Sarah finished right behind me in 12th, and I was the second Illinois rider to cross the line. My former teammate Jessi Prinner finished ahead of me. Jessi’s still an Illinois resident and a great sprinter in her own right, but she’s now a professional who rides in support of Erica Allar, the current NCC leader. Jessi got ahead of me while working for Erica, who won the race. For the series, I ended up 6th overall and though not the result I was hoping for I was very happy to end the series on a positive note, and that the series got great feedback and looks like it will be back next year bigger and better.