Tag: Gapers Block

Spidermonkey of the Week – Lauren Wissman

by Lauren Wissman


A year ago I was riding my bike to get to-from class and to pick up dried mango at Trader Joes.  I don’t think that’s called anything besides some frump who rides her bike to get groceries.  Now I’m a commuter and I guess an amateur cyclist. BAM.  Funny what cleats, some carbon, and a bike posse can turn you in to.

Don't get in my way

Don’t get in my way

I’ve always had an obsession with all things sports related.  Growing up I didn’t have cable or X-Box and barely listened to music (before I discovered Simon & Garfunkel around age 10). Most all of my time was spent outside or participating in some athletically driven endeavor: learned to ski at 3, then figure skating, softball, and volleyball, until I started playing basketball and soccer competitively.


X-mas lists included rollerblades, footballs, Tracy McGrady TMAC 6s (which I never got and still want), and giant dog stuffed animals.  I did get a bike for x-mas one year (this is where my saga becomes relevant). There was probably 8-10 in. of snow and the roads were covered.  I remember having to be stealthy getting out of the house.  At the time, my left humerus was still healing from a recent fracture after hitting a plank of wood off a golf cart path jump on a plastic snowboard.

A soccer career/broken leg/torn ligament/onset ankle arthritis later, I was advised to find a different sport.  It was winter 2012.  Thought!!!! Cycling!!! Group rides!! Outdoors! Chicago… So after some extensive googling I found PWP and emailed Kristen to ask if I could get involved.  I did.  I liked it; mostly because I’m ok with self-inflicted physical suffering (the fun kind), but also because there were Christmas lights and RAD jams and I was sandwiched between KMesh and Kelly ‘the masher’ Clarke.  I went to a team event (which involved beer no way) and before I knew it I had signed up for the Gapers Block crits as an almost-monkey.  And there you have it.


Although I’m pleased with the results I’ve gotten this past race season, being adopted by Spidermonkey and having the opportunity to meet so many impressive and positively awesome people in the cycling community has really been the highlight of my intro to the sport.  Nine months ago I barely knew any of you; or the difference between clinchers and tubulars, a criterium and cyclocross, SRAM vs. Shimano; and I won’t pretend like I have it figured out now.  Cycling went from 10% of my life to 80%, 98% on weekends.  And I’m 120% happy about it.  Sunday I spent 8 hours in the snow watching grown men ride around/through/over sledding children for a chance to win Lagunitas and a Pepper Palace variety pack; “you’re one stop shop for hot sauce, BBQ sauce, salsa, pickled items, jellies and jams, beef jerky, and more!”  And it wasn’t strange to me at all.




I tell the friends I have left who aren’t cycle-crazy about our team and tomfoolery.  My parents now ride regularly (Carole just got a Cannondale Synapse roadie and my dad wants to commandeer my CX bike so he can start racing), my aunt is hopping back on a bike for the first time since she was a kid, and I get updates when friends complete big rides, get their first pair of bike shoes or see a Spidermonkey riding on the street…if you hear a CAW CAAAW from an unknown source, carry on.  This thing we do is contagious and I’m truly honored to be a part of it, especially with SM.  So officially, I want to say, YOU GUYS ARE GREAT AND I LIKE YOU A LOT A LOT.


Spidermonkey of the Week – Katie Kolon

Lincoln Park Crit Photo by Burnham Racing

Lincoln Park Crit
Photo by Burnham Racing

by Katie Kolon

I grew up riding bikes for a number of reasons. I grew up in a tiny rural town in Southwest Michigan, so there was an abundance of nice roads with little traffic and beautiful scenery. One of my main influences has been my dad, who has always biked a lot: taking week-long tours every summer that I’ve known him, riding 50-100 miles to commute to conferences, and riding long distances regularly with his friends. Growing up, he and I would bike 10 miles to the next town over to get ice cream and then bike back. I also used my bike as a mode of transportation to my friends’ houses in the country so I wouldn’t need a ride—ah, the independence!

I completed my first organized distance ride when I was around 15. I remember the part where my friend and I missed a turn and ended up riding much more than the 35 miles we signed up for. Despite the early start, I have yet to ride a century (though I’ve signed up for two, both of which were thwarted by unforeseen events).

My dad and me on the left on a 4-H Bike ride

My dad and me on the left on a 4-H Bike ride

Group photo of another 4-H Bike ride

Group photo of another 4-H Bike ride

I continued riding my bike while in college, but mostly as a means of transportation, though I would occasionally venture out into the country for a ride. Once I went mountain biking on a winter day with a friend and found delight in bombing down a slippery snow-covered hill. (I have since rekindled this flame some 15 years later with the Barry-Roubaix, see below)

I commuted by bike over the years in California, Washington DC, Florida, New Jersey, NYC, and Illinois as, over time, it became less of an oddity in the eyes of the public. I moved back to the Midwest, to Chicago specifically in 2010, and commuted to the loop from Rogers Park a couple times a week. I met a lot of people through the social biking scene such as critical mass, midnight marauders, tweed rides, and neighborhood bike tours.

Halloween Midnight Marauders, I’m a jellyfish

Halloween Midnight Marauders, I’m a jellyfish

I also got involved with West Town Bikes, where I built my commuter bike (including building the wheels), which is pictured below. I currently volunteer there helping to organize and promote the weekly Wednesday night Women and Trans Open Shop from 7pm-10pm.

Ladies, come work on your bike with the guidance of experienced women bike mechanics!

See how much she holds!

See how much she holds!

At the end of 2010, I was already thinking of trying road racing but didn’t know where to start. I just knew I needed to ride more and that I liked going fast. I went to the Afterglow and thought, “I want to do that.” So next year, I did. I raced in 6 cyclocross races after buying my Fuji Cross Comp, finishing with the Afterglow. It was tough. I liked the technical aspect, but I was not very strong and I didn’t have a team to support me so finding a team became my next goal.

I started riding with the Spidermonkeys on the “girls” rides in May 2012. I still remember the exhilaration I felt the first time I pulled on the pace line and the first time I hit 25 mph on a flat. Throughout the summer I became stronger and waited with anticipation for cross season to see how I had improved. I did the relay cross and the first race in Jackson Park and then life happened and I stopped riding my bike.

This is me after the Jackson Park race sitting next to the main reason I didn’t race after that. His name is Remy.

This is me after the Jackson Park race sitting next to the main reason I didn’t race after that. His name is Remy.

I started doing the winter “girls” rides and Vision Quest in preparation for my new goal: complete the Barry Roubaix. As I had done zero outdoor riding over the winter prior to the Barry this year, I had no idea how in shape I was going to feel once I got on the road. I did not treat the Barry as a race, but I pushed myself to ride hard and stay warm.  I stopped to take a few pictures and spent some time riding with my dad. I was surprised with how strong I felt and I loved the thrill of riding on ice and gravel. Towards the end of the ride I was getting pretty worn down so I made a promise to myself that I would not walk up a single hill. This required gaining as much speed going down the icy declines as I could. I was speeding down one long hill towards the end when I saw a giant pothole in my path. I knew I couldn’t maneuver around it because the road was too slick and there were potholes on all sides. I told myself the only thing to do is bunny hop it. And I did! At least, I think I did. My thoughts weren’t all that clear by the end of the race. Another highlight was when two guys riding fat bikes, one ladened with growlers attached to his forks passed me going up a hill and one said to me, “I’m coming up on you like a Spidermonkey, Chip!” We laughed and talked for a while until I left them behind on the descents. They informed me the beer wasn’t working as well as they had planned.

[Picture of the road conditions at the Barry-Roubaix]

Picture of the road conditions at the Barry-Roubaix

Me after completing the Barry-Roubaix

Me after completing the Barry-Roubaix

After completing the Barry, I returned to Chicago and rode my first criterium at Gapers Block. I was very nervous and my goal was to hold on as long as I could. I was certain I would be lapped. Turns out, I finished mid-pack. I couldn’t get enough of cornering and riding fast in the pack. I immediately got off my bike and professed I’m over cross racing and only want to do crits. I had discovered a new love. I raced all four days of Gapers Block and got my best place on the last day when I was the most tired. I think I must have learned something about conserving energy. I have since raced the Spring Super Crit (where I got dropped due to a derailleur malfunction), Lincoln Park (I could do hairpin turns all day!), and Cobb Park (won my first prime!). I am looking forward to more crits and I plan on giving cross another try as well. But mostly I’m happy to have friendly people to ride with.

Lincoln Park Crit Photo by Burnham Racing

Lincoln Park Crit
Photo by Burnham Racing

Joining the Spidermonkeys has made all the difference in my training. I am so lucky to have such an inclusive encouraging bunch of people to push me towards my goals and offer a 312 at the end. I appreciate and respect the diversity of interests represented in the group—that some race, some will never race, and some do triathlons or have other fitness goals—and could not picture myself with any other team.

Spidermonkey of the Week – Michelle Moore


by Michelle Moore

I grew up playing soccer from the age of 5 through high school. Naturally, that makes me a runner…right? If I needed more proof, it would be that my college days allowed me to play soccer for fun; then I moved to Chicago in 2000…found a soccer team and got involved again. Around the same time, I decided to take up running 5k and 10ks. In 2001, I made the leap from 10ks to my first marathon…see I AM a runner! Training for the Chicago Marathon was a much more daunting experience than I had anticipated. And, after my experience in 2001 (then twice in 2007 and 2009), I decided that marathons are for crazy people (sorry Vanessa).

I watched a friend compete in the Chicago Triathlon in 2002, and told myself “now this is something I can get behind.” So, in 2003 I decided it was time to try a new sport. I never really “learned” how to swim. I mean, if you call your mom dropping you in the pool and saying “swim to me” while you can clearly see her backing up because your eyes are wide open under water – then I guess I “learned.” But, I’m not a swimmer. Biking was also not my strong suit. See, I even called it “biking” at one point. My first bike (a Trek 7100 hybrid) was what I used for the triathlon for three straight years – yep, even put aero bars on that bad boy because I thought it would “help” me go faster. Not sure if it was the machine or the engine at fault there…likely both. I told myself that all I had to do was get through the first two legs of the race, and then I’d be running. Something I was comfortable with! Hmm, not so much. Wow, running after swimming and biking sure was a LOT harder than I thought. What keeps me going 99% of the time is the DetermiNation program through the American Cancer Society. While I work on the program as my real job, I’ve been running and fundraising to fight cancer since 2005. It makes all the training and racing that much more worth it.

It wasn’t until 2010 that I attempted my first group ride. Having Mark in my life, who is very much immersed into the cycling world, I figured it was inevitable that someday I’d give it a whirl. And, all my triathlete friends kept telling me how much group riding would help me. So I went on my first group ride in September 2010, and to say I was scared was an understatement. I stayed at the back as I was told to do, and I was totally alone back there. A little while after the ride started a guy rode up next to me, who was kind enough to talk to me most of the way up to Highland Park – which was nice because it took my mind off the fear I had of being within inches of someone’s rear wheel. I later learned that this guy’s name was “Castro.” At some point along the way the pace increased and somehow I found myself in the middle of the pack, next to the curb. I hated it and loved it at the same time. I was terrified of being next to the curb because I all I could think about was hitting a pothole and crashing. Nevertheless, I made it to the coffee shop, and back home…and thought my legs were going to fall off. But, I was hooked! Enough to try a few more before the season ended.

Gaper’s Block Half Acre Crits!

The next summer Vanessa and Dean came to a party I hosted, and Vanessa and I spent a lot of time talking about the girl’s rides. I finally joined the ladies in the middle of August. I got dropped like third period French the first few times, but the one time I stayed with the group to Tower Road, I knew I was hooked. Unfortunately, I joined the rides too late in the year, because I only made it to four or five before they were over. I also spent more time understanding the larger group rides, and trying to stay with the group the entire way to Highland Park. I very quickly learned that if I start at the back of the group, I’ll end up alone on that sprint up to Tower Road.

It wasn’t until the chili cook off in November 2011 when Vanessa and Dean asked me if I wanted to join the team. I had joined so many group rides that I already felt like part of it, so I figured why not make it official.
2012 was a year of firsts for me. I decided to try racing crits. My first was Gapers Block, and I was terrified. A few ladies from the team (Kristi Hanson, Kelly Clarke, Katie Iserman, Sarah Rice – and I know I’m forgetting a few – sorry!) as well as Mark Z and Drew took us all on a ride down to the site of where Gapers is held. We spent some time riding the course, practicing corners, sprints, etc. The knowledge and experience on this team is remarkable. I knew I had a lot to learn, but being with this group that day made me realize how lucky I was to have found a team that is willing to take an entire Sunday to “train” me for my very first race. I’ve watched crits thinking those people are crazy, but then when I actually raced at the end of March, I was blown away. Literally. Blown off the back of the pack and finished alone on day one. But, as I was taught, I got back on my bike for day two. Much better. Bike racing is quite fun, and easier, when you can stay with the pack. I finished somewhere in the middle, and came back for my third and final day. Again, I finished mid pack. Not too shabby for a first timer.

Lawrence, KS!

It was enough to make me sign up for the Lincoln Park Crit the next month, where things didn’t go well. I crashed, took out another girl, but was able to get back on my bike and finish. I was pissed, hurt and scared to ride close to anyone again. So I stayed off my bike for the next month. But then I had heard about the Tour of Lawrence, and having gone to school there, I wanted to join that trip. So, I trained, and caravanned to my alma mater where we all had an excellent time, albeit the insanely hot temps…and Hayes getting wasted alone in the hotel “pool.”

This year has been completely amazing for me as a cyclist. I still run and take part in triathlons; I even coach running and triathlon programs through Chicago Endurance Sports. Triathlon will always be a part of me, and in turn, so will running. I have had the opportunity to meet two of the greatest icons in the triathlon world at some of the races I’ve competed in (Chrissy Wellington and Craig Alexander).

Chrissy Wellington!

Craig Alexander!

Being a Spidermonkey has given me the confidence and motivation to get on my bike 3-4 days a week and push myself harder. I found myself on so many group rides (and many more girls rides, heck even a few Wednesday night rides) this year that some of my training partners were upset I wasn’t attending Tuesday morning spin class. Being on the road with the girls for two hours is WAY better than a 60 min spin class. I was able to knock out my fastest 5k time ever, and I owe that to my group training with this team. I even had the best triathlon to-date (well the bike portion anyway) – again, due to being a Spidermonkey.

Yes, Spidermonkeys Rock!

Every time I put on my Spidermonkey kit, I feel a sense of pride. I see the way other groups acknowledge us when were out on the road, and how well respected every member of the team is. I even wore my kit to spin class one day and all my tri friends were like “oh is that your cycling team?” I smiled and said, “yes, yes it is.”

Ps. To this day, I still fear those little curbs a bit so it’s best if you just let me ride on the outside of the pack. :-)

My First Criteriums: Gaper’s Block and Burnham Spring Super Crit 2012

Pete Monko chasing a break!Pete Monko chasing a break!
Photo Credit: J. Tati

by Eric Landahl

I’m very experienced racing in a fast-moving pack, drafting with centimeter gaps, and taking and giving a bit of “accidental” contact. I take pride in my superior cornering ability, exquisite positioning, taking the perfect line (even when unable to see far ahead), and I still have a killer final sprint.

Until last week, I had only experienced this in open water swimming. It’s all just fun and games in the water—as soon as you master the fear of drowning, of course.

Watching the first men’s heat at Gapers Block on Monday I felt a little sick. Pavement is hard, and I fear crashing. I took a little comfort from Kinky Llama’s Becky Welbes who also was about to start her first crit, and admitted she felt squeamish as well. So I lined up in the back, swung wide at the first corner, and found myself in an all-out sprint to catch back up with the pack.

Following my first cyclocross race last Fall, I had spent some time reviewing cornering. I knew that the tangent of my lean angle should be proportional to the square of my speed and inversely proportional to the radius of the turn (Wilson, “Bicycling Science 3rd edition”, MIT Press 2004). The turns seemed really tight, and we were going really fast, so I was pressing as hard as I could on my outside pedal and leaning in as hard as possible. It really upset my physical intuition that the guys next to me were taking the corners tighter and faster and not leaning in as much. I was convinced they were going to spin out and hit me. After about a dozen corners, I could no longer sprint back up to the pack, and I ended up working with a few other guys who had also been dropped to finish the race. At least there was a great Spidermonkey cheering section!

Fast racers coming around the corner at Calumet Park.
Photo Credit: Nathan Schneeberger

Back to the chalkboard: I read up on counter-steering, and brought in some consultants. Having Sarah Rice and Katie Isermann in your crew during your second practice crit is kind of like having Michael Jordan and LeBron James show up to watch your middle school basketball tryout. My cornering was a bit better, and I stayed with the pack for about half of the race. After getting dropped I worked with teammate Hayes for a while, and then Mike from Half-Acre who told me to learn by following his line around the corners. That really helped. By my third race on Wednesday, I was able to stay with the pack the whole time. Although my consultants were yelling at me to “move up” I was still scared of crashing, and I finished at the back. I took Thursday off from racing and instead watched the Spidermonkey women maneuver themselves into a good position for the final laps of their race, and I resolved to do the same Saturday at the Burnham SSC.

My goal for SSC was simple: stay near the front and be ready to chase down any attack. Brandon talked to me just before the race, pointing out to me and teammate Ben that several of the other teams were quite large and could afford to have several riders block back during attacks, so staying near the front was critical. I tried to spend most of my time one or two rows back, sitting on the steadiest wheel I could find. It’s true, it’s actually less scary in front! With increasing confidence, I would yell every time somebody would make a move, and then hop on the wheel of the first chaser. As a result I was in great position coming into the last half of the course: I hadn’t been in front for almost half a lap, but was sitting just about three back when the leaders surged forward. Unfortunately for me a lot of those guys are really strong, and they rode me off their wheels; I had to rely on my endurance to keep pushing all the way to the end where I finished 13th.

I’m not sure when I’ll race again, but I know that I am now a better and more confident cyclist because of the experience. Lesson learned: it’s all just fun and games on the road—as soon as you master the fear of crashing, of course.


Sarah Rice on the attack with Kelly Clarke close behind.
Photo Credit: J. Tati

Some additional comments and/or words of wisdom:

Anna L. – “I think my story about snot rockets and XXX racers is pretty funny, but also kind of embarrassing. Leave it to me to be the person who blew a snot rocket that apparently landed on someone! I still feel like her yelling at me made me lose my concentration and I got dropped right after. :-(“

Kelly C. – “Last year I did all 5 days, and I was dropped right away and rode by myself each day. This year, after actually considering training during winter, I was able to stay with the peloton each day I raced. Physically, it’s a lot less tiring, even though you’re going faster. And it’s much more fun! Last year, going into corners with people was really scary, so I just didn’t do it. It’s still scary, but I have a lot more confidence. And when you nail a good corner, it feels awesome to come sprinting out of it! It was great to race with so many women this year, too. We had record fields with 30+ racers each night.”

Spidermonkey Official Participant List:
Kelly Clarke
Kristi Hanson
Eric Landhal
Anna Loosli
Michelle Moore
Pete Monko
Hayes Sanborn
Sarah Rice

Notable Results: Sarah Rice won the Women’s Cat 3 race three out of the four nights, and came in second on the only night she didn’t win.

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