By Cathy O. Frampton
It all starts with heading down to JustIce to pick up CWEC’s mechanic for the week-end, Bobby Kauffman. While Bobby collects his tools and other equipment, JustIce’s very own ice-master, Rosanna Lloyd, gave me a tour of their ice palace… tres cool – literally and figuratively. I have a much greater appreciation for the ice in my cocktail after seeing the effort to do it crystal-clear right. Think about it… you don’t want to be cloudy, do you? JustIce…
Bobby and I head to Bolingbrook to collect Jeanne Kuhajek. It will be Jeanne’s debut as a CWEC guest rider and her final race series before returning home to New Zealand. Jeanne, a Crystal Lake native, spends the bulk of her year living and racing in New Zealand and then returns to the US during the summer to race. She’s one of the few Chicagoland racers that has bust into the professional ranks. Her willingness to race with CWEC fits with the development nature of the organization, allowing Jeanne to mentor the other riders as she shares her experience.
The car now bursting with bikes, tents, and wheels heads south to St. Louis. It is a gorgeous day. The 1st race of the 4 race series is a twilight – ok, nighttime – race, Tour de Lafayette, a four-corner left turns only crit, wide roads, smooth payment, and not much elevation change.
The team starts to gather at the Tenspeed Hero tent we set up along the finishing straight. Sarah Szefi and Christine Thornburg, both from PSIMET, arrive. Christine is a newly upgraded cat 2 and will be racing her first NCC race. With the CWEC mission to develop riders to compete effectively as a team in Pro-level races, adding Christine to the roster at this time is another great example of CWEC achieving their mission. Cuttin’ Crew’s Jannette Rho rounds out the CWEC Gateway squad. With race time approaching, the riders return from registration to pin on their race numbers and determine their race plan. With the impending darkness, the vibe changes a bit and the common knowledge is that for most of tonight’s team, they have not raced in the dark before. Pepper Palace’s Julie Kuliecza, who led the CWEC racing tactics clinic before the Glencoe Grand Prix, stops by and upon hearing that the team hasn’t raced in the dark before, with the spotlights on the corners, proceeds to recount how the shadows can freak you out and how she overcomes that phenomenon. It has a calming effect on the riders – you can see it – like they have a better idea what to expect. That is the value of CWEC – building relationships with the pro-riders so they can bestow their mini-tips. And so the race went on. UHC drilled it at the front for most of the race. It was a pattern that would become common place as the week-end unfolded. Colavita chased. The other teams appeared to settle in – until the final lap. I didn’t see the finish line. I was at turn 4 and saw the Pepper Palace train come on the inside of UHC with ISCorp pulling up, too. In the end, it was Optum’s Leah Kirchmann on the top step, Lauren Tamayo of UHC and Sam Schneider (ISCorp) in 3rd. Tina Pic from Pepper Palace finished 4th – a spot that heated her up inside for the competition tomorrow.
Tour de Francis Park was another 4-corner crit, all left turns. The team tent was again alongside the race course near the finish line. Plenty of traffic from interested fans. Bobby was diligent in making sure the bikes were clean and operational. The team stuck together again today, heading to registration, warming up and putting together the race strategy – be daring! They head to the staging area – call-ups begin… SARAH SZEFI is the 1st person called up at this NCC RACE!!! Say what?! Yup – front row, center. Dare to stay there and hold that spot, Sarah! Sarah raced in Missouri earlier in the year and with some significant results, was one of the top 5 in the Missouri series – it pays to travel (wink, wink, fellow Chicagoans, for the years to come!) The race unfolded much like the evening before with UHC attempting to control the pace. JRho made a go at a prime which almost converted into a break-away – but didn’t. Heroic effort to put it out there – daring! Janette later said, “I didn't realize how uncomfortable I was the first night (in the dark) until the next day's race where I felt like I was actually racing again. The next two days, I channeled the gains I had made earlier this year and felt pretty good moving around, holding position.” That she did. Post-race a few fans expressed interest in the team gear, that is, THE WHEELS, the PSIMET Wheels. The riders provided insight into how awesome they are.
That evening at one of the Host Houses, we enjoyed a yummy pizza dinner and introduced Jeanne to a classic, Breaking Away – or at least the start of it. Bed was calling. With two hard races under their belts and two more to go, we would have to wait to see how our hero would do in his race against the Italians.
Which was quite apropos since the next day’s race was the Giro Della Montagna. With the narrow sidewalks in “The Hill” area of St. Louis, we set up camp just off the race course. The quiet – and shaded – location was a welcome change to the boisterous location of the last couple days. The heat was oppressive. Jerseys were dipped in ice water, multiple ice socks were tucked into each jersey, and as much ice as could fit was shoved into the jersey pockets. You would think it would weight them down? Maybe – if it wouldn’t have melted so fast! Today’s race strategy was to put a mark on the race. Not only was this an NCC race like the two before, but it was also the USACRIT Series Championship. DNA Cycling’s Tiffany Pezzoula was planning on retaining her top spot, but a tough Sam Schneider would do all she could to unseat her. Sam had the momentum having yesterday finished 1st with her younger sister and teammate, Skylar, finishing 2nd. (Oh - and Tina Pic who finished 4th the 1st night – she rounded out the podium in 3rd). The Giro was another 4-corner, left-turn crit – but it was not like the previous two races. The finishing stretch and opposing leg were long – very long. And hilly (hence the name!) – both sides, between their corners, starting with a downhill stretch, followed by an equally long uphill stretch. It would mean a very fast finish! So the race starts. Guess what? Yup, UHC at the front. Approaching the finish line, the race would be strung out going at unbelievable rates of speed, but by the 3rd corner on the backside, the riders would be back together, bunching up as they crest the hill. This went on, lap after lap. You could see the heat wearing on the racers. A few started popping off the back, but all CWEC were still in it. With the surges and the heat, I was resolved to survival as “good enough” – but that was when Jeanne reminded me that “good enough” is NOT good enough – if you dig deep enough, you will create an opportunity for you to dig even a bit deeper and find that nugget of awesomeness that you have been nurturing! With about 4 laps to go, I am at turn 4 looking up the road, see the image of 1 rider well ahead of the pack coming at me – and it’s a blue jersey… there’s only 1 team in the race with a blue jersey! Go Jeanne Go! She rips through turn 4 and hurtles down the hill to collect her prime! Behind her, her speed put some of the pro-riders on edge – and unfortunately over the edge as a few slid out. All CWEC were clear. How phenomenal is that?! A prime in the final laps of an NCC/USACrits race!
That night, the team watched the conclusion of Breaking Away – got a rendition of Cups from one talented Sarah – and hit the sack for the final week-end’s race at Benton Park.
Benton Park was NOT a 4-corner left-hand crit. It was an hour-glass shaped race that many compared to the now-defunct (oh, please, do bring it back again!) Downers Grove race in Illinois. Some uphill on the first half and downhill on the back section. The tent was again setup away from the edge of the course. Bobby did his phenomenal job of ensuring the team had the basics to make sure they could focus on their race. We arrived early enough so we could watch the women’s ¾ race. Yesterday, the Chicago women were instrumental in managing the race pace – Sue Wellinghoff (XXX) – and Jenny Kosatka for pulling back a solo break so she could contend for the podium. Jenny finished 4th after a long sprint that did catch and pass the lead racer before the finish line. So today, I was anxious to see what would come of that near miss – would she “pull a Tina Pic”? As the race unfolded, like yesterday, Jenny and her BFF Bikes’ teammate Annie Byrne, were riding well – together. It was obvious to see how they were assisting each other, conserving energy, moving up the pack. I was at the 1st turn on the last lap of the race. Who is leading out the pack? Annie Byrne!!! With the pack strung out behind her and Jenny tucked in comfortably, it was a beautiful sight to see! I didn’t make it down to see the finish, so I had to hear the recount of that last lap from the riders themselves – as we waited for JENNY’s 1st PLACE PODIUM!!! After Annie controlled the race and gave Jenny premium opportunity to conserve energy, Jenny then attacked, solo, and stayed away in the final corners for the win! Jenny, Annie, and BFF Bikes and team have been fantastic supporters of CWEC throughout the season, Jenny having attended ALL of the clinics. It was great to see such a win for them.
The CWEC women were up next. 3 days of hard NCC/USACrits racing in the darkness and heat had taken their toll. It was a hard day of racing. UHC pushed the pace hard and almost swept the podium but for a well-timed bike throw from Sam Schneider. The riders swapped out their kits for more comfortable clothes and hung out with a few of the pros before heading back to Chicago. Reflecting back on her experience, Christine said, “The team camaraderie was really fun, and it was great having teammates to race with and I like the pre-race conference. The support from you and Bobby was amazing! It's so nice having a tent and chairs set up, someone to take care of your bike for you - you can just relax and focus on the pre-race rituals and getting mentally prepared. I have some good takeaways on what to work on for next season: being more aggressive, taking more chances, not worrying about getting dropped, positioning and confidence.”
That’s it, that’s what CWEC is all about, Christine – develop the skills and ability to race, as a team, amongst the Pros. Let’s all take away what we have learned and work on it for next season.