By Ben, photos provided by Chris Diltz
|The weather forecast..
Top one has windchill in blue (f)
Bottom is windspeed and gusts (mph)
The tour. There is nothing quite like waking up at 7am on a Sunday, realizing it is 3 degrees out with 30mph winds coming out of the northwest, and getting dressed to do a bike race. I had trouble coming to terms with the forecast, so I sat in front of the computer in my union suit, the red, one piece, button up long underwear with the flap in the back, to double check the weather. Yup, clear and cold with a –30 degree wind chill. Accuweather.com had a severe weather warning, calling it “dangerously cold”. I decided to check the Tour thread on the Chicago bike forums and see what people were saying. Someone posted a warning about doing heavy cardio workouts in that kind of cold. According to them, you can frostbite your lungs from breathing in so much cold air. Interesting. So I finished my cereal and cup of coffee and continued to get dressed. Being a messenger helps you know how to find the balance between dressing so you don’t freeze your ass off and still being mobile enough to ride a bike, so at least I felt like this was something I could do.
I’m out the door and into the frigid February air to ride to registration. My first couple of breaths hurt, and there was a dull ache in my head, sort of like when you drink a milkshake too fast and get an ice cream headache. I got to Stan’s place expecting to see only a few other bikes. I was really surprised to see over 50 locked up in front of his apartment. I ran inside, paid my 5 bucks, and got ready for the race.
The format of the race was really interesting. There were four rounds and a sprint final. In each round, the field was cut in half, and then the last four racers would have a one-lap sprint around the inner drive of Humbolt Park.
So 51 racers lined up in front of Stan’s place at Haddon and California to start the first round. The checkpoint was at 701 S. Dearborn. Only the first 27 of us to finish would move on to the next round. Molly and I lined up together near Mike Morrell. I remember someone making a comment about how Mike didn’t have goggles.
“Nah, I don’t need ‘em.” was Mike’s response.
I had two goals for this stage. One was to help Molly out, and the other was to beat Mike. We had raced fairly close in both of the other stages, but he had beaten me both times. The race started, and everyone took off in two directions. About two thirds of the racers went down Division to Milwaukee, and then into the Loop. The group that Mike, Molly, and I were in took off down California to Grand, and then into the Loop. We started to split up on Grand, and I lost Molly along the way. When we got to Grand and Milwaukee, it seemed that we had made a tactical error. The group that took Division had made better time, and the lead group of our pack was a little ways back from the leaders of the Division group. Everyone broke up once we hit the Loop, so it was hard to tell where you stood. I could see a lot of racers who had already turned around as I approached the checkpoint. Josh Korby signed my card and told me that I was in the twenties. Mike Morell had already left the checkpoint, and I could see Molly coming down the street in a big group. None of them were going to make the cut unless they gained a lot of ground on the way back. I thought about waiting for my teammate, and trying to help her make the cut, but I was on the bubble myself. If I had waited, I’m sure we both would have gotten cut.
I headed back into the Loop by myself. Somehow I had gotten separated from everyone else. It would be a long, cold, and lonely ride back to Humbolt Park. The first time took a turn heading west, the wind literally stopped me. It took all of my strength to turn the cranks and start moving into the 30mph headwind. I made it almost all the way back to Stan’s before I caught up to any other racers. I tried to draft the first guy that I caught, but he was gassed, and was only going about 10mph. So I passed him up and tried to bridge to a group of three. I made it, and found that Nate K , who is a couple points behind me in the messenger ranking, was in the group. As soon as Nate saw me, he tried to take off, because we were only about a half a mile from the finish. I sprinted forward and grabbed his wheel. We pulled ahead of the other two racers, and played cat and mouse all the way to the finish line. About a block away, I made my move and sprinted as hard as I could toward the line. Nate followed, but he wasn’t able to catch me. It must have looked really strange, because we must have been doing less than 20mph because of the headwind, but we were out of the saddle and going as hard as we could.
We both made the cut, but barely. I handed off my business card manifest at the finish line, and put my head down on my bars, because I was seeing stars and could hardly breath. I looked up to see Mike Morell (left), and he looked really scary. His eyelashes were covered in ice.
Someone asked him “Hey Mike, Can you blink?”
“I think so.”
We had five minutes to rest before the next round started. Everyone on the Cuttin’ Crew had made the cut but Molly. She came in a few minutes after I did. The next round was shorter than the first, to Mojo’s Coffee shop at 2256 W. Roscoe. Thankfully, everyone took off pretty slowly down Division in a big group. It continued this way up Western Ave. Finally, when we reached Logan, Al Urbanski made a move. He cut off east to Diversey, and took it to Damen. Most of the contenders went with him. I followed along with Nico, and about 10 others. This seemed like kind of a dumb way to get to the second checkpoint, but we were committed at this point. We reached the checkpoint in a big group, and I knew that only the top 13 would move on to the next round. I was happy to see that Jerry Moleman was the checkpoint worker. Jerry was the first friend I made when I came to Chicago to be a messenger. So I held my manifest out, and yelled “Hey Jerry!”
He looked up grabbed my card, signed it, and I was off, which gave me a little bit of an advantage. I turned around, and made the ride back to Stan’s. The pack had split up into several smaller groups. I made a break from the group that I was in about two blocks from the finish, and once again barely made the cut. Nate, Al (left) and Mike Morell didn’t make it, so this would move me up in the messenger ranking.
The third round was shorter again, to coffee shop at 1001 W. North Ave. Once again we took it slow at first down Division Street. I positioned myself, along with a couple other guys on the Crew right behind Nico. Everything was fine untill we got to the crazy intersections at Division, Milwaukee, and Ashland. Any savvy alleycat racer in Chicago knows that you have to make a move at that intersection in a race. I stuck to Nico’s wheel as he weaved through the traffic and made it without incident. But I wasn’t prepared for what Nico would do next. As we came into the underpass for the Edens Expressway, Nico suddenly made a left onto the entrance ramp. Four of us went with him, and I heard the guy behind me yell “Are you fucking serious!? The fucking Expressway!!?”
So we all bunched up into a tight paceline, and rode close to the retaining wall on the right side. Since it was early on a Sunday morning, all of the cars were going full speed, passing us at about 80mph. It had been a hell of a morning already, and now I found myself choking on exhaust fumes in the cold air and fearing for my life on my bike on the Edens. Thankfully, we got off at the North Ave. exit and headed east toward the checkpoint. Our move hadn’t saved us any time, and I could see some racers coming back on North who had already made the checkpoint. Nico was in and out of the checkpoint, and tearing back to Humbolt Park against a furious wind. I knew that we would have to pass people to make the cut, but I didn’t have anything left at this point. I watched Nico get smaller and smaller as we rode west. I limped back to Stan’s, frozen, exhausted, and beaten. I wouldn’t make it past the third round.
I watched the fourth round from the warmth and comfort of Stan’s third floor apartment while drinking coffee. My feet were numb, and the rest of my body felt exhausted and kind of weird from working so hard in the cold. I looked out the window and watched Nico, Brean, Jeff, Adam, Andrew, Avi, and Ted start the next round while picking ice out of my beard. I reflected on the morning so far. I had fun racing, but was kind of glad to have gotten cut, and to be in the warmth and comfort of the apartment. After about 15 minutes, someone looking out another window yelled, “Here they come!”
We watched out the window, and could see Ted, Andrew, Jeff, and lastly Avi coming up California from the south. Since only four would make the cut, this looked like it would be the last round. But then someone spotted Nico coming from the other direction. The racers all saw each other, and started sprinting towards Val Bostrom (right), who was collecting the cards for the finish. The first three made it easily, but Avi and Nico both converged on Val from different directions at almost the same time. Nico held out his card, but overshot Val, and Ended up smacking Avi in the face. Avi actually got his card into Val’s hand first, so it looked like the Orange Jersey wearing Nico would be eliminated before the final round. An argument ensued, gloves and index cards were thrown to the ground, and it looked like it might be an ugly end to the day. But Mike Morell, who is the tour organizer and a consummate gentleman, declared it a draw, and decided that five racers would be in the final sprint.
The racers got a little break before the next round. Andrew and Jeff were our only hope for taking the stage win, as everyone else on the crew had been eliminated. Andrew came upstairs and sat on the couch. He didn’t look too good, so the Cuttin’ Crew converged on him and started to rub him down. Molly took one leg, and Al took the other. I started rubbing his shoulders. After a ten minute break, everyone headed back outside for the final round; a one lap sprint around the inner drive of Humboldt Park. The five finalists lined up, and then took off slowly. There was a lot of strategy for the sprint. No one wanted to be the first to take off and get burned out. About 40 people waited at the finish, and people started to get impatient. We imagined all five finalists track-standing at the other end of the park, waiting for someone to go. Finally someone said “there they are!”
We saw Nico first, and he had about a 150 meter lead on everyone else. It looked like he would easily run away with the stage win. Out of nowhere though, Jeff started to accelerate out of the distant pack. He whipped to the outside of the inner drive, and started to make up ground on Nico. Everyone started screaming as Nico and Jeff got within 100 meters of the finish. They were both out of the saddle and sprinting as hard as they could into the headwind. Even in the three degree winter air, the scene was electric as Jeff passed Nico a few bike lengths from the line to take the win. Everyone watching was yelling and screaming the whole way.
Over the last couple of weeks, despite the cold weather, the Rooster has been pretty hot.