National Championships at Downers Grove 8/19-8/20

This past weekend Vic, Karim and I participated in the nationals at Downers.  For me, this was a first time experience.  One word summation – Wow.  An incredible event put on in perfect fashion in a beautiful suburb of Chicago.  And the weather?  Equally perfect.  Big crowds, festive atmosphere, real barricades along the whole start/finish stretch – big time event, for sure.

Vic and I started the weekend with schedule racing on Saturday, he in the Pro-Am Cat 1/2 event, I in the Masters 30+, 40+ Cat 1/2/3.  My race had 135+ riders and was silly fast – the HRM clocked an average of 27.9 mph.  I’m glad the race was just 40 mins in length.  I had a good starting position and was able to maintain a top 10 position throughout most of the race.  Although it was easy to lose 20-30 places in a turn, I found it could be made up as easily in the turns and straights.  With 2 laps to go, I found myself lying in 3rd as we crossed the line (surprising my teammates for some reason!).  Alas, I was unable to hold that position as we continued and on the last lap I was gapped from the front 20 due to a crash that diverted my attention, but should not have slowed me down.  I crossed the finish in 26th place – I’ll take it for my debut Downers event.  Vic’s Pro-Am event?  I didn’t stick around for the finish (and neither did he), but I saw enough to know that it was used by many pros as a tuner for the next days national championship event and it was ridiculously fast.

Sunday brought the Cat 2 Challenge for Vic & I, and the Elite National Amateur Championship event for Karim.  The Cat 2 race was first in order for the day and had 100+ riders.  We had good starting positions and maintained this throughout the first half of the event, but our concerns of tired legs in the warm up came true as we faded toward the end.  A clean (no crashes), fast race that came to a bunch sprint with I in 40th and Vic in 60th.  My objectives were met – stay upright, finish, and have a good time.  Next year will be different.

The elite mens amateur event had a huge field of 180 riders.  A call up of past winners and former pros prior to the start had me more nervous then my teammate who was in the race.  Man, this thing was going to be sick fast and long (80KM).  Karim had a good start position, considering the numbers, and rode conservatively during the first half of the race, checking out the competition’s back 90 riders.  Some fortuitous crashes and veteran nerve saw him quickly move up into top 25 during the 2nd half of the race.  I had a chance to walk the entire course during the event and was literally blown away by the field going by.  The amount of turbulence that 180 riders going by at 30+ mph UPHILL is amazing.  With 8 laps to go, six Team Bianchi/Grandperformance riders went miraculously from tail-gunning the entire race to lead out train, ramping the speeds to a blur, but unable to hold it for their sprint man.  Some dude covered in tatoos won (never heard of him) by handily beating ex-pro Steve Tilford (46yrs old!) and one of the remaining Bianchi guys.  Our guy Karim ended up 50th.  Not bad, I’d say, given the speed, crashes every other lap near the end, and having a gazillion riders in the field.

All in all, a great weekend and one to certainly put on the calendar, either as a participant or spectator.  See you there next year, for sure!

 – Chris