Here's a run-down of the 2011 local road racing season. Each of these races features a beginners-only field:
Gapers Block Crits (March 21-25)—Low key, low tech and low cost bike racing hosted by Half Acre Cycling. Ride to the races each day of the week at Calumet Park on the far South Side. Open to men's category 4 and 5, and women's category 3 and 4 only. Online registration (open through Friday 3/19) covers all five days of racing (for just $25 for women and $50 for men!) and the women's 4s will be racing for a brand new frame from Tati Cycles! You might want to hurry, the first men's field is already closed.
Spring Super Criterium (March 26)—Now in its 4th year, this very popular race hosted by Burnham Racing, in South Beloit, Ill, draws big fields and gives away big primes (pronounced "preem," single-lap prizes). Burnham's sponsors are extremely generous to their team, and the action is always heavy for such prizes like cases of Vitamin Water, Clif Bar and Mad Alchemy embrocation. Online registration closes Friday, March 25.
Sherman Park Criterium (April 9)—This annual race has been hosted by XXX Racing-AthletiCo for 12 years. Held in the historic South Side oasis designed by the Olmsted Brothers of New York's Central Park fame, this 1-mile lap was designed for bicycle racing, and features wide, beginner-friendly turns. Don't let the graceful terrain fool you, however; the lush greenery in the park will hide a racer off the front farther than the next turn. So, the higher category races tend to be packed with action, and most finish with a breakaway. Online registration is open until April 7.
Vernon Hills Grand Prix (May 1)—A fun criterium in the northwest 'burbs on a four-corner course with smooth pavement and deceptively tricky and painful finishing stretch. Hosted by RDS Cycling, online registration is not yet open, bookmark this link and come back soon.
Monsters of the Midway (May 14)—Long a staple of the local scene, this criterium has been hosted by the University of Chicago Velo Club since 1997. The race features a simple four-turn rectangular course on the Midway Pleasance amid a beautiful academic setting. Most racers ride to the event and spend the day (when not suffering) relaxing in the green grass and chatting with fellow athletes. Online registration is not yet open, but check back at the UCVC website soon.
The very next day is the Fox River Grove Cycling Challenge (May 15)—The word “challenge” does not do justice the vomit-inducing hill that greets racers immediately after the first turn. Hosted by RDS Cycling, this event is easily reached via Metra's UP-NW (bikes are allowed on trains). Online registration is not open yet, so bookmark this link and check back soon.
Glencoe Grand Prix (June 25)—Hosting the State Criterium Championships is no step down from last year's Nationals status for this crowd-pleasing local favorite. Accessible by Metra (no bikes allowed however, due to the Taste blackout) and a beautiful ride up Sheridan Road, the new 10-corner course, which debuted in 2010, drew huge crowds and massive firepower from all across the nation. Hosted by Alberto's Cycling, this criterium is on the National Racing Calendar so make sure it's on yours. Registration will open later this summer.
Tour of Villas (July 2)—This 2nd annual race hosted by the Project 5 Racing team will be held in Des Plaines, near Algonquin and Wolf Roads. Registration will open later this summer.
Grayslake Cycling Classic (July 30)—Held in a sleepy upscale housing development in the far-north 'burbs, the action in this criterium—featuring four corners plus three wide u-turns—is anything but sleepy. Online registration will open later this summer.
Tour of Elk Grove (August 6-7)—One of the biggest purses on the local scene, this race attracts full fields in the amateur ranks and pros from around the country. Professionals will actually start competiton on Friday, as well, in a complete stage-race, with a time-trial. Online registration should open later this summer.
Winfield Twilight Criterium and ABR National Championship (August 13-14)—Rated one of the top-10 criteriums in the country, the Twilight race is popular with participants and crowds alike. Held in an older residential neighborhood, people watch from front-lawn barbeques as the racers bump elbows up a challenging hill and then divebomb down at white knuckle speed through four corners to the start/finish. Hosted by ABD Cycling, online registration will open later this summer.
Northshore Grand Prix (August 21)—Hosted by Turin Bicycle and The Pony Shop in Evanston, this race features the infamous corner 5, from Orington onto Clark, known as the BK Stacker. Be sure to hit all the earlier events listed here and have your handling skills in top form for this barnburner; the ambulance driver has a twitchy foot. Online registration will open later this summer.
Be sure to take advantage of the many online resources at your disposal:
Chicago Bike Racing—News, links and advice for the region.
USA Cycling and ABR—Information on licensing requirements and purchase, as well as rules and regulations.
Illinois Cycling Association—The state governing body for racing in Illinois.
Take your place at the line this year and open up a whole new world in cycling. Good luck and go fast!