Chicago is not a cycling Mecca. When you think of cycling culture in the US you’re drawn to the coasts, to the mountains of Colorado and Utah, and to some of the big name races that exist - along side the newly anointed Gran Fondos – scattered throughout the country.
Chicago is 4 hours from anything close to being described as a hill. But what Chicago lacks in topography, it makes up for with its lakefront parks and beaches that run along Lake Michigan.
The Illinois Cyclocross Championships convene every December along Montrose Harbor; this beachfront race is Chicago’s Koksijde but with a view of the skyline. Racers are subjected to frozen lines through the sand, icy off camber 180s, terse climbs, and course conditions that change as dramatically as the weather.
This year's weather was no different. Racers on Saturday woke up to beautiful sunshine but temperatures that would peak just barely out of the single digits. Sunday’s races were made dramatic by snowfall that blanketed sketchy sections of ice, sending race organizers to salt the offending corners.
Even with the prohibitive conditions, teams, sponsors, shops, and restaurants popped up their walled tents, or pulled up their trucks and turned on their propane heaters. Spectators flocked to the difficult sand sections with beverages and cameras in hand, ready for the action to come. The frozen course came to life with over 2,000 spectators and riders.
While Chicago may not yet immediately come to mind as a cycling destination, the city’s cycling and cyclocross scene is growing and has been for some time. What was once a single day event is now a two day ordeal. Chicago is poised to become the country's central hub for cycling.
Photos by Nicholas Gajewski and Gavin Gould, words by Nicholas Gajewski.