May 19, 2009

Monsters of the Midway draws more than 400 cyclists

The U of C’s Velo Club hosted its annual Monsters of the Midway cycling race on Saturday, where over 400 competitors of all levels raced for prize money, giveaways, and simply for the fun of it. The course was a 1.1-mile loop that extended along the Midway Plaisance from Ellis to Dorchester, with the finish line roughly in front of Ida Noyes hall. The cyclists ranged in age from preteens to the “masters” in the 80-and-above group, and there were races for everyone from professionals down to the relatively inexperienced participants in the “citizens race.” “It’s always a goal to bring people into racing,” said Robert Cutler, an American Bicycle Racing official who was helping with the race. “One of our mottos is grassroots.” According to John Terry, a former president and vice president of the Velo Club who has been involved with the race for seven years, reaching out to members of the community is part of what makes the race special. In contrast to the general flow of the event, where skill level increased as the day wore on, the Velo Club chose to put the citizens race last, hoping to entice more people to attend the event. Victoria Seliger, 10, who won the 10–12 year old category, attested to the benefits of the event’s inclusiveness. “It was really interesting to watch all of the different groups and levels riding on the same course,” she said. “I will definitely come back next year.” Seliger traveled from Irving Park with other family members who were racing.Monsters of the Midway, which began in the early 80s and has been held annually since 1992, grew from an event of less than 200 racers to its current popularity. “We had a great turnout,” said Jesse Williams, who has been with the club for two years and helped organize the races. The growth of the race has been accompanied by the growth of the club, which now has 87 members listed on its web site. “I remember when the Velo Club was just three guys racing, one of them in a hockey helmet,” Terry said.Competitors seemed to like the course, citing the quality of the roads and its simple layout. “It’s not a technically demanding race, because of the safe turns and the long, wide straights,” said Terry. He added that wind is a huge factor, dooming most breaks from the peloton, or main body of riders, to failure. Steve Feehery, a competitor who has been racing with the South Chicago Wheelmen cycling team for over 20 years, agreed. “You have to be pretty strong to go with the wind, because they kick up the speed when it’s on your tail,” Feehery said.Rather than covering a prescribed distance, the races went on for a set length of time, after which the cyclists were told they had two laps left. The more advanced men’s races lasted 45 minutes, while most of the other races were 30 to 40 minutes. The grand finale citizens race, the shortest of the day, lasted just 20 minutes.The top categories provided some heated competition towards the end of the day, with Brett Stewart of Alerfer Bergen & Company Cycling winning after an eight-man break from the main pack. Stewart dropped his break-mates with half a mile to go. Devon Haskell, a member of the UC Velo Club and Team BH USA who is a lecturer in the Department of Economics, took first place in the top women’s category in another dramatic breakaway.