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Once Again. Never again.

Monsters Of The Midway 2016 M1,2,3, race report.

Monsters of the Midway. I’ve done this race so many times, and yet I always ask myself why?
The course is basic, the surface is appalling, the prizes lean, there’s no neutral support, the wind always howls down the long midway dominating strategies and ruining attacks. Moan moan moan.

The reason I’m here, the reason everyone is here is because it’s here, in the heart of Chicago, at that precise moment in the season where everyone wants to race, is (just about) ready to race, needs to race. And hence everyone is here, making for a big competitive event you can test yourself against. So shut-up, harden (the fuck) up and line up.

I arrive in time to pay and register. Yes I decided, make that folded, into doing this thing at 10pm the night before. Actually, make that 10:20 after reviewing the tv weather forecast. Those lying sack of shit forecasters, they said nothing about the thunderstorm brewing up literally 10 minutes after I’ve committed and unloaded the bike. The weather radar looks like a Jackson Pollock, the sky darkens and wind is suddenly whipping around in every direction.

Too late to do anything now. Tents are blowing over and barriers on the course too, letting unaware motorists drive on. It’s not raining yet, we wait on the line freezing in the cooling breeze for the all clear and whistle.

By some miracle the winds drop, skies brighten, barriers are righted and we are off and racing. No rain.

Early pace is high and I’m struggling to keep up, but after a lap I’m warmed up and revving for action. The wind as usual seems to be a strong headwind in both directions. Down the straights the bunch snakes around, hunting for respite. Grit and gravel fly up from the gutters and riders curse each other, but we throw ourselves into the turns 3 wide glad the rain is holding off.

There are some classy riders here, Weather Channel have three and expect to dominate, Burnham are not so sure about that. Half Acre has one, and he’s holding 10th wheel with no expectations at all. Several riders flat out, one right in front of me. Nobody panics, hand up off to the side. I have my spare wheels in the median this year after last years calamity. Here's hoping they just sit there. Still no rain.

As usual there are drops in the pace that swap the order, as the back of the race swarms the front, followed by furious fightbacks. It’s fast and fun. I'm enjoying it.

An attack of six goes off, this looks dangerous, Weather Channel are weather making at the front. As teammates block I’m also working to improve my position and get thrown to the lead of the chase. A lung bursting pull up the straight, no help and we are up to the rear three who seem to have become detached. Gasping I roll off and let someone else mop up the rest. 4 to go.

One lap in shelter and I’m recovered and looking for better placing, in fact feeling pretty good. Up the gutter on the back straight, jink around the big pothole, avoid the hay bale marking a water filled chasm and hop back in line top 10 before the narrowing chicane around the center crossroad.

By monsters standards it’s only a small pothole, but hitting it blows my back wheel out instantly. Off to the right as I swear, brake and stop. No more free laps by now but maybe I can get back swap a wheel and get out in the time of the half lap I will miss. Astonishingly I think of all this in the moments it takes to pull up. Adrenaline surging I’m across the course and riding the grass back up to the wheel pit, all over the place on my flat. I grab my spare and throw it on - the ref yells me I have to chase as I sling the old wheel away - I’m off up the road in seconds but alas the bunch is past and I’m 100 yards behind by the time I shoot out onto the course. Maybe 10 seconds too late.

With two to go I’m pretty much screwed, but rushing on adrenaline so I chase hard burning it up. No dice, no way I can close the gap as the bunch revs up for the end. It’s the saddest bell lap I ever heard, looking like a dropped looser, which in many ways I am. I continue and finish, even mopping up a few riders who are shelled off the bunch as it charges to the line and a weather channel win. Final placing was 41/49.

So not much luck today but the 2016 road campaign is underway and I seem to be at least in the mix competitively.

And as for Monsters: once again, never again. See you next year.

~Bevan Brookfield

Hilly Billy Roubaix 2015


It's right there in the name, but putting a Billy on back of that word suddenly makes it sound charming and hospitable. While the people involved in organizing and running this event are certainly that, this course has no intent of being civilized.

The morning was wet in the way that leaves zero chance of staying dry, regardless of the gear. My new found adventure buddy, Imelda, and I sat in the car, trying to focus on everything but the rain. The time came to make peace with it, so we stepped out of the car to prep our bikes.

In no time we were soaked, but we're now committed to whatever's ahead, so fuck you, rain.

We roll over to the staging area and fold into the scene of other dedicated Roubaix'ers. A real cool crowd. No posturing, just a classic "band of brothers" waiting to march into the trenches. A lot fewer ladies than I expected, but not uncommon to gravel.

A pre-launch fireside chat by the organizer, JR, to lighten the mood and establish race etiquette. A good round of banter and we're ready to hit the gas. But then we wait...and wait...and wait some more...for what seems like an eternity. Maybe it was the rain, but I'm almost certain we sat there for a good ten minutes. A pig squealed (or I just imagined it) and we're off!

There's so much to this day that I could wax poetic about. Some of the memories are already foggy (race amnesia) or tucked away in that recess of the brain saved for things that shape you from the inside out. But I'll bullet the highlights to keep this flowing:

~Up, up and more up

~All kinds of gravel -sharp, loose, slippery, round, big

~A very memorable section of ginormous "potholes" - with the heavy rains, these were mini lakes, crankset deep

~An incidental downhill creek we had to ride up

~Muddy rutted out hilly section, so schloggy, you surely came out with 3 lbs of additional mud weight -full disclosure, I may have cursed into the breeze at this point ...a lot

I'd be remiss to not mention the paved road sections, but even the relief of smooth was sometimes obliterated by a steep turn upwards.

There were some mentionable moments of mercy along the way that helped reset ones will - 1) three well stocked checkpoints 2) random locals out cheering 3) a few fast and liberating stretches of asphalt.

In hindsight, I think I was technically set up pretty well. Surly Cross Check cx rig, 1 x 10 (38t, 11-26), 40mm Clement X'plor MSO's on Mavic Ksyrium rims, Revelate frame bag with bladder and 2 bottle cages (this hydration config was actually very cramped on my tiny frame - next time, no bladder, if temps allow). Zero flats or mechanicals, although an alarmingly gritty sounding BB had me worried for a bit. I sidled up to a couple veterans for the 'ol tire pressure chat before the race: "better to go high than low". 60psi did me right. I could've used a couple more gears on the steep uphills, as I had to walk a few toppers, but getting off the bike actually stretched out the legs.

The one major fear I had going in was how well, or not well marked, the course would be, especially with a relatively small group of wheels to follow. Neither knowing, my racer pal and I took a "buddy system" oath prior to the start. That said, it was terrifically well marked. So much, that I was ultimately able to negotiate a "go ahead" policy with my gal pal around mile 60, as the hills were getting the best of her. My legs were anxious to keep momentum and bury this thing.

All in all, it was a remarkable day. 72 miles and 8k feet of elevation. The rain was actually a saving grace, as the sun briefly peaked out in the late afternoon and instantly put sweat into my eyes. Compadres were made along the way...suffering begets kinships. Mad props were given to a couple fellas who decided single speed was their recipe for adventure that day. Race line beers and cheers made for a welcome return, not to mention an ex-Chicagoan friend in the mix, full of smiles and high fives. As I reflected back on the day, later that night and since, I've come to realize this is one of those events that needs experiencing to fully understand the magic and glory it possesses. Like parenting, I imagine. You can't fathom the pride you'll feel until you're in the moment. Hope to see you there next year....

~Jen Groen

Racing Happens. Rain or Shine

Glencoe is the sort of place where people pop out for a pint of milk, in a ferrari.  Growing up in the UK I used to watch movies like 16 candles, and think how unlikely it was, all these teens trashing big houses, driving rolls-royces and porsches. Not any more.

One thing the 1% cannot change yet is the weather, and the weather is not co-operating today, on Glencoe Grand Prix day.  Its 70 and rainy when I arrive. I number up and ride around the leafy avenues for a bit warming up for the masters 1,2,3 race. The 5s are racing. A cold gust of wind suddenly blows in, the temperature is plummeting faster than the economy with a Bush in the whitehouse. I scurry back to the car for another layer. 50 and rain. Great.

Race underway and the drenched course has to be cornered slowly, and watch for those drain covers. The masters hurl up the straights at quite a pace and braking is late but smooth.  Nobody is bombing corners, it’s all very fast and controlled. And wet.

There are plenty of attacks, but its hard to get away before the next rain soaked corner to brake for, so the bunch just gets strung out into a single line and reforms.  Holding a wheel with rain and grit flinging up into your face is unpleasant, so I’m happy to be pulling the group round for a lap, making sure I hold it long enough to get a shout out from Kenny Labb on the podium. Then it’s back to some glencoe exfoliating wash.

Its hard to imagine being wetter. Feet are soggy, everything is soaked and dirty, rain lashes down and splashes up from sheets of standing water. I’m shivering, shivering at 160bpm.
Final laps and things are getting a little rawer as the bunch snakes around seeking shelter and advantage. I’m moving over for the narrowing road after the finish line, and a wisconsin rider moves the other way to grab the wheel in front, oh shit. My shoulder and elbow meet him, he slides off me smooth as an eel, we are both still upright. Keep going.

Last lap and I catch a wheel up to top 5 and hold it there, but exhaustion and hand cramp from all the braking are hurting hard. You have to pull the brakes so hard when rims are wet . Theres some jockeying on park ave and I loose a spot, last time round onto the finish and the weather channel boys are up front, and its two wide through the turn, I’m inside and lose a touch of momentum. The long run to the line gets me those places back and 6th.  In the money and upright at the end. Next race will be warm and dry, please.

~Bevan Brookfield