Tour de Crystal Lake riders find support

Sarah Nader –
Cyclist race laps around downtown Crystal Lake while competing in the men's Category 4 race during the Tour de Crystal Lake on Sunday.
Sarah Nader – Cyclist race laps around downtown Crystal Lake while competing in the men's Category 4 race during the Tour de Crystal Lake on Sunday.

CRYSTAL LAKE – The Intelligentsia Cup made its third stop around the Chicago area Sunday for the Tour de Crystal Lake. The day featured 10 races, spanning a variety of times, age groups and cycling ability.

The Prairie State Cycling Series races featured many first-time riders, all the way to professional riders and teams. Throughout this Chicago-area series, teams can race in as many races as they choose, working together during races to try to gain as many points as possible to earn prizes.

"It gives teams a bit of an incentive to work for something," Prairie State Cycling Series marketing director Mark Zalewski said. "The more experienced riders have fun with the competition and working together for a common goal."

Available to all the riders is the SRAM Neutral Race Support system to help those experiencing mechanical issues.

"They really give a new focus of 'rider first'," Zalewski said. "If you have a crash, flat tire, or any issue with your bike before, during or after the race, they provide free service and send you on your way."

Jose Alcala of SRAM was working the event Sunday and talked about how innovative the Neutral Race Support system can be.

"We provide quality service not just on SRAM equipment, but on any kind," said Alcala, who has been involved with cycling for almost 20 years. "We are totally neutral, and our main focus is to allow riders to come in, get their bike repaired, checked or what have you, and get them on their way."

As Alcala spoke, a rider stopped by the miniature pit area along the straightaway leading to the finish line and requested assistance. The SRAM group had him back on the course in about 20 seconds.

The idea of the in-race maintenance was an aspect of the event Zalewski and Alcala were excited to have. Some riders experiencing difficulty can receive a free lap, which Zalewski said, although you wouldn't want a mechanical issue to happen, is a nice fallback to have.

"When racers receive a free lap, they are inserted right back into the race wherever their issue happened. In no other style of racing other than criterium racing can this sort of thing be done."

Criterium racing consists of a short course with many laps. The races are a set time, compared with the usual distance or laps required to finish a race. Once the cyclists have been on the course for a while, there will be a determined remaining number of laps announced to the riders based on their speed.

"We really want to make this a more popular and exciting event for peope to want to participate in," Alcala said. "Not just the event but the sport. I think it can be very stressful at times, and I believe the services we provide really takes a lot of the stress away."

SRAM and the Intelligentsia Cup will head to Willow Springs on Wednesday for the fourth race of the Prairie State Cycling Series.

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