Two rounds of the 10-day Intelligentsia Cup Chicago have been held annually in West Dundee and Elgin for half a dozen years, and the popularity of cycling races has only grown, according to local event organizers.
“Last year was the biggest ever, with over 2,500 spectators, 250 pro riders and over 800 other riders. We expect at least as many cyclists and 3,500 participants this time,” said Maureen Himmel of West Dundee’s event, which this year takes place on Friday July 22. Elgin’s will take place a week later on Friday, July 29.
Himmel and some of his neighbors got involved in the event after hearing that the 10-day race series would be held near their home in 2016. Dubbed the West Dundee River Challenge, the race takes place in the hilly part of the town north of Main Street/Route 72, an asymmetrical loop past Grafelman Park, along the river and through a small portion of downtown.
“The atmosphere was a bit like the Kentucky Derby, but with people gathering outside their homes and bicycles speeding by,” Himmel said.
She and her friends help house runners visiting the Chicago metro area for the series. Over the years this has included cyclists from other countries and even a woman who needed a place to park her motorhome because she was participating by traveling with her dog.
Among his fondest memories is teaching a group of Australians the corn hole game and befriending cyclist Ryan DeWald of Reading, Pennsylvania, who runs a professional team. DeWald has type 1 diabetes and is an advocate for its cure and treatment.
DeWald will be racing again this year and speaking on diabetes issues at 5 p.m. at the booth at Ascension St. Alexius Medical Center at Grafelman Park, 112 N. 5th St., she said.
As well as educational events and a full day of racing, West Dundee is planning a variety of other activities in the park including a trade show, hot dog vendor, inflatable toxic meltdown eliminator and wall of fun. inflatable climbing, Himmel said.
Returning for another year, the Family Bike Parade will take place at 6:15 p.m. in front of St. James’s Episcopal Church, 516 Washington St.
“We encourage everyone to come in costume, and there will be prizes for the best,” Himmel said.
An electric bike will be raffled off for the benefit of the Boys & Girls Club of Dundee Township.
The River Challenge Social, featuring local restaurants Village Squire, Duke’s Blues N BBQ, Emmett’s and Blue Root, begins at 6:30 p.m. on Second Avenue near Washington Street. The group That’s Enough performs at 8 p.m.
“It’s also a great place to watch the runners coming down the hill on Geneva Street,” Himmel said.
The Intelligentsia Cup Elgin Classic takes place the following Friday along some of the blocks that are part of the Northeast Neighborhood Association, which hosts the event.
The race is held in honor of Dennis Jurs, an avid cyclist who died in May 2015 after being hit by an SUV in the Hampshire area where he lived. Jurs’ death led to the creation of a state law that requires bicyclists to receive the same right-of-way protections as motorists.
Since first held in the city in 2017, the Elgin Cup stage has attracted more than 500 cyclists and hundreds of spectators every year, said NENA chairman Eric Larson.
All 2020 Intelligentsia Cup races have been canceled due to the pandemic. Last year, the Elgin organizers changed their race course to a tighter course.
“It made the cyclists seem to pass the spectators every 90 seconds,” Larson said.
Elgin’s day will include a family ride, bike safety clinics and other family events held along the 900 block of Douglas Avenue. There will be a food court in the 900 block of Spring Street.
The beer available — and also a sponsor — lives up to its name.
“Fat Tire,” Larson said.
For more information on both races, visit www.wdundeeriverchallenge.org and dennisjursmemorialrace.com.
Mike Danahey is a freelance writer for The Courier-News.