Memorial Weekend 2019

Following our successful LaCrosse Camp in early May, stage two of the 2019 development program was fielding a team for the 1/2/3  Memorial Day Weekend race series. As stated in our season goals this race series is another step up from the LaCrosse Omnium, bringing in national competition and challenging courses. This was an exciting prospect as this would be the first time that CWEC would be open to Category 3 riders. Three Cat 3 riders were selected: Mary Randall (Chicago Cuttin Crew), Sam Scipio (Comrade Cycles), and Lauren Wiscomb (Team Bonkers). Maria Larkin, acting CWEC rider and board member, and Lauren Wissman (Cat 2 and CWEC rider since 2016) were also selected for the roster. Acting as a mentor and coach would be Jennifer Sharp of Alp Cycles Coaching.

We asked each of the riders to summarize their experiences and to document the weekend from their unique perspective. Read below for their thoughts on racing the hardest crit courses in the Midwest.

CWEC has arrived!

Mary Randall - The Mental Game

I had the privilege of racing the Memorial Day weekend races in Iowa with the Chicago Women’s Elite Cycling development team. These races are some of the hardest in the region. The courses are extremely challenging and the competition is top notch. It would also be my first time having a go at the 1/2/3 category and I knew that was going to hurt. 

For me, this weekend was just as much about overcoming mental barriers as it was physical. So much of bike racing is. You can do all the work of making your body strong but if your mind isn’t there, your body can’t get very far. That’s where the crucial mentorship from CWEC’s Maria Larkin and Jen Sharp of ALP Cycles Coaching comes in.  Having their support and guidance turned what would have been just another demoralizing race weekend, into 3 days of learning how to be a more effective bike racer. From our pre race meetings to our post race discussions, I walked away with a better understanding of how to turn my mistakes into things I can work on and what to take from each race and what to leave behind. 

This kind of support is invaluable to growing the sport. I feel very grateful to be a part of such a supportive community of strong women building each other up. I’m excited to continue using the tools I acquired to work towards achieving my goals for the rest of the season and beyond. 

Mary cornering at Quad Cities - Photo by Paul Vassalotti

Sam Scipio - Negative to Positive

3 days is a short time, but also a long time. In that time you can grow, you can change, and you can test. My biggest learning from racing the Memorial Day Weekend crits with CWEC was undoubtedly mental fortitude. These races are slightly individual in nature because of the elevation of each course. The CWEC coaches encouraged is to think about our personal goals versus solely team goals.

The first day, Snake Alley, was rough. My goal was to "not get dropped" - a negative goal in nature. Please believe that I was dropped like a hot pancake very quickly. The second day, at Melon City, Maria reminded us that we were there to learn, try new things, and fail. This was a freeing notion. So, this race, my goal was reframed in the positive - "move up in the pack" - and move up I did. The last day, at Quad Cities, I got the biggest bib number there is, the Jumpman, Michael Jordan, #23. That day, I moved up in the pack, and even counter attacked. 

At the end of the weekend, I was dropping every single race. I got lapped every single race. But I also tried something new every single race, and am better for it. 

Sam - #23 - Photo by Paul Vassalotti

Lauren Wiscomb - Reclaiming A Monument

In the nervous pre-race hours we were approached, suddenly, by the only hypnotherapist in all of Burlington, Iowa.

“All right! I’ve been wondering where all the fe-mal-és were, it’s good to see some women amongst all these MEN!”

This woman had a flair that can seldom be achieved by anyone but wild women of a certain age. I remember my nerves letting up in that moment, and my race brain engaging. Before that, all I could think about was everything I’d ever heard about this race. If amateur bike racers had Monuments, Snake Alley would be among them. Each time Memorial Day weekend comes and goes, a host of men in kits wander through the bike shop I work at to trade stories about The Snake. I think I’ve been hearing of the finer points of the men’s 3 race for the better part of the last decade. I knew what I was getting into: there’s a bottleneck. There are cobbles. There’s a big curb. There’s a steep line and a less steep line. It’s wet and slick. It’s fast. It’s unimaginably hot. It’s crazy that they stage you by registration. The list goes on. Somehow though, in all that race recap, I never really heard of too many women going out there. Not because there weren’t women, of course, but I think, until very recently, it’s been individuals from Chicago who go out to try their luck in Iowa.

So, as it happened, I agreed heartily with our dear hypnotherapist. It WAS good to actually see some women among all these men participating as a group. I was very happy to pull on a CWEC kit for the first time and to complete this race with my teammates who, often but not always, compete as individuals. Once I got to racing, I was grinding up that windy cobbled road with my mouth hanging open, not thinking about much other than getting up and going down. But now, as I reflect, somewhere in the back of my mind I really was inspired to be visibly representative of the women of Chicago who have been doing bike races like this for many years before I first did. Races like Snake Alley, are both special for their difficulty and longevity: some of the people that appear along it to cheer the racers on each year, remember a time when there weren’t so many women competing. It is one of the few races still around that could be a watermark for how many women were racing bikes in the U.S. So hats off to a great race series this weekend, and here’s to hearing more women in kits wandering into my bike shop to trade race stories with me.

Lauren climbs the Snake with Team Director Jen Sharp - Photo by Paul Vassalotti

Kelsey Campbell-Dollaghan - The Outside Line

When two of my teammates ended up unable to race at the last minute, I was hesitant to head to the Quad Cities as a solo rider. I decided to go anyway, mainly thanks to the encouragement of the CWEC crew. Even though I rode for a different team, they invited me into their tent city for their pre-ride strategy sessions and post-race talks (and, crucially, their bug spray). It was a huge learning experience--I came away from each course excited to return next year. Watching Maria, Mary, Sam, Lauren, and Biscuit race under Jen's insightful guidance was extremely cool, too. Reflecting on it now, I think it illustrates just how powerful and effective CWEC is at building community and encouraging development in women's racing in the region in general.  I'm super grateful for all they do.

Kelsey on the snake!

Lauren Wissman - Conquering the Courses

The push to put together a squad of CWEC riders for the Memorial Day races in Iowa sure paid off!!! I was happy to be involved in a mentor role for the weekend, offering course recon and race intel where I could. Each of the memorial day races are a bit of an anomaly as far as criteriums go. Snake Alley is a winding, uphill, cobbled near CX race/time trial/battle of attrition, Melon City leads you into a 30+ mph decent straight into a speed bump, and Quad Cities Crit has a heck ton of climbing and a technical decent. Each of these races, however intimidating, were tackled by each rider with optimism and tenacity. The team, Cat 2s and 3s alike, achieved some new feats - like getting to the front of a 1/2/3 field, having their best ever race in the 1/2/3s at the Snake, or in my case, making a race that was previously my nemesis, enjoyable. We all learned from each other this past weekend and the experience primed us all for a productive racing season ahead!

Wissman - Photo by Paul Vassalotti

Maria larkin - Team Blue Team

I am always proud to wear the CWEC kit, every occasion it brings something special to my racing, but I was particularly proud this weekend to wear CWEC blue alongside our first ever Cat 3 riders, Lauren, Mary and Sam. I saw each of them come into the weekend with some reservations, a few nerves but none the less determined to conquer these courses. Part of the challenge of bringing in new riders who are used to racing as individuals is flipping the script and learning to race as part of a team. While the courses are challenging and the competition strong, as is the case with most P1/2 or P/1/2/3 races, no matter what kind of rider you are, it’s crucial to focus on a positive you can take from the race. Racing at the top level is all about taking a beat down but persevering and coming back for more. Through Jen’s guidance we each learned to focus that positive towards the team and analyze our race as a unit. It was a steep learning curve and a challenging environment for all of our riders, but we worked together and came out on the other side with a new perspective on what it means to race bikes together, in CWEC blue.

Maria between the tape - Photo by Paul Vassalotti

Jen Sharp - Team Director

It’s an honor to work with the CWEC women for the 3rd consecutive year in a row. This year’s mix of riders are hungry to learn and improve their handling skills and tactics as well as bring an amazing positive attitude. Veteran CWEC riders are honing their leadership skills by mentoring the new riders and the team ethos is really positive and competitive. During the Memorial Weekend Quad Cities crits, we had daily pre and post race discussions about what went well and what lessons were learned to be applied in future races. We also talked about how to ride each course and develop a game plan for any challenges they might encounter while racing. They’re learning by trying new things, building confidence by sharpening their skill sets and having a great time while doing it.  The future is looking bright for CWEC!

We stan Jen Sharp here at CWEC - Photo by Kelsey Campbell Dollaghan

Next Up - Gateway Cup

The team turns its focus to the final CWEC event for the year, Gateway Cup in September. We are confident that our Cat 3 riders who have participated so far this year will continue to push themselves this summer with a view to being eligible to join the team for Gateway Cup.  We will also be seeking applications from any current Cat 2 riders in the Chicago area to complete the squad. Watch this space for updates.