Chicago Women’s Elite Cycling (CWEC) hosted its first Town Hall Sunday, January 25th, at Edge Athlete Lounge. The turn-out was superb.
The evening’s lively discussion started with co-founders, Daphne Karagianis (Category 1 Racer, Chicago Cuttin’ Crew) and Cathy Frampton (Category 2 Racer, PSIMET), welcoming all. Daphne recounted last year’s experiences at Joe Martin when PSIMET sponsored a fully supported composite team which included a director, mechanic, soigneur, and follow-car (“changed my flat in 1.2 seconds and I chased back to the peloton to join my 5 teammates!”). She also mentioned her North Star Grand Prix racing experience. Together, these race experiences sparked her desire to race like that again, fully supported, with her Chicago compatriots, competing as a team, representing Chicago, and having success. And so the discussion to form Chicago Women's Elite Cycling began…
Cathy explained that she hoped the attendees would walk away with an understanding of 3 points re: CWEC:
- CWEC is the 1st of its kind in the US, a metropolitan-based cycling development model
- CWEC wishes to encourage and inspire racers as the glue that brings together the many fantastic, yet independent cycling development events throughout Chicagoland
- CWEC will provide a team-based support structure to enable elite racers to put the stamp of Chicago on the nationally recognized races in which they compete.
The discussion then shifted to provide the audience with insight into the volume of the women’s elite racing field in the US and that of Chicagoland’s. Of the 778 licensed elite criterium racers in the US in 2014, 17 are in Chicagoland, compared to 173 in California. Cathy went on to explain of the 17 in Chicagoland, only 7 of those have both raced consistently last year and have a desire to compete effectively at the nationally recognized races—and 2 of those 7 are already on Domestic Elite Teams for 2016. The remaining 5 comprise the 2015 CWEC rider list.
Daphne then highlighted the CWEC Mission: To provide a sustainable cycling development program in which Chicagoland Cat 1/2 riders could compete effectively in professional level races.
Frampton explained that “sustainable” was along 3 prongs:
- Financial sustainability for CWEC, with a program that brings value to the community so that funding is not entirely dependent on any one sponsor.
- Sustain the dynamic and energetic local racing scene, where the CWEC riders remain on their local teams to mentor their aspiring athletes on their team while competing against other local teams, some with CWEC riders as well.
- Chicago economic sustainability, with a preference for Chicago-based entities as sponsors, so that CWEC collectively represents Chicago and the best it has to offer.
Elaine Nekritz, IL State Representative for the 57th District, and an accomplished bike racer from the 1990’s, was present. Ms. Nektritz is familiar with driving change for women’s racing having helped initiate the Elaine Nekritz Trophy Race at the Ed Rudolph Velodrome in Northbrook in 2006 to provide women with prize money and competition equal to the men. Elaine said a few words to the audience indicating that, from her perspective, listening to the findings from the CWEC research, there remain a lot of similarities to the racing community of 20 years ago. She recounted how, as an individual, she raced and had some success at the Athens Twilight Crit, but had there been a structure such as CWEC, she might have had more success. Elaine acknowledged that the Chicago-based composite team model focusing on development and team-spirit is a new approach that might be a real shift to drive change— but it will require the entire community to support the CWEC program for it to succeed.
Francine Haas, CWEC Board member and Manager of Rider Development, then celebrated another of Chicago’s success stories, Maria Larkin. Maria recently returned from Ireland after winning the silver medal at the 2015 Ireland Elite National Cyclocross Championship. A cat 3 rider on the road, there is anticipation that Maria will be a CWEC Rider committed for the 2016 season.
After the applause died down, Francine went on to describe how development of a rider is more than just results, but about bike handling skills, mental toughness, and being an effective teammate. She reflected on how Maria’s success started years ago with her and her teammates going the to track to develop their skills, racing regularly as a team, and year-over-year, putting a concerted effort into their training. Francine discussed that the desire of the CWEC Development Program is to inspire racing through 1) leveraging the expertise throughout the Chicago community, 2) being open to both men and women, and 3) co-hosting a development series that parallels the early season Chicagoland races in April and May, starting with an indoor classroom style discussion before the Gapers Block Series. The final event of the series will be at the Glencoe Grand Prix. If CWEC’s development efforts achieve the desired results, it would result in increased participation of the entry and mid-level racers at all the races in Chicagoland, not only the early season but carrying through to the later season races. Francine said that there would be other events, hopefully overlapping the local Prairie State/Intelligentsia Cup race series. Francine asked that anyone that is planning on hosting a clinic in 2015 or would want to help CWEC with hosting one, to please see her after the meeting or contact her via email. Before closing out the development discussion, Francine showed a quote from BFF Bike Shop Owner, Annie Bryne, in which she stated that, had CWEC been around, she might have aspired to go further with her racing. Looking at Annie, Francine gave her the nod – there is still time, that her story is not at its end - and Annie gave her the positive response, “You’re right, not yet.”
Leah Sanda, CWEC Board member and Team Manager, then spoke about the 2015 proposed race program. She discussed that a key part of the program is developing the racers as a team, with tactics and strategy. CWEC is looking for a selection of directors so that there is support through the training/development portion of the calendar as well as at each of the races. Leah requested that anyone interested that has this experience to please contact her. Leah also outlined the criteria for the race selection, citing NCC, NRC, USACrits, races that will draw professional teams, and equal pay-out as primary criteria. The 2015 race calendar was presented.
Leah then explained that 2015 is a growing year. The expectation is that the 2016 calendar will be more challenging, containing some of the NRC stage races that are held in April and May. She also indicated that the goal is to increase the volume of racers in the program and possibly field multiple teams so that there could be a more diverse race calendar.
Daphne, the Team Captain, then reviewed the rider criteria, with primary points of riders having demonstrated a commitment to racing in prior seasons and committing to race the CWEC calendar of races, work as a teammate, and listen to the director. She stated that the rider list is expected to change and grow each year. The 2015 riders were introduced: Daphne Karagianis, Ellen Ryan, Sarah Szefi, Jannette Rho, Kelli Richter (not present), and guest rider, Dani Arman.
With the presentation of the development and race programs and 2015 calendar and roster of riders complete, Cathy revisited the point that the CWEC model of a metropolitan-based composite development team program is a new, innovative approach. A quote from Women’s Cycling Association (WCA) founder and president, Robin Farina, reinforced that CWEC is trying something new – that this sustainable program focusing on developing elite racers to compete as a composite team in nationally recognized pro-level races might create a positive change and, when successful, might be a model that could be repeated in other cities.
Cathy then presented the financials, highlighting that over 75% of the planned budget was directly in support of the racing while two-thirds of the remaining 25% was associated with the development program. The remaining budget is for operations. Cathy commented that fundraising will rely primarily on cash donations from the community, some in exchange for the value CWEC will bring through the development events, and in-kind services to reduce budgeted cost. The sponsors that have joined the CWEC effort were highlighted: Tenspeed Hero, PSIMET Race Wheels, Just-ice, and Intelligentsia Coffee.
Elaine Nekritz closed out the evening by presenting CWEC a donation check, applauding CWEC with their effort to try something different, and encouraging others to show their support.
When the formal presentation concluded, the buzz started and continued for well over another hour as racers, promoters, team managers, and others discussed with CWEC members and amongst themselves the opportunities that lay ahead for the Chicago bike racing community.
The town hall play-by-play with quotes and more photographs was captured on our twitter page.