ELMHURST – The first Elmhurst Cycling Classic concluded with what many considered to be the main event, the men’s pro race, but members of the cycling community hope the race encouraged more women to start pedaling, too.
“Most of the people you see riding are men,” Fourth Ward Alderman Kevin York said.
A cycling advocate, York worked with Elmhurst Masters Competition Cycling (EMCC), the Elmhurst Bike Task Force and the Prairie State Cycling Series to bring the race to town.
Bike Task Force Chairman Bob Hoel wanted to bring a race on the National Criterium Calendar to Elmhurst to create enthusiasm for biking. A race on the national calendar draws professionals from around the world. He especially hoped the women’s races would inspire more women to start cycling.
“If women feel comfortable to bike, you will see a lot more people on the road biking,” Hoel said.
With temperatures in the 90s, racers from all levels pedaled for lap after lap around Elmhurst College for five men’s races and two women’s races. PNC Bank also sponsored a family fun ride so everyone could try out the track.
“There’s never been anything like this in Elmhurst,” York said.
More female racers needed for better races
Category 1 cyclist Kristen Meshberg of Lyons began competing in 2000 because she didn’t want to stand on the sidelines and watch her husband race. While she is more involved in cycling than he ever was, Meshberg sees the challenges that discourage women racers.
“For women, since there’s so few of us, we’re lumped all together,” she said.
While the Elmhurst classic broke the two women’s races into categories 3/4 and categories 1/2, Meshberg said sometimes there is a single category 4 women’s race, and all of the other categories ride in one pro race. Women who have just moved out of category 4 have little chance against seasoned professional category 1 racers.
“It’s intimidating,” Meshberg said.
If more women compete, additional races could be added to better separate racers by skill level.
“We need to get more women into the sport,” Meshberg said.
Ashley Saunders,16, came to watch the women’s races specifically. Her father, Jerry Saunders, used to watch cycling races in Downers Grove when he lived there. He drove about 70 miles from Gardner, Ill. where they live because he wanted to introduce Ashley to the sport.
“I know she’s going to be good on a bike,” Jerry Saunders said. “It’s just you need to understand what you’re getting into.”
Cycling and suffering
EMCC member Todd Pogreba said he’s lucky in his first year of competitive cycling he hasn’t taken a tumble, but just listening to the sound of scraping metal and a helmet hitting the ground when a racer wipes out is bad enough.
“People always associate hard cycling and racing with suffering, and you definitely do a fair amount of suffering,” said another EMCC teammate and Elmhurst resident, Jay Bowles.
Meshberg said women suffer just as much as men when it comes to competitive cycling. They train as hard and make as many sacrifices in their lifestyle. A mother of two, Meshberg said she had to sacrifice holding a full-time job to stay home with her children and make time to train. She teaches an indoor cycling class called Pedaling with a Purpose during the winter that provides an educational environment for racers of all skill levels.
Hoel said plans for next year’s race already are underway. While he hopes the event encourages more women to start cycling, he understands not everyone will want to compete.
“What we’re trying to encourage is more people getting out and casually enjoying a bike ride,” he said.