On one of the most beautiful Sunday afternoons in the history of Chicago Decembers, the Chicago Cross Cup held it’s final race of their series. It was a magnificent day to spend with a community that has propelled the cyclocross sport into a new stratosphere of excitement. Over seven hundred racers came to race this past Sunday – each battling the course with equal determination and might to finish their laps among the cheering and heckling of the crowds. I’ve written previously about the fact that running and triathlon events can easily gain thousands of registrants of faithful devotees. They too started with the small crowds, motivated by the awe inspiring challenge to complete test their ability. I see the same fervor increasing annually for off-road cycling.

The challenge also makes it appealing because it is your own friend at the line that is successful. The same friend you’ve raced against all season long – trained with, and hit the bars the night before the race with – is there for the argey bargey start with you on Sunday. You are all thrown into the melee that is the painfully satisfying experience to race full tilt with your heart rate pegged the entirety of 30, 45, or 60 minutes of cyclocross. Your friends motivate you to be better.

I’ve been quietly observing the scene this year and haven’t published my thoughts as often as I’d been inspired throughout the season, but I have indeed been inspired. It has been dubbed the ‘year of speed’ and what a mighty year of speed it has been. If it weren’t the fact the I’ve seen my own strength gains and anaeorobic capacity grow steadily throughout the year, I’d think I was being jettisoned out of the back for being slow, when the case has actually been the scary truth – everyone is now very fast. There is no riding strong in the midpack or in the back of the pack, and every inch of the course has now become a battlefield for every level of cyclist as the competition is coming in more fit than ever before. The sport once relegated to individuals who used it is as the fun off-season endeavor has now officially become the season to come into good form with from the beginning to the end. This is distinctly different from other mass-participation sports in that it’s not about ‘just finishing’. Redlined high output effort is one of if not the most excruciating efforts you can give for less than a one hour time and in the process, making decisions to jump over obstacles, navigate a twisty course, or making it through rough weather. It’s a unique effort that is so devastating, that you have to laugh at yourself for having put yourself through it, and is always best shared with your friends cheering you on for the ridiculous looks and foibles you generate while performing.

This year I have witnessed some great people, both known to me personally and not, achieve stellar results and rewards for their dedication to the sport. Perhaps unknown to them, they have achieved a quiet cult status that sits on the minds of the competitors behind them, aiming at their achievement. The size of our sport today lends itself to the creation of great legends for a time when the winners of our top fields are christened into the pro ranks, which there inevitably will be and that is a great thing. They are remembered as the guy or gal you knew and watched in awe as they completed the same course you did with greater finesse. We get to be that crowd to remember how it started. It’s a different vantage point in 2012. At the fruition of the Chicago Cyclocross Cup in 2004, there was talent to rise to the ranks of the elite, but it wasn’t a prominent expectation. Now we are grateful to be surrounded by such incredible and plausible talent.

My favorite moment of this year’s Illinois State Championship, without a doubt, was Mike Hemme winning the title. It is not just because he is a friend, but it is because I know exactly how hard he pushed himself for the past three years. He has become the epitome of a comment a coach once said: “Every athlete has their moment, but the patient ones have an entire season or more“. Winning is not easy, not even for the most talented as their job becomes more difficult. Alongside all the fans I have witnessed Mike Hemme taking second and third for almost two years prior to 2012. He was on the cusp and hadn’t broken that barrier until this year. The State Title didn’t come at Montrose. It came when he broke professional cyclist Ben Berden at the Gravel Metric in May. It came when he slayed Chequamegon as an elite competitive finisher against the pros in September. He had been winning consistently, and with the confidence gained and the commitment to training, he carried his winning ways throughout the cross season to a nail-biting end. My favorite part of of his win was when he bobbled on the sand pit on the second to last lap; he lost at least five bike lengths in a matter of seconds behind the eventual 2nd and 3rd place finishers. I like this because he was struggling. He struggled, he swerved to a near stop, and he put his head down as the sweat poured down his helmet’s chin straps and he stood out of the saddle once again and hammered out of the sand pit and onto the straightaway to catch the two ahead of him. This was the determination and strength required at that moment in time that decided the outcome of the race – he was not going to ever quit. Not at that point in the race, and not when it mattered absolutely most. The finish.

This was and still is the year of speed. It may go down as the year of legend. Next year is the year we push ourselves and our sport even further. Where will you take it?

Remember, no one rarely ever does it alone.
Photo: Amy Dykema

  1. Joe Doyle on Thursday 6, 2012

    What a great post. Thanks for sharing your exploits and wrapping up CX so nicely. You inspire something similar from me for the TXCX blog. We’ve still got four double weekends to go before we’re done!



  2. Jeffrey Hemme on Thursday 6, 2012

    I second Joes praise for an outstanding piece.
    Of course I agree with everything you said about Mike but what else would you expect from a proud parent!

  3. Linda Ramelb on Thursday 6, 2012

    Wimp is NOT in your vocabulary! Way to go!