Elmhurst moved past simply being a bicycle-friendly town Friday to host the first Elmhurst Cycling Classic, part of a series of bicycle races in which hundreds of amateur and professional riders compete on spectator-lined, closed-loop courses.
Most events are called criterium races, with racers riding multiple laps over a closed loop.
"We're part of the Prairie State Cycling Series," said city resident Tim Radcliff, who served as the local promoter for the Elmhurst portion of the series.
Radcliff is active with Elmhurst Masters Competition Cycling and rode for the EMC2 team in the race for riders 35 or older.
The seven-event series began July 12 in Kenosha, Wis.,, and included stops in Crystal Lake and Chicago's Beverly neighborhood. The series moved on from Elmhurst to Lake Bluff and finished Sunday in St. Charles. A planned race day near downtown Chicago was canceled because of road construction.
"It's a form of road racing, but it's held over a closed course about a mile long," said Marc Colbert, executive director of the series. "It's uniquely American racing — not much seen in Europe — and very spectator-friendly."
The Elmhurst course was an on-street loop around Elmhurst College. Spectators could cheer friends and favorites, watch strategies unfold and see leads change in races that lasted from 30 minutes for Category 5 riders to 90 minutes for the elite professionals who rode the last race beginning at 8 p.m.
Colbert said Friday's events in Elmhurst drew about 350 racers, who are rated by amateur categories from least experienced Category 5 riders to the most experienced and fastest Category 1 riders.
At the top of the rankings are the professional riders, who make some or all of their living from bicycle racing and related activities. Colbert said $25,000 in prize money was available for men in this series and $12,500 for women.
The Elmhurst event included an hourlong late-afternoon family fun ride around the race loop.
"It's an opportunity for local community folks to be on the same course as the 'big kids,'" said Lisa Downey, marketing director for the series.
"Everybody loved that opportunity," said Sixth Ward Ald. Kevin York, who spent much of the day at the event. "The family ride was awesome, with close to 200 riders."
York said many of the family fun riders stayed to watch the men's final race, won in a late upset by pro Ricardo Escuela of Argentina. The women's final was won by U.S. pro Laura Van Gilder.
York noted that the event was a true community undertaking, with participation from the Elmhurst Park District, Elmhurst College and city staff.
"It was a huge event for the city, a lot of excitement and fun," York said. "I think we want to take it and grow it, maybe turn it from a full-day race event into a two- or three-day community event."
That was in line with Radcliff's intent.
"My goal was to bring something fun to Elmhurst, to give something back to the city and to the Elmhurst cycling community," he said.