The Chicago Cyclocross Cup series has carved out a fervent niche in the city’s sports scene in just eight years. When it launched in 2004 a race might feature just 40 riders. This year’s first event at Jackson Park claimed more than 650 pre-registrants. Here’s a look at some of the faces of Chicago’s cyclocross scene.
Scott McLaughlin, 43, Chicago, SRAM Engineer
Team: SRAM Factory
Scott McLaughlin has won the Chicago Cross Cup Cat 1/2/3 season championship three of the last four years, bowing only to Brian Conant of The Pony Shop in 2010. The two figure to battle it out with Kevin Klug and Paul Mumford again in 2012.
A life in gears: When he’s not tearing up the cyclocross field, McLaughlin works as one of the top engineers at SRAM, producers of bicycle components.
Family affair: McLaughlin’s wife, Ellen, rides cyclocross as well, and they have a young son named Ellis.
Paolo Urizar, 38, IT engineer, Peterson Park
Team: The Bonebell
Paolo Urizar got hooked on cyclocross when he stumbled across 40 people racing in the snow at Montrose Harbor in December of 2004. He wanted a part of the action.
Eight years later the husband and father of two young girls is one of the sport’s most fanatical proponents.
Glutton for punishment: Urizar and his Bonebell teammates are ultra-endurance mountain bike racing vets who ride in as many as four cyclocross events in a single day.
Family ride: “I roll out of my garage and into Peterson Park on the northwest side to practice with my wife and kids. It’s perfect.”
Moving up: Last year Urizar stepped up his game, getting a coach and training “on a lot of cold, cold January mornings on the lakefront” in a quest for nationals.
Dirtbaggin’: Urizar advocates people getting off road any way possible.
“There’s no rule that you can’t ride through the park like you did when you were a kid,” he says.
Lou Kuhn, 39, Evanston, Owner of The Pony Shop
Team: The Pony Shop
A three-time series champion and two-time 30-plus champ, Kuhn is a top contender who welcomes new blood.
“You look around the field now and realize you’re competing against kids who were born in the 90s!” he says. “It’s definitely an eye-opener and it’s definitely getting harder.”
The perfect city sport: “You don’t need a long course, and you can set up a practice course in a park really easily,” he says.
Getting started: Cyclocross is approachable even to the novice cyclist. “There are so many different levels of riders,” Kuhn says. “We’re adding categories all the time, so now you can compete with people on your level from age 11 to age 70.”
Family balance: Kuhn has owned The Pony Shop in Evanston for eight years, combining passion with profession. He and his wife have a teenage daughter, and like many Cyclocross athletes, he often rises by 5 a.m. to get his training in while they’re asleep.
Elizabeth So, 24, Hyde Park, Aspiring Medical Student
Team: Les Petites Victoires
Elizabeth So kicked off her 2012 season in grand fashion, taking the top of the podium at Jackson Park in September.
It was a far cry from her start in the series in 2008.
“I was terrible,” she says. “But it was so much fun I didn’t want to stop.”
Overuse injuries had steered the collegiate runner off her feet and onto her bike. She hasn’t looked back.
Competitive nature: “I’m four years in and I still see all these places I can get better. I feel like I found my sport.”
The ride doesn’t make the rider: “Not having the expensive equipment won’t keep you from racing,” she says.
Girl power: Les Petite Victoires is the Midwest’s only all-women cycling team. The University of Chicago grad is also pushing for races to give equal payouts to men and women, and she has created a fund to supplement women’s payouts at races that short the ladies.
So blogs at lizsowhat.wordpress.com
Katie Tomarelli, 30, Social Services Nurse, Wicker Park
Team: Kinky Llama Racing
Katie Tomarelli grew up in the pool, staring at the black line as she swam her way to become a DIII athlete at McDaniel College in Maryland. After thousands of solitary hours in the water, it’s no wonder the self-described “kooky red-head” took to the jovial atmosphere of cyclocross three years ago.
“This is fun,” she says. “People are dressing up, throwing things at you, holding hot dogs over the fence for you to grab.”
Tomarelli can be found jumping obstacles in the city’s parks when she’s not pursuing her graduate degree at Rush University or working as a roaming social services nurse.
Season goals: “[Sept. 30] I recorded my goal for the year – making the podium – so the rest is a party,” says Tomarelli, who finished second in Cat 3 at the Hopkins Park race.
Really long-term goals: “I want to ride as long as it’s fun. I hope to be an old lady out there.”
Avi Neurohr, 42, West Ridge, IT engineer at Northwestern
Team: Chicago Cuttin’ Crew
Avi Neurohr is jealous of just one Cyclocross series competitor – his 12 year-old daughter, Ella, who took third in her age group at last year’s national championships in Madison.
“She’s definitely the top athlete in the family,” he says. This year Neurohr, who has won “a couple of minor cycling titles on the track,” has his sights on Madison.
Different cultures: Oregon’s cyclocross scene has a rep for shenanigans. New England is serious. “In Chicago,” Neurohr says, “we have our own atmosphere, with a lot of heckling and random bacon hand-outs for riders.
Training commute: Neurohr gets his training miles in during his eight-mile ride to work downtown, weaving through trees and pushing through the sand on the lakefront. “If you see someone doing that, they’re probably training for cyclocross.”
Beginner’s advice: “As long as you can take a little abuse from the hecklers, you’ll have a great time,” he says.
Kevin Klug, 41, Evanston, Sales
Team: The Pony Shop
Klug came to cyclocross five years ago after years racing in the Wisconsin Off Road Series. Last year he finished second in the Chicago Cross Cup overall standings to Scott McLaughlin.
“I just want to accumulate enough points for a good start in Nationals and Masters World Championships,” he says. “That will give me a fighting chance to compete.”
Youth wanted: “We need more of the young guys to move up and challenge themselves to do a higher level of racing, like Paul Mumford and David Lombardo have,” Klug says. “And we need more young competitors in general.
Fitting it in: Klug travels a lot for work and has a year and a half-old son, so cyclocross is a good fit for his schedule. “You can do less than 12 hours of training each week and still compete,” he says. “It’s a short distance, high anaerobic output sport, so the long rides aren’t as crucial.”