Less than vicious cyclists

(Maggie Sivit)

They sounded like bees. A swarm of bikers careened around the corner, enthusiastically buzzing past in a blur of black and white. The day was March 28, the place was Calumet Park, and the occasion was the Gapers Block criterium series.

Calumet Park, located along Lake Michigan in the far South Side neighborhood of East Side, has become something of a haven for biking enthusiasts. It’s not difficult to see why: the park is surprisingly open and clean, a spot of green in the midst of a sprawl of power lines and smokestacks that would make any game designer salivate. As tracks go, Calumet isn’t strenuous, but its gentle turns and lack of incline make it perfect for beginning racers trying out the sport or those looking to qualify for a higher ranking.

This was a beginners race, but the term is ambiguous in a sport where “beginner” covers everyone from those who have just started training to longtime riders who’ve just never bothered to compete. Racers from both sides of the spectrum huffed and puffed around the track, some more out of breath than others, but all clad in tight bodysuits with white numbered squares on one shoulder.

Considering it was a nippy evening and the riders were undoubtedly in a large amount of pain, the cyclists seemed to be remarkably pleased. From the more experienced riders cruising half a lap in front of the pack to those true beginners panting behind, everyone had the same fierce grin. And they weren’t the only ones.

Spectators and family members screamed from the sidelines, their calls of “Go Hunter!” and “Show them how it’s done!” audible over the whir of wheels. Those cyclists preparing for their own races paused in the middle of swallowing chunks of PowerBars and Nutri-Grain to add their own cheers. Even the nonhuman audience joined in, with one brown canine in a fetching striped sweater giving each passing racer a wide, doggy smile.