Chicago 2016 bid features 'Horribly Hilly' cycling
BLUE MOUNDS, Wis. -- The first road cycling course proposed for Chicago's 2016 Olympic bid began in the city's suburbs and wound its way through some hilly terrain before building to a big finish downtown in the heart of the Olympic village.
It was roundly rejected as being too easy.
That sent former professional cyclist and Chicago-area resident Robbie Ventura back to the drawing board.
Ventura, who once rode as a teammate to Lance Armstrong, was playing a lead role in designing the cycling venues for Chicago's bid. He could think of only one place in the area fitting the difficult profile Olympic officials desired: the diabolically hilly rural roads that wind around and through a state park about 30 miles west of Madison, Wis.
While the common perception might be that the Midwest is all plains, local amateur cyclists who have taken on the annual "Horribly Hilly Hundreds" ride know better. Now, with the International Olympic Committee poised to decide the fate of Chicago's bid in October, Ventura and bid organizers have a message for the best cyclists in the world: Bring it.
"We really have a viable case for this being one of the most challenging courses in recent memory," Ventura said.
Ventura rode in the Horribly Hilly event last weekend, and said it lived up to its name.
"Oh, my gosh. It was epic," Ventura said. "It really tested me, for sure."
The same roads also tested current pros in the June 18 Blue Mounds Race of the Future, the first stage of the inaugural Tour of America's Dairlyand cycling series.
The course took a peleton filled with up-and-coming professional cyclists -- including a few 2016 Olympic hopefuls -- and ripped it apart on the first of four laps on a 22-mile loop.
"Everyone had talked about the course being pretty hard, so I sort of expected it to be tough," said Sam Bewley, who won a bronze medal for New Zealand in team pursuit track cycling at Beijing last summer and now rides for the Trek-Livestrong development team. "I think it lived up to its expectations, for sure. It's going to be a hard race in the Olympics."
Beth White, who oversees sport venues and operations for the Chicago 2016 bid, watched the first lap from one of the course's toughest climbs. From the side of the road, she could hear what riders were saying as they chugged up a steep hill and rounded a bend in the road -- only to find more climbing in front of them.
"You could see around the corner from where we were that there was more, but they couldn't see it when they were coming toward us," White said. "And to hear their comments, it was like five or six 'You've got to be kidding me.' But my favorite one was, 'If this is the race of the future, I'm history!"
Bjorn Selander, a 2016 U.S. Olympic hopeful who also rides for Trek-Livestrong, agreed.
"There's some good climbs -- steep ones, too," Selander said. "You don't get the long, sustained climbs. But you can get some really decent climbs around here."
And Selander, a native of Hudson, Wis., would love to have a shot at gold in his home state.
"I think it'd be awesome if it's in Wisconsin," he said. "I'll be there -- and hopefully win it."
While the hills of Wisconsin certainly can't match the steep sustained climbs found in mountain stages of the Tour de France, Ventura compared the proposed finishing loop's succession of brief, intense climbs to the famed Paris-Nice one-day classic.
"A pure sprinter is not going to win this event," Ventura said.
The decision by Chicago 2016 bid organizers to move the proposed road race to Wisconsin eventually blossomed into a bigger idea: Make bike-mad Madison the hub for Olympic cycling.
The proposed time trial course winds its way through the streets of Madison, and mountain biking events would be held in more hilly terrain in the Blue Mounds area. Cycling athletes would be housed in a scaled-down Olympic village of their own on the University of Wisconsin-Madison campus.
BMX and track cycling events would still be held in the Chicago area.
White said IOC members were receptive to the idea of having cycling events in Madison -- especially after they were told about the city's avid cycling community. The League of American Bicyclists has named Madison one of the 10 most bicycle-friendly communities in the country, and Trek's corporate headquarters is in nearby Waterloo.
"This is a very enthusiastic cycling community here," White said. "And knowing that you have that rich, deep feeling in the community here, you know that they're going to be so behind this event when it's here."
Fans in downtown Madison would be able to watch riders in the road race start with a few laps in the city before they are turned loose on a nearly 40-mile route to Blue Mounds. Fans could then watch the remainder of the race on big-screen televisions downtown or board shuttle buses to reach the finish line. Viewing areas also would be set up for fans to watch several laps of the 22-mile finishing loop.
The big finish would be in Blue Mound State Park, trading the majestic backdrop of downtown Chicago for the tranquil woods of Wisconsin.
"It's got to be about the sport and the athlete," White said. "It can't be about the backdrop. That's our No. 1 thing. We couldn't bring the mountain to us, so we came to the mountain."
And perhaps the most brutal climb of the day would come right before the finish.
"If there's 20 or 30 guys at the bottom of the hill, there's not going to be 20 or 30 guys at the top," Bewley said.
Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press
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