By Mark Zalewski in Elk Grove, Illinois
On Sunday near Chicago the Cheerwine team made significant progress in their battle for both the 2007 individual and NRC titles, making a clean sweep of the podium at the Tour of Elk Grove. Laura Van Gilder's second place increased her lead in the individual standings while the team's performance edges them closer to Webcor in the team competition.
The points earned by Cheerwine will definitely fall under the category of making the most of an opportunity, as the women's race was only attended by 35 riders. This mystified the second-year race organisers, citing that a $17,000 prize purse for the women alone should have brought more riders and teams.
However, the race this year only had one race for the pro women, compared to three for the pro men and compared to two races for the women last year. Also, the women's categories were split over the two days as opposed to an open format, which Cheerwine's Kelly Benjamin said took away at least a third of the women's pack.
More than one racer in the pro women's category felt it insulting that their races were cut down to one while the pro men were increased to three. They understood why many women's teams would not undertake the expense of flying their riders in for one criterium when they will be flying back just a week later for the national championships in Downers Grove.
Nonetheless, the race organisers were disappointed in the turn-out and said they will consider it as a factor in making plans for next year's race - which Elk Grove mayor Craig Johnson said would be expanded for the pro men to include a road race.