By Mark Zalewski, North American Editor in Chicago, Illinois
In just its second year the Tour of Elk Grove, located in the Chicago suburbs, boasts a prize purse that rivals most road stage races -- but with just two criteriums and a short prologue on August 11-12. The $152,000 on offer over the three 'stages,' $60,000 of which goes to the overall winner, should bring a wealth of the fastest racers in the land -- particularly since the USPRO criterium championship is the following weekend in nearby Downers Grove.
The race is also bringing a handful of European and Europe-based American riders, namely Predictor-Lotto's Chris Horner and Freddie Rodriguez. Rodriguez should be right at home on the flat and fast 'L' shaped course, though it will likely be a few laps to get used to the American style of racing -- especially with so much money on the line. Horner comes to the race having finished fifteenth in the Tour de France last month. While about the farthest thing from an American crit, the opening prologue will suit him well, having finished only 53 seconds behind the world champion in the Tour prologue.
Two Europeans that should be honorary citizens by now, just by the sheer amount of time they spend here racing criteriums, are Jacob Nielsen and Kasper Klostergaard. Both have raced Superweek and other races in the States for years and have no problems knocking elbows while going around tight corners, eight times per lap.
Not present this year, much to the dismay of the organiser and local fans, are Team CSC's Christian Vande Velde and Dave Zabriskie. A Chicago native, Vande Velde recently became a father and will stay home with his new family addition. Zabriskie is still recovering from an injury sustained in the Tour and knows that crit racing is not the best medicine.
However, the domestic teams will be on-hand en force to cash in on another major pay day after last weekend's race in Charlotte, won by Health Net-Maxxis' Frank Pipp. Look for Pipp to be near the front again, having raced around here as an amateur for many years. Australian Hilton Clarke (Navigators Insurance) is on the start roster, but is rumored to be nursing an injury and not up to his full speed.
Looking at the rosters, it's clear the addition of the prologue time trial caused a few managers to think differently about their limited six-riders line-ups, such as Health Net running Aussie time trial champion Nathan O'Neill, Toyota-United with Chris Baldwin and Kodak Gallery-Sierra Nevada starting Mark Walters.