Rain fails to dampen Tour spirit

Mark Swartzendruber’s push for a competitive bike race in Champaign started in January.

After pitching the idea of the Tour de Champaign race to various city planners and officials, he started getting specific.

“By March, we knew the dates that we wanted to race, we knew the race venues, then it was matter of getting sponsorship up,” Swartzendruber said.

Acquiring sponsorship was key, because Swartzendruber knew the vast majority of racers would be motivated by the prizes.

“These riders don’t show up for nothing,” he said. “They all know me, and I hope like me, but they’re here to race for money. So we had to get a good prize list up.”

With the contributions of local business owners, the sponsorship question was solved by May.

That left Swartzendruber a month and a half to work everything else out, and in his words, “There are 1,000 minor details that we had to get ironed out.”

During Sunday’s Category 3 race, Swartzendruber claimed success for the event.

“I’m feeling like we hit a home run,” he said. “I think that the rider feedback has been tremendous. I mean, to a person everybody that has raced here has loved it. The courses, the venues, the crowds, the money, the organization, they’ve all been very very positive.”

With a self-proclaimed successful year under his belt, Swartzendruber sees no reason to keep the event from coming back.

“I think we’ve got the solid backing of Champaign to do this again next year,” he said.

And now that he knows what to expect from a management standpoint, Swartzendruber didn’t rule out entering himself in future races.

“It’s killing me not to race because I selected this course specifically for the terrain and the roads and the venue, and I really wanted to race it,” Swartzendruber said of Sunday’s course on campus.

But from behind the wheel of the pace car, Swartzendruber had front-row seats to whichever race he wanted to see.

“It’s kind of a good view. I check the rearview mirror, and I get to see the entire race as opposed to when you’re sitting at the finish line … this is actually a pretty good view,” he said.

Category 3 winner knows area well

Though this is the first Tour de Champaign, the winner of Saturday’s Men’s Category 3 race was already familiar with the course.

Hogan Sills, who hails from Champaign, is a competitive cyclist who races nearly every other weekend.

Sills spent nearly the entire race battling out with a single rider, lapping most of the competition.

“A guy went off pretty early, and then I just kind of rode up to him,” Sills said. “It’s early in the race, I can recover from any energy loss so I just got up to him … and once we had about 25 seconds on the pack, I knew we were gone.”

Sills recently graduated Champaign Central High School and will major in engineering at Purdue next fall.

Some of the racers in Saturday’s Men’s Pro/1/2 race were from Purdue and will likely be Sills’ teammates next year.

“I’ll talk to them about life over there and how they train, and hopefully I’ll be training with them next year,” he said.

Local riders step up speed

As Mark Swartzendruber answered questions about the Tour de Champaign, he stopped mid-sentence.

“This kid is flying behind me,” he exclaimed.

The lead cyclist in Sunday’s Category 3 race had caught up to the convertible pace car that Swartzendruber was driving, requiring him to pick up speed seven minutes into the hour-long race.

According to Swartzendruber, Saturday’s Men’s Pro/1/2 Race averaged 28 mph while lasting well over an hour.

He also said there were times where his pace car reached more than 40 mph.

Stone motivates large crowd

Of the many decisions that needed to be made when planning the weekend’s events, one of the easiest was picking an announcer.

Mark Swartzendruber always knew that he wanted the announcer to be William H. Stone, a good friend of his.

Stone met good reception during his two days announcing.

“(Stone) did real good getting everybody into the race,” said cyclist Dave Neis of Carbondale. “Sometimes guys are more annoying when they’re announcing the race and (are) talking all the time, but he was real good … he knows his stuff, that’s for sure.”

According to Swartzendruber, Stone is a semi-retired attorney who can still hold his own in a bike race. Recently, Stone placed sixth at the Masters Road National Championships in Louisville, Ky.

“I knew when I was having races that I wanted Billy announcing … as long as he’s alive and sober, he’ll be announcing for me,” Swartzendruber said with a smile.

Rough weather leads to slick terrain

Many times, the parts of a race that are most talked about are the crashes. And with rain coming down for much of Saturday morning, the slick conditions proved troublesome for the field.

“Yesterday was a bit scary because of the wet roads during my race,” Neis said. “We had quite a few crashes in it. Luckily, I was able to land on my feet in the one I was involved with and was able to finish the race still.”

While Neis finished his race in 14th place, some who crashed did not finish, though there were no severe injuries. One of the trainers had witnessed about ten crashes by Saturday afternoon.

While thunderstorms caused a short delay Saturday morning, the roads were dry for the last two races of the day.

“By the time the Pro/1/2 race rolled around, and the Category 3 race ended up on dry roads, we were sitting pretty. The sun came out and it was good weather,” Swartzendruber said.

Sunday’s weather was nearly impeccable, as far as cycling goes.

“(Sunday), you couldn’t ask for a better day,” Swartzendruber said. “It’s warm, but it’s not too humid, there’s a little bit of a breeze but it’s not windy, (it was) just a perfect day for racing.”

Turnout impressive for weekend race

Nick Nava, senior in LAS, didn’t know that he would be spending his afternoon watching a bike race until he arrived downtown.

But he’s glad he did.

“It was kind of spur of the moment,” the St. Louis native said. “We walked down here to get coffee and saw this was going on and decided to check it out. Now that I’m here … (before seeing the races) we were going to leave, but this is awesome.”

Swartzendruber was pleased with the turnout.

“We had it lined from Esquire and Café Kopi on both sides of the roads all the way around to Jim Gould’s and Guido’s,” he said. “Some came specifically to watch the races and other people had no clue the races were going on … the turnout (Saturday) was just phenomenal.”

The turnout was easily high enough for the competitors to notice.

“You could hear them cheering a lot, it was good,” Neis said.