by Julie Popper
Cyclocross magazine reported in Issue #2 about the history of the Chicago ‘Cross Cup, one of the longest-running series in the nation. Just this year, though, the series exploded, nearly doubling its registration numbers to more than 400 starters per race. But something equally important happened – the Category 4b race found its own identity as the home of hand-ups and heckling, a spectacle so big, it has earned its own billboard.
Because the beginners/Category 4 field was constantly filling to capacity, in 2008 the ChiCrossCup created category 4b as a way to create more space for new riders, and to break the complete beginners and very slow riders out from the more experienced, faster and more competitive 4’s. Last year, it was just that.
This year, though, 4b has become something far more. Recently nicknamed “The Circus,” it’s become the home of the race-for-fun crowd, and spectators have followed suit. The season started with your standard beer and dollar handups, but then things started changing. Soon cupcakes, cornbread, cookies, pumpkin pie and Halloween candy followed. At the Indian Lakes race, a spectator was handing up “free hugs.” At Woodstock last weekend, spectators were offering Category 4b racers whiskey shots, Spam, turkey jerky, babies and dog kisses. According to one attendee, spectators handed-up a total of 17 pounds of Spam to the category 4b racers.
The Circus of the 4b’s has become so attractive that many of the category 3 and 4 women are signing up. “I’ve always felt that the women’s race is too short, so I’ll jump at a chance for another 30 minutes,” commented Tamara Fraser (xXx Racing – AthletiCo). “The fact that energetic crowds of hecklers form, taunting racers to take the candy or cupcakes or toys or beverages or dollar bills or hugs or one of the various forms of meat they are holding out is CRAZY. It’s a silly, spontaneous circus that celebrates sport. Being part of that is priceless.”
Tamara is just one of a handful of women doubling up in the 4b’s, and the crowd loves shouting for them – or the people being beaten by them. “The 4b race to me is all about crazy fun… bacon, beer, shots and junk-food hand-ups all while I kick some boys’ butts,” remarked Katie Isermann (Spidermonkey/Iron Cycles). “The cheers/heckling of the crowd really keeps me going!”
A few riders have made a name for themselves in the 4b’s, including perennial crowd favorite “flannel Mike” Schietinger aka “Business Casual,” who races in jeans and a flannel button-down each week. At the Indian Lakes race, he even brought a friend-in-flannel, reportedly his brother-in-law. Chants of “BC! BC!” follow Business Casual around the course as he’s become a superstar in his own right, standing out in the Circus.
Why has all this come to happen? For starters, 4b racers are more likely to accept hand-ups and interact with the crowd than the more serious, faster, higher category participants. Second, since it’s the last race of the day, many riders from earlier races have a beer and stick around, swelling the ranks on the heckler hills. But really, it happens for just one reason – it’s fun.
“I got a $20 hand-up at the Northbrook race,” said 12-year-old Jacob Thom (Half Acre Cycling), who doubles-up racing in Juniors and 4b. “I used it to buy a bullhorn to heckle with. Now I sometimes like to race the 4b’s, and sometimes I just want to heckle them.”