More than 75 cyclists tackled the southern Illinois hills Saturday, Oct. 31, as part of the Cannonball Fall 2020 bike race hosted by Tom Welge, his St. Nicholas Brewing Company Cycling Team and the Bike Surgeon of the Metro-East.
Cannonball rides are described on the race website as "self-guided, self-supported, multi-surface adventure races that challenge even the most experienced racer." This ride offered both short and long courses -- 37 miles and 70 miles, respectively -- and attracted participants from across the region.
"We had riders from Chicago, Kansas City, St. Louis, Belleville and Central Illinois to name a few locations. The only Chester riders that I know of were Brandy and James Maes and their eighth-grade son, Nate," Welge said.
It was a bright sunny day when the race started at 10:15 a.m. at the St. Nicholas Landmark in Chester. Temperatures were in the 40s early on but warmed a bit later in the morning. Conditions were dry and very easy in which to maneuver.
But almost every rider had something to say about the many tough hills in southern Illinois.
"This is a very rough course and there are many tough hills," Welge said. "Even though we did provide times to the riders at the end of the ride, there were no prizes or awards. The reward for most everyone was just to finish."
The event was titled a race, but most people said they were just here to ride and enjoy the beautiful fall day and scenery.
"We have had this ride at different times in recent years. One year it was actually in February and the weather was extremely cold and nasty. This year we decided to have it earlier to enjoy the fall weather," Welge said.
According to Welge, the race was billed as "self-supported," which means everyone was responsible for themselves on the course for the duration of the event. For example, there was no water or food provided and riders were responsible for their own safety and any need bicycle repairs. The race was also qualified as a "gravel" race with many portions taking place off the road or highway.
"Eight members of our St. Nichols Brewery Team rode and seemed to have a great time," Welge said. "This ride was more social than competitive, but most of the participants that came to this ride were good, strong riders."
The earliest riders who chose the "short" 37-mile race took at least four hours to return to the finish line at the St. Nicholas Landmark. Some riders who tackled the 70-mile course were still out on the course after six hours.
"This was a great day weather-wise, and everyone was excited to be riding," Welge said.
"Usually there is a lot more socialization involved with one of our rides, but due to COVID-19 restrictions and dangers, there was very little socializing after the race this year. We will undoubtedly host another ride in the future and hopefully be able to offer more hospitality then."