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Thursday, February 22

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Cycling Mon Aug 13 2012

Bikes, Beers & Hot Dog Costumes at the Cycle Messenger World Championships

Photo by Chris Dilts

By Scott Klocksin

We didn't get the 2016 Olympics. But keep your chin up and your eyes on the swirling traffic, Chicago, because we did host the 2012 Cycle Messenger World Championships.

A swarm of 375 world-class athletes from 13 countries converged on the south parking lot of Soldier Field Aug. 4-5 for two days of closed-course racing and side events such as a sprint race, a cargo-carrying race and a skid contest.

The specially-calibrated electrolyte drinks and energy bars seen at most bike races were mostly abandoned for greasy local fare and the hydration method favored by bike messengers the world over: cold beer. (It didn't hurt that Pabst Blue Ribbon was an event sponsor.)

There was even a dude who raced in a hot dog suit. Of course there was. And of course, it was mustard, not ketchup on the dog.

Amid the revelry, the main race was a mentally challenging simulation of what bike messengers do in an average work day, with riders picking up and dropping off envelopes and packages along a course requiring them to make sharp turns, stop often and account for their deliveries with a written manifest.

An open-course "alley cat" race through the streets of the city also included some CMWC racers but was not affiliated with the CMWC's or listed on the official schedule of events.

This was the 20th incarnation of the CMWC's, and our fair city's first go at hosting them. Chicago won a bid for the North American Cycle Courier Championships (NACC's) in 2008, which organizers say helped bolster confidence in the international bike messenger community that the City of Big Shoulders could handle the industry's biggest event.

Host cities are determined at an annual open forum where participants hear pitches from delegations two years before they would like to host, so organizers can attend the year before their city hosts and learn all they can. Next year's event will be in Lausanne, Switzerland, the hometown of Josephine Reitzel, this year's women's overall champ.

It was never a foregone conclusion that Chicago would get the event.

"[We] put in a bid for Chicago [at the CMWC's] in Tokyo in 2008. Chicago lost the bid to Warsaw that year. There wasn't a plan to do another bid," said Nick Puczkowskyj, a Chicago messenger and CMWC organizer. At the CMWC's in Guatemala two years ago, "We kinda said, 'Fuck it, let's go for it.' So we did. We wanted it really bad. It was apparent that we did."

Messengers are a hearty lot, but the Saturday thunderstorm that forced a Lollapalooza evacuation also cut the CMWC's short. It happened during the middle of the qualifying race, and 31 racers had their runs interrupted or cancelled.

The weather didn't seem to faze anybody much.

"That was so cool. I mean, it could have been horrible. But we got so lucky pulling it off," said Vernon Schleyer, a member of the organizing committee. "We had no intention of canceling or stopping at all."

But all hands were on deck when Soldier Field staff ordered the course cleared not only of racers and their bikes, but of the tents and merchandise used by event sponsors.

"It was the right call," Schleyer said.

No one was hurt by the storm, which kept everyone holed up in the lower level of a nearby parking garage until it passed. Once it did, serious business remained.

If you happened to notice a lot of wrought-iron fences around the city with hundreds of beat-up fixed-gear bikes dangling from them over the weekend, now you know why: bike messengers like to party.

The biggest and (probably wildest) of several parties was the eighth annual Messenger Prom, held Saturday night in a South Loop warehouse space. Picture two floors packed with dancing, sweaty messengers (and the occasional girlfriend of a messenger). A "king" and "queen" were crowned, and awards given for Best Dressed male and female. (Cut-off shorts with suit jackets and ties were among the popular attire choices.)

That Monday, after the dust had settled and the bike grease was washed away, a vote was held in a Pilsen backyard for which city would host the event in 2014. New York and Melbourne lost out to Mexico City, whose delegates promised crates of tequila for racers and the use of a helicopter for shooting aerial footage of the races.

A helicopter?! We'll see about that. But if a group of bike messengers can snag a spot for a rowdy, beer-fueled race on the hallowed grounds of Soldier Field, anything can happen.

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