Cycling is not necessarily a glamour sport. Even with spandex.
Outside of Lance Armstrong, name five other professional cyclists.
But Friday night, alum Mike Sherer is looking forward to the spotlight.
The Winnetka native will be racing with Optum Pro Cycling in the main event of the — the men’s pro race on the streets of Lake Bluff in the inaugural running.
This is his second year with Optum, so he’s not that far removed to remember his amateur roots pedaling around the North Shore.
“It blows my mind that how really bad the riding is and there is not much variety, but how humungous the cycling community is in Chicago and the North Shore,” Sherer said. “There are only a few routes and a few paths, but they are out there every weekend doing it. It’s pretty amazing. I love coming back because people are so into it.”
Compared to the international treks he has made to race, this hometown affair means a chance to race in front of his family, see old friends and try to convert some new cycling fans.
“In the bigger races, you don’t get a feel for the crowds as much,” said Sherer, a New Trier High School graduate. “It’s more spread out. But in these tight criteriums, it really pumps you up. Especially at night like the Lake Bluff race will be, feels more like a main event. As a cyclist, you rarely get huge numbers of fans coming out for races. So, these big night-time races, people who may not be cycling fans are out there, and it motivates you, kind of makes you feel like a superstar.”
Trying to Get the Feeling
Sherer, 25, wasn’t quite sure cycling would provide him with that type of meteoric feeling just a few years ago. He was a student at Indiana University, and even though he had been on a bike since he was very young, his interest was fading. But then he joined a team competing in the Little 500. Yeah, that race. The one in the movie, Breaking Away.
“I trained more with them than I had ever ridden before, and I got excited about cycling again,” he said. “It re-sparked my interest. I performed well as an amateur in the lower categories, kind of surprised myself, and kept going from there.”
Included in those amateur wins was crossing first at the Glencoe Criterium two years ago. He had dedicated that year to cycling thanks to his father, who lives in Glencoe, footing the bill.
“I had one year and luckily it worked out,” he said. “Once I started to get serious with cycling, I wanted to take it as far as I could. I always had a goal in the back of my mind to become pro.”
The team director at Optum agreed, and Sherer quickly noticed a big difference in being a pro versus an amateur. He no longer had to worry over the details, and instead could focus just on his cycling. And even though it can appear that cycling is an individual sport, the team concept is very much at work.
“Some guys are complete workhorses for the team,” Sherer said. “They will ride in front to make it easier on the guys in back, and there is usually a dedicated guy who is doing less work so he can expend it at the end. We switch the roles around, so everyone gets a chance to have their time. Doing that helps you to work for the team because you know you’ll get your chance.”
Sherer will hope it’s his turn this weekend. If not at Lake Bluff, then on Saturday at the Glencoe Criterium. He had to sit out last year’s Glencoe event due to a broken collarbone suffered in a race in Baltimore.
“I actually don’t know what happened,” he said of the crash. “It happened real quick. I got a concussion, was knocked out and woke up in the ambulance. It was hard watching the Glencoe race last year being in a sling. That was the worst wreck I’ve been in.”
He was back riding on a stationary bike within a week of the accident and back with the team within two months. It’s those moments when he both knows to overcome a challenge as much as the intense physical and mental demands of the sport.
So what did he do? He moved six months ago to Colorado Springs, where the high altitude ramps up the training to a whole new level.
“It is hard to train at altitude,” he said. “I’ve seen drastic improvements just from being up there – either racing at altitude or coming down to sea level and seeing how much easier it is.
“It took a while to get used to,” Sherer added. “It took me a month of training and being frustrated until I got used to it. It is a shock to your system. It still is when you’re at 10,000 feet. At my level, I think it’s what you need to do to have an advantage over the other riders.”
Correction: A previous version of this story incorrectly identified the cyclists as Matt Sherer. Apologies for the mistake.