A premiere cycling event returned to Northwest Indiana on Saturday, as Hammond hosted the Region Riot Criterium. Featuring 10 races spanning every category from juniors and novices to professionals and masters, it was a day packed full of racing at Wolf Lake Memorial Park.
Hammond first hosted the Region Riot back in 2017 and turned it into an annual event along with the cycling team Region Racing. The COVID-19 Pandemic put it on hold for the last two years, so the City and Region Racing team were excited to get back on the circuit.
“Mayor [Tom] McDermott is a really avid cyclist, and I was a former cyclist myself so I pitched this idea to him and he ran with it,” said Dean Button, Hammond’s City Engineer and Region Riot Criterium Race Director. “Our first year we had about 100 registrants, and this year we’re looking at about 250. So it’s continued to steadily grow.”
The criterium is no leisure race – with results in most categories counting for points in the Illinois Cup and the INKY Crit Series, where championships racers throughout the Midwest compete across multiple races to crown the season’s top cyclist. The Region Riot course is 1.3 miles long and composed of 15 turns that take racers down Calumet Avenue, and through multiple roundabouts and a curving path over and down a hill. Riders run the course for a set duration, with the total laps being set the leading pace.
“To make it interesting, throughout the race we’ll have prime laps, called ‘preems,’” Button said. “The first person to cross the finish line in that lap gets a prize. We’re giving away things like VIP tickets for Festival of the Lakes with Counting Crows and Lynyrd Skynyrd, gift cards from one of our major sponsors Strack & Van Til. We just do all sorts of fun giveaways for people who are racing.”
The gifts are fun, but for the racers the main prize is of course, first place in their category. Riders and teams from throughout Chicagoland and beyond all fought for spots on the podium – including Raf Kuklinski of Plus Cycling, who came to Hammond Glendale Height to secure first place in the men’s category 3/4 race.
“This is my first win in category three, I’ve been waiting for a podium, let alone a win, for a year and a half now,” he said. “I raced in category three last year and was nowhere near the podium, so this makes me really happy. I finally had a good sprint at the end, so I’m happy with the performance.”
Kuklinski is a veteran of the Region Riot Criterium, having participated in its last running back in 2019 – which was a slightly different experience.
“It was a disgusting race in terms of weather, 40 degrees, windy, and rainy,” he said. “One of the most horrible days on a bike, but today its beautiful weather.”
Region Racing’s Rick Baisa was excited to welcome racers like Kuklinski back to the Region, especially with such accommodating weather.
“We just want more people bike racing, to promote kids riding healthy lifestyles, and to see more people on bikes,” he said. “Anytime you can get people riding or see people out there racing their bikes, we’re happy.”