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Uniquely Chicago: Jake Buescher and XXX Racing


Chicago-based XXX Racing-Athletic is one of the classic US cycling teams. With 2019 being the 20th anniversary of its founding, it’s hard to think of a Midwestern race that hasn’t been graced by the team’s presence. One of XXX Racing’s current stars is Illinois-native Jake Buescher. As a criterium (crit) specialist, Jake has been racing at some of the Midwest’s biggest races like the Tour of America’s Dairyland (ToAD), Intelligentsia Cup, and Glencoe Grand Prix. And, as talented as he is racing on the road, his strongest form seems to be on the track where, in the last several weeks, Jake has won two Illinois State track titles and was a top-10 finisher at USA Cycling's Track Nationals. With A Cyclist in a Strange Land always eager to meet and promote up-and-coming Midwestern talent, we jumped at the chance to talk with Jake about his legendary team, his season, and his future on the bike. Below are highlights from our conversation.


Nathan (N): Let’s start by talking a little bit about your history with XXX Racing-Athletico, you’ve been associated with the team for a long time.


Jake Buescher (JB): I joined XXX Racing-Athletico in 2011 as a Category 3 rider. I was with XXX-Athletic from 2011-2014. Then in 2015, I moved to a development squad, EGO p/b Sammy’s Bikes. EGO had rounded up all of the best Category 1 and Category 2 riders from Chicagoland and tried to make a professional feeder team. It worked to an extent, a lot of the guys I rode with on that team are now on professional squad. After my tenure with that squad ended, I went back to my roots with XXX Racing-Athletico and have been with them for the last three years.


N: Sound like there’s something special about the team that keeps bringing you back.


JB: It’s an interesting team; not your typical development program. The team has open enrollment which means that any cyclist is accepted; we actually have 200 members on the team. We have different groups within the team to meet the needs of different riders. We have men’s, women’s, and junior’s development programs. There are elite development programs that are focused on developing riders from the Category 2 and 3 level. And, of course, we have the elite team which is the group that I’m on. Even on the elite team, we all pay member dues; those member dues help support the elite squad going to bigger races and XXX putting on or sponsoring criterium, cyclocross, and track races. It’s a good community environment. There have been so many success stories of riders joining as beginners and going on to thrive in the cycling community.

18 of XXX Racing-Athletico's 200-rider roster

N: There are many development squads out there, but XXX Racing-Athletico is one of the hallmarks that everyone has an eye on.


JB: Thank you. By our sheer numbers, it feels like I can go to any race in the country and someone will have a connection with XXX Racing-Athletico, kind of like the Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon.


N: Tell me a little bit about the bike messenger connection with XXX Racing-Athletico. I know that was the traditional core of the team, but how much of that is true today?


JB: The team’s roots are bike messengers that wanted to try bike racing, but today, out of the 200 members, I’d say that only two or three are bike messengers. Regardless of not being a team comprised of messengers anymore, we still do a good job carrying on the ideas that the founders based the team on. For example, we have a big 150-mile ride every year that we do in honor of one of the XXX founders, Eric Sprattling, who passed away a few years ago. Back when the team was getting started, Eric was trying to get everyone to train and would show up at people’s doors to get them to ride with him. They’d ask how far and he’d tell them, “I don’t know, 70 miles.” Then, what was originally going to be a decent Saturday-morning ride ended up being an all day, 150-mile affair to two state lines. They’d ride north until they reached Wisconsin. Then they’d bike all the way down to Indiana before turning around and heading back to Chicago. XXX Racing-Athletico does that marathon ride every year finishing up on the lake front here in Chicago. It’s one of those things where you can’t count more than 10 people that have done it more than once because, once you do it, that’s usually enough. 150 miles through Chicago suburbia makes for an exhausting day. The ride might start with 50-70 riders then slowly, but surely, the numbers start to dwindle as the ride goes along. By the end, there are only five or six riders rolling into town as it’s getting dark. It’s awesome.

The XXX Racing-Athletico team getting ready for a group ride

N: Man, what a perfect tradition! Another interesting tradition that I’ve always wondered about is the team’s name. What’s the story behind the XXX?


JB: I’ve heard a couple of stories about how we got our name, some are dirtier than others, but I believe that the accurate one is that a few of the guys showed up to a race and were filling out a USA Cycling waiver and they didn’t know what to write in the section asking for the team’s name. They ended up writing “XXX” and thought that they’d figure out a team name later, but XXX stuck.


N: That’s incredible! I think that makes for a much better story than anything racy.

JB: Right! As much as people want to come up with other stories, I think that’s the real one.


N: Since XXX Racing-Athletico is a development squad, where do you see yourself developing with the team over the next few seasons? I know that Red Hook Crit fixed gear races are a favorite of the next generation of cyclists, will there be a XXX Racing-Athletico fixed gear squad in the next couple of years? JB: Oh man, you’re the first one that’s asked about fixed gear crits. I’ve not even thought about that. Those Red Hook Crits terrify me.


N: Me too! (laughs) Well, maybe you guys can get started with the Fyxation Open fixed gear races that take place in the Midwest and Colorado!


JB: Maybe…I won’t ever cross anything off. It does kind of gel with where we’re heading as a team since we're becoming more focused on criteriums. Still, I think that we’ll be focusing a bit more on traditional crits over the next few years. We’ll be really, really pleased if the hard work we’ve put in over the last few years can be rewarded with a podium or a stage win at the Tour of America’s Dairyland or Intelligentsia Cup, or even the Quad Cities Criterium. We’ve won a lot of crits and regional races in the last few years, but we haven’t been able to get a top-level result. We’ve achieved a couple of top-10 finishes at the bigger races this year, so we’re close to breaking through with a win or podium. On the track, I think we’re still bearing down on a Nationals medal for either me or my teammate Tyler George.

From criteriums to the velodrome, Jake Buescher and XXX Racing-Athletico push the limits

N: Speaking of the track, beyond your criterium racing, you’re also a very accomplished track cyclist. Do you come from a track background? JB: Not really, I raced triathlon originally and after that, I raced on the road. The Ed Rudolph Velodrome in Northbrook [Ed. a northwestern suburb of Chicago] is kind of our home track. Then we also have the Kenosha Velodrome in Wisconsin which is a concrete velodrome with steeped banking. I think that, across the country, there are 26 velodromes and I think 10 of them are relatively dormant so it’s really cool to have a big racing presence and a lot of support from the local communities. For example, at Kenosha, they run the Mayor’s Cup where the local mayor hands out the trophies! It’s really nice to have all of this stuff in our backyard; it’s about the best place to get prepped for Track Nationals outside of living in Los Angeles near the VELO Sports Center. And then you also have the Major Taylor Velodrome down in Indianapolis which is only a few hours south of Chicago; they have some pretty high-caliber events. I was there for a two-day race in early July and was competing against a full international field with cyclists coming from Austria, Australia, and New Zealand to compete.


N: Just another great example of how rich the Midwestern cycling communities are. The Midwest just needs a little more development and unity among it’s scattered communities and they’ll be able to rival the Colorado and West Coast cycling scenes.


JB: It’s interesting you say that because I have a few friends that have migrated out to Colorado and California. The ones in California, especially, mention that the racing scenes start in January, which makes sense, they have nice weather. But, around May, probably around the time that the Redlands Cycling Classic ends, everyone migrates to the Midwest where there’s the ToAD, Intelligentsia Cup, etc. Living here, you never realize how valuable these races are; arguably it’s where the best racing in nation occurs during that part of the season. It doesn’t matter who shows up to those races, it’s the same speed and difficulty no matter what, especially that top-20 echelon of riders.


N: You say that you started in triathlon, what made you make the switch to road racing? JB: I’m originally from Springfield, Illinois. My dad was racing triathlons at the time and I was in my Senior year of high school, kind of bored and not doing a lot of productive things. I started running a lot that semester too which was the first thing that got me interested in endurance sports. I decided to go to the YMCA for a triathlon swimming lesson. Then I decided to borrow my mom’s old 1980s Cannondale aluminum road bike and finally start racing triathlons. In the long run, I didn’t really care for the running or the swimming, but I really loved my bike. There was a great local bike racing scene in Springfield. Every other week, there was a 10-mile time trial and, on the alternate weeks, there’d be a 20 kilometer time trial in Decatur, Illinois [Ed. approximately 45 minutes from Springfield]. So, for two summers in a row between semesters at college, I’d race a time trial every week. From there, the progression to racing crits was pretty natural since 95% of the bike races in the United States are criteriums.

Jake Buescher leading the pack at US Track Nationals

N: Do you still have a big love of time trials? JB: I haven’t done too many because, unfortunately, there aren’t that many opportunities to race them. About a month ago, a teammate and I did a two-man 50 kilometer time trial in one of the Chicago suburbs and won that. I did the Tour of St. Louis time trial at the opening weekend of the year and got a sixth place finish there. When I race the North Star Grand Prix, I always look forward to the first stage’s time trial. Starting last year, they made time trial equipment legal. That threw us all for a loop because we had all done it Merckx-style in the previous years. They had officials there measuring and checking the bikes. Even though we all tried to get our time trial rigs as close to legal as we could, my shifter levers were a couple centimeters past where they needed to be. I hardly ever use that time trial bike, so I took it over to the Shimano Neutral Support guys and they took a hacksaw to the bar-end shifters and shimmed them down to a little nub.


N: Oh, those terrible UCI rules…


JB: In years past, there was a ton of focus on the time trial, I even went to Time Trial Nationals a couple times, but recently Track Nationals has been a greater focus. My passion for time trials has probably bled over to racing the individual pursuit on the track. I’ve always enjoyed shorter time trials, that 5-15 minute range and the individual pursuit is right in line with that.


N: Well, it certainly seems to be paying off with you grabbing the Illinois State Track Championship in the Pursuit and Scratch. I’ll be looking forward to seeing how next season goes for you; hopefully you and the team keep on that winning trajectory and we’ll being seeing you on the podium more than ever!

© 2018 A Cyclist In A Strange Land