Race Report: 2015 Rhythm & Blues Revue

For those of you unfamiliar with Rule No. 5, let me paraphrase it for you: no complaining, just ride. That rule kept the whole team fired up all race long.

2015 Higher Gear Rhythm Blues Revue Cyclocross CX Cross Race Wilmette Canal Shores Gearheads


It was 8am at Canal Shores Golf Club.  The rain didn’t look like it was gonna let up. The ground was beginning to soak, and grass and mud squished under my boots as I walked over to the van.   was making sure the course was good to go with the last minute raking of leaves, fixing of tape and trimming of branches.

Our roster for the day consisted of first-timers Larry Berlin, Bill Vellon, DJ Fish, and John McCormick, veteran Tom Parsons and myself. However, in these epic conditions, we were all rookies.

I pre-rode as much of the technical course as I could before the race. What was a simple ride up out of the woods yesterday became a slippery, super difficult “slide-down, crawl-up.” The course was getting muddier and muddier and I slipped and fell multiple times during the warm up, trying to determine the right line for each turn.


At the start line, nobody on our team showed any fear. We were all predicted via crossresults.com to race mediocrely. We were determined to make sure that this was not the case.


2015 Higher Gear Rhythm Blues Revue Cyclocross CX Cross Race Wilmette Canal Shores Gearheads


Off the gun. I missed my pedal.  John was close by me, and we both made it to the hole shot in the top 8. John was going to play conservative the whole race, and go for a clean run. I was going to take risks. On the first turn, I hit the ground. Hard. I got hit by two guys both who were trying to make the pass, and quickly scooped myself out of the mud and back on my bike. My handlebars had twisted about 30º to the left, and I was riding my bike quite uncomfortably. I still managed to hold in the top 15, with Tom Parsons a bit ahead of me, and John McCormick a few slots behind me.

We crossed the bridge and started the looping course. Another crash happened 20 seconds later. The field got caught up, and I stopped to fix my bars. I lost a few more spots, and then started my climb back toward the front. At this point, the top 3 guys were long gone, as far away from these crashes as possible.

I clawed my way back up a few spots, and then we got to the woods. I anchored myself to a tree coming down, and then crawled on one arm and two feet up the hill. The top 10 was about to go up-course and out of sight. I was not about to let that happen.

2015 Higher Gear Rhythm Blues Revue Cyclocross CX Cross Race Wilmette Canal Shores Gearhead Joe Pepe SullivanI gunned it down every straightaway, hugged every corner, and made a clean run after that. I made passes when I needed to and, to the anger of my competition, blocked in corners, and didn’t let myself get passed up.

On the last lap, I saw DJ, and heckled him from across the course. I felt quite Belgian pro: covered in mud, no glasses and hauling through the mud.

The mud got deeper and slicker. Several times I lost control of my back wheel and nearly crashed again. I kept marching through the field and, to my surprise, finished 8th. Tom was close behind in 12th, John right behind him in 13th. DJ took 24th on his single-speed Surly with only one brake. Larry took 38th in his first ever race on a demo CruX from the Specialized Demo Truck. Bill DNF’d as he helped out an injured rider.


2015 Higher Gear Rhythm Blues Revue Cyclocross CX Cross Race Wilmette Canal Shores Gearhead Joe Pepe Sullivan Larry BerlinI was disappointed I didn’t get to the podium. However, this disappointment is easily offset by the fact that every single rider on my team did better than the predictor said they would. The Rhythm and Blues Revue was a good team result. With the remainder of the ‘cross season and one big road season coming up, this was more than I could ask for.

I’ve got a week off this week, and will proceed to Indian Lakes next weekend for back-to-back races on Saturday and Sunday. Stay tuned for my race report from that!


Check out our race recap from the 3rd annual Rhythm & Blues Revue >>

See what bikes Specialized brought out on their demo truck for our R&B Revue racers to test ride >>


Check out my race reports from the 2015 road season:



Joe Sullivan Pepe Higher Gear Gearhead cyclocross CCC Chicago Cup


Joe “Pepe” Sullivan is a junior cyclists from Evanston, Illinois. He began the 2015 cycling season racing as a 17 year-old, riding a Specialized Venge, named “El Diablo Dos.” Joe races for Higher Gear in both cyclocross and road. You can find him most of the summer and many weekends at Higher Gear.



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