Marco Colbert got hooked on biking in his late 40s, and he has the rolling terrain at Kettle Moraine State Forest in Wisconsin to thank for it.
Colbert — now 67 years old and the executive director/co-owner of the Intelligentsia Cup powered by SRAM (bike racing) Series — remembers when he zoomed down and up, down and up and down and up some more for the first time near Whitewater Lake.
“I was cycling my brains out up there, loving every minute of it, and I felt like I was on a rollercoaster,” recalls Colbert, sitting at an outdoor table at Bluffington’s Café in Lake Bluff on a pleasant June morning.
“I found myself giggling like a kid.”
Colbert has picked the perfect place for breakfast. Cars on Scranton Avenue roll slowly a few feet from our table, where Colbert’s order of coffee, orange juice and Egg Bluffington (one egg, cheddar cheese and bacon on an English muffin) awaits his attention.
Colbert points to an area on the other side of Scranton Avenue.
“That’s where the finish line will be,” he says, referring to the journey’s end of 15 races at the Sixth Annual Northwestern Medicine Lake Bluff Criterium (one of 10 stops in this summer’s Intelligentsia Cup Series), to be staged on July 22, beginning at 8:45 a.m.
“Downtown Lake Bluff,” the Lincolnshire resident adds, “will be transformed into an awesome racing venue. The sound you’ll hear, during some of the races, will sound just like the whirring of locusts. It’s a great spectator sport, like NASCAR is — fast and colorful, with thrills and maybe some spills, though we’re hoping to keep the spills to a minimum.”
Colbert, former head of the legal department at Bank of America in Chicago, has busted three bike helmets in his recreational and competitive racing careers. The first bicycle he ever rode was a Schwinn 5-speed, as a youngster growing up in Champaign. The University of Illinois graduate returned to his alma mater’s streets in his 50s and finished runner-up in his age group at the Urbana Grand Prix.
He pocketed $70 for pedaling his heart out.
“I was working in Chicago when I wanted a new form of exercise,” says Colbert. “On a whim I went to an REI and bought a cheap mountain bike. Then I rode it on the Des Plaines River Trail. I was exhausted after a couple of miles. Later, I met a couple of guys, one from Libertyville and one from Mundelein. Both had better bikes than I had. Both taught me how to ride a mountain bike the right way.
“The three of us started riding together.”
After serving as an operations manager and assistant manager for professional cycling teams, Colbert completed stints as an assistant race director for the 2010 USA Cycling Professional Criterium National Championship in Glencoe and the 2011 Evanston Grand Prix.
It was around that time when the wheels — in his head, not on his bike — began to turn rapidly.
“I thought, ‘I could do this myself,’ ” says Colbert. “I also thought, ‘Why not run one of these in Lake County?’ ”
He contacted officials in Libertyville to gauge their interest in providing a setting to showcase bike racers of all levels from dozens of states and more than a handful of countries. They would consider it. The next thing he knew he was in a bike shop in Lake Bluff, discussing his vision with the owner. The owner advised Colbert to arrange a meeting with Lake Bluff Village Administrator Drew Irvin, who — no kidding — had broached the topic with … the bike shop owner.
Irvin dropped the name of a local go-getter, Deb Dintruff, and lauded her civic pride. Colbert contacted the Lake Bluff resident and president of Lake Bluff’s Fourth of July committee. Dintruff also spearheads the annual Lake Bluff Block Party.
The pair of organizers pooled their energy and decided the block party and criterium could coexist on the same day in the village with a population of nearly 6,000. Block party goers would likely check out the cyclists; race spectators would likely appreciate the block party’s offerings of food and entertainment.
Born, in the summer of 2012: the inaugural Lake Bluff Criterium & Block Party.
“I’ve found that bike races are better when there is something else going on nearby,” Colbert says, adding he’s grateful for the event’s major sponsors each year — Northwestern Medicine (Lake Forest Hospital), Knauz Autopark in Lake Bluff and Lake Forest Bank & Trust. “I don’t view our event in Lake Bluff as just a chance to see kids and adults and pros race bikes on a community’s streets; I view it as a community event with bike races included. Lake Bluff residents have embraced bike racing since the beginning.
“The feedback I get after every criterium is, ‘We can’t wait for next year’s races.’ ”
Colbert bikes three or four times each week, weather permitting. On Tuesdays he normally joins up to eight of his friends for trips to Barrington or Algonquin or Silver Lake in unincorporated McHenry County.
But his wife, JoAnne, likes to drive — off tees on golf courses.
The two met in an astronomy class at the University of Illinois in 1969, when he was a sophomore and she was a freshman.
Their first date was a full day together at Turkey Run State Park in Parke County, Indiana.
They got married in 1976 and lived in Tokyo (1978-79) and in Evanston for several years before moving to Lincolnshire.
“We are addicted to Taiwanese rom-coms,” says Colbert, who also enjoys reading — particularly books about U.S. presidents by David McCullough — and puttering around in his garage or in his yards.
“I do two things, really. I bike, and I plan the Intelligentsia Cup series.”
He owns seven bikes, including three road bikes. Also in his fleet are two mountain bikes, a track bike and a time trial bike. One of the road bikes — dubbed “el Marco” — was a first-string cycle for years; it’s now a backup.
I ask him the final question of our get-together, and it isn’t a very good one.
It’s an inane one, considering what I had learned about Marco Colbert in a little more than an hour.
What do you plan to do later today?
“Go for a bike ride,” Colbert says.
For more information about the Lake Bluff Criterium and other stops in the series, please visit intelligentsiacup.com.