For the first few minutes of the Town Square Gran Prix on Tuesday, nobody stood out more than Jonathan Chinchilla.
That he was a 6-foot-7 man racing his bike against others mostly at least six inches shorter definitely played a role.
“Everyone was expecting me to play basketball or something like that,” said Chinchilla, whose Instagram profile boasts that he is the tallest U23 to race bicycles in the United State. “I guess I missed out on that. But I decided to do something else.”
But the Glen Ellyn, Illinois, native mostly was turning heads early Tuesday morning because he almost immediately took a lead of about three-quarters of a block on the rest of the field. That’s a big early advantage in a 40-minute race on a course that is less than a mile long.
Most races—whether involving cars, runners or cyclists—are all about a winner, and the Tour of America’s Dairyland certainly provides such storylines. There were victors of the Janesville Gran Prix downtown Tuesday, and there were the overall leaders after the Tour’s sixth stage.
But the primes—money added to the purse for certain lap winners throughout the day—meant there was much more to the Gran Prix than simply who was out front when the dust settled.
And Chinchilla knew it.
“I wanted the money,” he said.
Chinchilla raced in the Category 4/5 race to kick off the Gran Prix. Primes at that level are considered pretty impressive if they reach triple digits. And Janesville’s stop had several primes of $100 or more.
So when Chinchilla heard that one of the first laps of the race was worth $100, he decided to just go for it.
He’s won races before, he said, but never a prime. And a $100 prime would cover his $60 entry fee and gas money to get to Janesville.
Mission accomplished. Chinchilla collected his $100 shortly after the race.
However, the price was that he was forced to endure a half hour of grueling racing after spending so much of his energy in the opening minutes. And he also had no legs left to compete for primes later in the race that stretched to as much as $400.
“I’ll admit I screwed up,” Chinchilla said. “I wasn’t thinking about how the bigger primes are going to be later on in the race. But I was like, well, I’m guaranteed $100. I’m not going to pass that up.
“My goal was just to win a prime. I didn’t necessarily want to win the first one and be the first guy out. But I found myself in the front and they screamed out $100.”
Chinchilla and the rest of the racers lauded Janesville for its support of the sport and event, including the primes. Local organizers told The Gazette earlier this month they expected the a total purse of $25,000.
That it gets spread out through primes is something fun and unique.
Just think about how intriguing it might be if baseball players were told they’d get a cash bonus if they homered in a certain inning. Or if a basketball player was told there was something in it for them if they made a 3-pointer on their team’s seventh possession of the third quarter. Or if a track and field athlete was running the 3,200 (eight laps on a track) but they would get paid if they ran the fastest fifth lap.
Strike out every other at-bat or miss every other shot or walk the final three laps of that 3,200, and it wouldn’t matter because you’d already accomplished your goal.
That there are primes so early in races is almost cruel, because they give incentives for a racer to gas out almost immediately. Cruel, perhaps, but unusual and a fun twist to the sport.
At least that’s kind of what crept into my mind as I watched Chinchilla lumber up Milwaukee Street late in his race Tuesday. He was doing everything he could to keep his legs going after his torrid start, and by that point he was certainly somewhere near the back of the field.
But it didn’t matter.
“In general, I really enjoyed this course today,” Chinchilla said. “In the middle, I was definitely struggling a little bit. I’m coming off a block of two weeks not being on a bike, which is frustrating ... so I don’t really feel 100 percent, but it’s just nice to be out here racing.
“It was worth it.”