Sarah on the snake
Photo by Cathy Frampton

by Sarah Rice

I think that getting better at bike racing really means mapping out a new set of passages in your pain cave. So 4 weeks after two facial bone fractures, I lined up for my first regional P1/2/3 race ever. My first hilly crit ever. Snake Alley. I warmed up with Kristen and except for the heat, felt quite good. K was targeting this race, her warm-up was perfect, she seemed to be in the zone. She told me about her previous experience, finishing 16th, one spot out of the money.  So she had a score to settle.

We went to line up and I realized I had my number on the wrong side. So instead of making my callup and getting my spot, I had Eric and Jason re-pin me. I mis-clipped the start worse than I ever have, and had to sprint to catch the pack. Took the sharp inside line on the first corner to catch on, at a hot pace. Hit the snake mid-pack.

The climbing wasn’t as bad as I had envisioned, but the heat made the snake feel like a pizza oven. Lots of people were cheering, Eric, Jason, the Psimet crew, Cathy Frampton, and Sue Wellinghoff. So great to see them out there despite the heat and human misery they had to witness. At the top of the snake, I felt like a punch-drunk fighter heading into the technical descent. Normally I am pretty good on those, but I wasn’t. My lines on the turns weren’t as crisp as I like them, and I was a little timid. And too slow. That put me desperately trying to catch on during the part of the course at the bottom the hill, where it actually resembled a real crit. I saw Kristen ahead- she was able to bomb the descent, and caught some good wheels. I chased. Demoralized, trying to chase through the start-finish line, seeing the number “2” on the lap counter, heading up to the snake again. This wasn’t going well. Survive, survive another lap, I told myself. The leaders were already way out of sight.

It got worse. I survived one more lap, then two. Kristen was way up the road. Then I saw her on the side of the course, just before the snake on lap 4. I looked to see if she had crashed. She said she was fine, keep going! The voice inside my head screamed MOMMY! But it was time to put the big girl panties on and go up the snake again.

Somehow, inexplicably, I found a rhythm. Up the snake. Down. Keep it clean, stay loose, solid through the bottom section, just ride it. I was all alone, but kept pushing. 6 laps down. Made it halfway. 8 laps. 10 laps, and I hadn’t been lapped yet. I was passing a few riders who had mechanicals or who just popped. It felt good to ride past an IScorp rider who was walking the snake. On lap 11 it finally happened, I got lapped by Jeannie Kuhajek and Kaitlin Antonneau, the first and second place riders. Third place Emma Bast lapped me on the first downhill section. I couldn’t catch on to work with them- still too timid on the descent. I could have stopped, because they were done and I had a lap left. But I felt good, and after so long not feeling good, I wanted to take my last lap. I wanted to do my 12th snake. So I did, during the men’s warm-up lap. I crossed the start-finish line laughing at myself. I thought I came in last. I was off the back, all alone for a long time. But Snake Alley has incredible attrition. Turns out, I was 16th- one spot out of the money.  So I’ve got a score to settle.