Snake Alley

The Snake is for real.

The switchback climb up a brick paved street, thefast, tight downhill section following the climb, this race doesn’t let you ease up until you cross the finish line. Leading up to Saturday, everyonekept telling me how tough it was going to be, and they were not lying. Ihaven’t been racing for long, but right now I don’t have any qualms aboutsaying I will be hard pressed to find a harder criterium anywhere in theMidwest. Signing up for this race was a last minute decision that involvedmailing my registration overnight to make sure I was on the start line (atthe back of the start line, too, since starting position was determined bywhen you registered). But having received excellent advice before hand, Iwas not worried about where I was starting.

Prior to the start I was able to ride the Snake a couple of times, and Iknew that I would have no problem finishing the race, the question was justhow well would I place. Riding in Chicago we obviously don’t get the chanceto bomb any downhills so the back end of the course after the Snake was whatworried me, and I was extremely happy that the 5s race did not have to dealwith the wet streets that some of the races later on in the day wouldexperience.

Like I said, I was one of the last to register so my starting position wasin the last row. When the race started, my only thought was to make up 10-15positions right away before the start of Snake Alley, I didn’t want to getcaught behind any riders dropping chains or falling over on the climb. Bythe first turn up the street towards the Snake, I had made up around 10spots and was careful to avoid the 1 or 2 riders who dropped their chainsbefore the climb up the bricks began. My goal was to stay seated during theclimb to maintain the best traction over the bricks (which are tiltedupwards), causing your rear wheel to bounce over them, which I was able todo for the first couple of laps. By the 5th lap, I was standing on thepedals the whole way up, my legs experiencing an entirely new kind ofburning.

I don’t really remember a lot of the specifics about the different laps, butI do know that this was the only crit so far that I have been able to keeptrack of what lap I was on, mainly since I was counting down how many moretimes I had to climb the Snake. By the third lap I would feel despair eachtime I would shift into my small ring after the Start/Finish line, knowing Isoon had to start another climb up the Snake. Dealing with the switchbackswas interesting as well, since there always seemed to be one more then youwanted there to be; I got tricked on most laps thinking I was done only tolook up and see another brick paved switchback, laughing at me.
By the 4th or 5th lap my lungs felt like they were on fire as it wasextremely hot with no breeze as we were making our way up the climb.However, it was about this time that I really started having fun on thedescents, railing corners, rarely touching my brakes, and hitting all thelines that I wanted to in and out of every corner; this allowed me to makeup a couple places on every lap, not to mention the passes I was makingwhile on the climb up the Snake.

In a race like this, it’s very easy to lose track of the lead group sinceyou are essentially strung out single file around the course after about twolaps. I knew I had been passing people the entire race, but I was not awareI was in the top ten until one of the local riders I had met the day beforesaw me fading a bit on lap 6 and yelled at me to keep going since I wassitting in 7th place (fan support is HUGE at this race). I knew thesuffering was going to end soon, so I just put my head down and concentratedon staying in the middle of the alley on the way up and hitting all my lineson the way down. On the eighth and final time up the Snake, I crestedalongside two other riders and my only thought at that point was “Hammer.” Ishifted into my big ring and attacked the descent, quickly putting somedaylight between myself and the other riders; I don’t think I touched mybrakes on the final descent and I was able to hold off the hard chargingriders behind me for 4th place.

This is definitely a race I will be signing up for next year; I just won’twait until the week before to send in my registration.

Sitting on the hill afterwards, cold Miller High Life in hand, screaming myhead off for the riders who were suffering like I had a couple hoursearlier, was a great way to end the day. Even if you don’t ever race theSnake, experiencing it in person is worth the drive.

Dan Pollard – Cat 5

1 Comment

  1. It was great racing with you. I remember you passing me and was never able to get back on your wheel. Michael Young xXx Racing – AthletiCo

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

© 2024 Spidermonkey Cycling