Tag: Snake Alley

Snake Alley Race Report

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.

2009 Race Season Lessons

A Top Ten List

1) Always remember you shoes! (alright I learned this lesson via my teammates)
2) Its okay to share a changing towel, its how you bond as a team
3) Sometimes the lap card means minutes, and sometime it means laps, at the beginning of a Superweek race the lap card actually means 35 laps!
4) Crashing is not fun, but its going to happen, hopefully your first race crash will make it on to you tube so you can obsess over it
5) Once you get dropped you should try to enjoy yourself, otherwise what are you racing your bike for, its not your job
6) When race season ends you need to get a cross bike, otherwise you just feel left out
7) Traveling to races is fun, traveling with Ken is smelly
8) Getting knocked off the course during a race due to a crash in front of you is not considered a mishap by USA cycling, and no matter what you yell at the official the rule is not going to change.
9) Your best race effort will most likely not result in your best race result
10) Snake Alley is steep and bumpy, Kansas isn’t flat, the Hill in St Louis is really long
Honorable Mention:
– If you make a bet to wear a skinsuit you better win the bet so Dean has to wear the skin suit
– If you race in a 312 kit people think you might have 312 after the race
– By the third or fourth race you finally understand the difference between “being on the front” and “staying in front”
– Liquigas gloves are awesome
– Chamois Cream is a man’s best friend
– Buy a couple pair of bibs if its your first race season (you will thank me later)
– There is no such thing as a “comfortable saddle” just some that arent as uncomfortable as others
– JJ Peppers is the shit, but sometimes at JJ Peppers the cops shit on you

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

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