Since last year's encouraging first showing, I had been counting the days before I got another chance at Snake Alley. Before the race last year, I printed a large map of the course and taped it to the side of my monitor at work. That map was never taken down and eventually I had nearly every detail of the course ingrained into memory. I did a good amount of racing in my first season and there was no other race that had been nearly as challenging, fun, and well attended as Snake Alley. I determined that it was a race that I would have to one day win in order to feel a sense of accomplishment as an amateur cyclist.
Going into the race, everything was feeling just right for training. I had a strong finish at Fox River Grove two weeks earlier which features a criterium course similar in vertical profile to Snake Alley. My motivation for this race was off the charts. I knew Snake Alley was mine going in and didn't fail to mention that to just about anyone who would listen. Anything less than a win would have been a major letdown.
After a solid warm up effort and plenty of hydration, it was time to line up. Butterflies had been fluttering since about Thursday. The moment I had been waiting for all year finally arrived. The race went off and the sprint was on for that exclusive positioning for first dibs at the Snake Alley climb. Starting in the 3rd row at the line, I got caught up in more traffic than I would have liked but there was plenty of time to make up spaces as I knew many of the riders in front of me were going to fall off pace. I just had to be sure to get around those riders quickly and avoid anyone who were struggling like the plague. Knowing that the front group is where it's at for this race, I pick up spots on the downhill and then a more on the next uphill while narrowly avoiding a couple of riders who got tangled at the hill's base. By the time we are about 3-4 laps deep, the inevitable small fragments of riders are off the front and everyone else is desperately chasing to get back up, on their way to bio-mechanical meltdown, or both. I found myself on the upside of that situation and took the race lead for a little over a lap. I was off by myself, but not by a big margin. I decided to let up just a bit and keep myself from blowing up as the race was not even half over. A small group arrives at my side near the line and I fall back to last spot in this group up the hill.
After two laps in about 4th or 5th position, I decided it was time to make a move. Jay Gorsh of Atlas Cycling had slipped off the front on the descent and it looked like nobody in the group had the gas in the tank to bring the gap down. I went into pursuit mode. I'm not sure what the time gap was, but my estimation would have placed it at about 10-12 seconds with about 4-5 laps to go. This part of the race is a blur of cowbell, teammates screaming from all points on the hill, plenty of heckling from the crowd, and nearly 190 bpm. I smashed the increasingly difficult hill and smoked the descent. I was getting closer but there was still a gap with 2 to go. I pushed even harder while trying to save just enough to finish.
Shortly after the bell was rang indicating the final lap, I made first contact. I followed up the climb and marked the pace. Jay was very good on the hill and maintained an excellent line on his descent. I was actually gapped off just a bit on the downhill. I hustled and glued myself to his wheel after the 3rd turn of the descent and it was there that I knew I had won the race. I could tell he was running on fumes and the sprint would be mine for the taking. I got my sprint going shortly after the final turn onto Jefferson which has a slightly uphill pitch. The tactic paid off perfectly and I crossed the line with a gap of about one bike length for the win.
Upon crossing the line I bellowed something - it was likely gibberish. The feeling of relief was overwhelming. Everything finally came together for a win and it couldn't have happened at a better time and place. This is the finest race I think I'll have the honor of competing in and to get the win here means the world to me. Finally, the first-win-monkey is off my back.
xXx had only 3 riders in the field but we all had a very strong showing. William Pankonin came in at 4th and John Wolters finished 10th. Great riding by both of those guys - wearing the red, white, and black proud.
As always, much love to the city of Burlington for being such fantastic hosts and Bike Burlington Inc. for doing a great job of organization. Thanks to everyone who gave encouragement in the time leading up to the race to teammates who gave everything that they had cheering me on while on the snake. I think it's safe to say that I'll be back next year looking for another win.