"It never gets any easier. You just go faster." ---Greg Lemond
"Don't buy upgrades. Ride up grades." --- Eddy Merckx
"You drive like shit." ---The Car Whisperer



The Number, of course

I love snakes.

A Snake, at least. My experience last season ignited a such fetish for that cobbled, pain-inflicting, beast slithering up the hill in Burlington, Iowa, that I had been dreaming about returning ever since. Those eight laps laps of pure, lung-searing, agonizing pleasure would be extended to 12 this time around.

Jeff, Peter, Katy, Kedzie and I got an early start Friday afternoon, yet we still managed to sit in traffic for 90 minutes trying to escape the city before opening up on the open road to the Mississippi River and our destination. We arrived before sundown, and getting a look the object of our affection and checking into the hotel, we were walking the streets of this scruffy Midwest railtown, looking for a bite to eat.

Brian, Peter, and Jeff

After a taste of the local flavor at Napoli Pizza, just north of the last turn to the start finish line, we headed to bed for some fitful sleep, at least in our room, as Kedzie, the Wonder Mascot, was having a bit of a hard time adjusting to the travel schedule of the amateur racing circuit.

Photo by Katy Casserly

The next morning, after breakfast we headed back downtown. First up we watched a decent sized 50/60+ Master's race go 8 laps, after a 6-man pile up split the field from the beginning.

Warning - Approach With Caution

Next the 40+ Master's did 12 laps, and a heavy 2 man battle between teams Atlas and Renaissance developed before the latter escaped for a solo victory.

Before our race, we watched a great solo effort by William Pankonin in the 5s, another 8 lap race. He was the third up the Snake after a great first effort and stayed strong for a well deserved 12th place.

William in the 5s

I was suddenly nervous while standing at the line next to Peter and behind Jeff Holland and also former XXXer Nick Gierman of Vitamin Water - Trek. But as soon as the whistle blew there was no time to be scared...I was too busy trying to get up front.

It was a bottle neck at the mouth of the Snake, and I heard some shouts as I held up just a bit and found a good place to head up at speed. The crowd was thick and raucous on the grass in the switchbacks, and Katy's shouts of encouragement gave me the power I need to come out strong strong at the top. I was in good shape until that first time down the wide, sweeping 3-corner S-curve back to downtown. Early in my warmups I'd kept skipping wheel and I hadn't known what I was doing wrong. So I was a bit tentative going down the first 3 times, and the leaders slowly crept away. The second time around, Peter had flown past me on the pre-hill before the Snake, and for the rest of the race, the only time I would see him would be on the switchbacks above as I was just entering the cobbles.

Peter on his heels

I finally found my line however, after discovering the little dimple in the middle of turn 2 on the descent that was kicking my tire out. Gradually I picked my way back in the middle of the front 15. After trading pulls with with Nate Iden from Spider Monkey for a couple of laps, he fell back with around 7 to go, and soon, a group of 4 riders, including Nick Gierman, was within reach.

I rode with them for a couple of laps, pacing with them up the snake and sucking wheel through downtown. With 3 to go, I was right behind them, and after we made the right turn up the prehill to the Snake, halfway up, I made my move. I jumped hard, but not hard enough, or so I thought, and spun as fast as I could past them and up on to the cobbles.

(photo by iowapix)

Photo by William Pankonin

Coming up to the top I saw a disheartening sight, Jeff Holland on the on grass, with a flat tire, and a look of sweaty and exhausted resignation on his face. It wasn't until I was back on the pavement and shifting to the big ring before I thought to look back and see what, if any, kind of gap I put between myself and my chasers. It was enough to motivate me to take my most daring line down the descent yet.

I could see the next group of riders of far ahead, and then just one other rider as they disappeared around the turns. Two more laps to hold anyone off. From the announcer's call, I could tell I was flirting with a top ten finish.

The crowd was really going now, with all the Cuttin' Crew guys egging me on, and Katy's shouts down below at the finish definitely helped me make my last 3 laps stronger than my first 3. I topped the Snake for the second to last time, and looked back to see Nick right on my heels. It was agony to spin the big ring but I had to get up to speed to lose my pursuers, and the bait of the last lap must've been beyond enticing.

Photo by Heet Myser

But as I passed the start-finish with one to go, I looked back and they were fading. By time I topped the Snake for the last time to Jeff's huge words of encouragement, the gap was bigger. And as I worked by way around downtown, and picked off on last lapped rider, or perhaps he was just form the leader groups and just finished, they were nowhere to be seen. I counted the riders ahead of me as I crossed the line alone, and realized that a top ten was mine.

Last year's trip to Burlington was a shocking introduction the extent of the pain and exertion one needs to endure to finish a race like this. But, this year, even with the four extra laps, the evidence the benefit of my early season training was plain to see. Last year, I had no idea who I was, let alone what lap it was. This past Saturday I was much faster, rode smarter, and did what I needed to come back home with some payout in my wallet.

If you haven't had a chance to race in Burlington, a trip out there is in order. Even though they bite, you might just find a love for snakes.

Post race meal


heetmyser said...

You guys are really impressive. I recall Jeff's tire going out; at first I thought someone had thrown a Black Cat onto the road. Pretty loud pop! Congrats on a strong finish!

Tamara Fraser said...

You rock!

The Car Whisperer said...


Julian said...


The Car Whisperer said...

Pass the Red Bull, brah!