Snake Alley Criterium and Melon City Criterium Race Reports (+Extras)

This was one of two A-race weekends this year (Glencoe Grand Prix, May 31st being the other – I dropped out of Galena due to SATII Testing).  The purpose of this weekend was to get experience racing against the top juniors in the  Midwest.  As I explained, the Memorial Day Criteriums are all part of USA Cycling’s Road Development Race Series.  RDRS is meant to find talented juniors in the United States for the National Development Program.  The product of this is that juniors come from all over to race.  There were people from Kentucky (440 mi from Burlington, IA to Louisville), Ohio (440 mi to Cinci), Minnesota, Wisconsin, Indiana, Illinois, etc.  Probably the biggest news was that Hincapie Development sent four riders, David Lombardo, Richard Rainville, Simon Jones, and Gavin Haley.  I don’t know much about the others, but David Lombardo is from Crystal Lake, IL and has gone to the Junior Cyclocross World Championships.  So he’s pretty fast.  He won both days.

Snake Alley Criterium Race Report (Juniors 15-18)

Link to Strava File

The hallmark of Snake Alley is Snake Alley, a twisting street in Burlington that, according to Strava, has an average 20% grade, peaking at 26-29%.  The rest of the course is a fast, 3-corner descent, with about a half mile of flat until a short, 1-block, 10% kicker before the Snake.  Although the corners were wide and kept clean of gravel or dirt by a great team of volunteers, the corners were still super fast.  If you could corner, they were a good place to make up time or catch up to a group.  Because of the hill, I figured the race would just blow up into a brutal time trial.

That’s essentially what happened.  Racers are lined up by pre-registration order.  I was third row and came into the first corner (into the 10% kicker) in about 25th position.  I entered the Snake, first lap, in 25th as well.  The Snake, because it’s so short, ends up being just a power climb, albeit one complicated by lots of racers in a narrow road and on a steep gradient.  (Luckily, in none of the laps, I had to dismount, although it was certainly tight)  It’s sort of a climb where you just have to bear through the pain for 30 seconds and then try to recover on the descent and flat… and then do that 9 more times.

I shot up the climb and passed a few kids the first time up, exiting the alley probably in 20th.  When I got to the top, the race was already strung out, racers already descending down the backstretch.  From there, it turned into a time trial as I thought, descending, TTing on the flat, and then busting it up Snake Alley again.  One nice thing was that, because the whole thing was just a TT and the flat part was short relative to the descent and climb(s), people weren’t looking for you to take pulls.  So, if I caught up to someone, I was able to sit on their wheel on the flats and draft.

In general, each lap I would lose time on the climb and then catch up on the descent, sit on someone’s wheel trying to recover, and then repeat.  I guess I need to get better at climbing or anaerobic endurance.  It might even just be a mental thing, sticking it out when the legs are hurting a lot.  For sure in the middle of the race, I tried to take it easier, tried to limit the burn of the lactic acid accumulating in my legs.

I ended up coming in 26th out of 34 (37 starters)

Extra #1: Check your Ish before you race

I failed rollout like an idiot at Snake Alley.  I thought I was running a 44/34 in the front and a 12-25 rear cassette, making the max gear 44-12 and expected rollout of 7.67 meters (7.93 is the limit).  Ended up I was running an 11-25 in the rear and rolled out to 8.37 meters in front of everyone like an idiot and should have been DQ’d.  My fault.  Lesson: Check before the race, at home, etc.

Extra #2: Dan Hollywood Holloway is a boss

We stuck around the whole day for the pro race and got to watch Dan Holloway (Athlete Octane Cycling) break away with Alexander Ray (Hincapie Elite Development Team) and win for like the 8th time in a row.  If you don’t know, he swept Speed Week in Georgia (no one has won more than two in a row), then went to Dana Point and promptly beat UHC, SmartStop, etc.

But what’s more impressive is how good he is for his sponsors.  Every time he wins, he highlights the front of his jersey, thanks his sponsors, welcomes fans to talk to him, thanks the crowd for coming out, compliments the race organizers and volunteers, etc etc etc.

Melon City Criterium Race Report (Juniors 15-18)

Link to Strava File

Melon City was Sunday’s race, a 1-mile lap of “Weed Park” in Muscatine, Iowa.  It features a 530m climb that starts out at 8% and ends with a false flat that really sucks the legs.  The 8% part isn’t that hard because the descent goes right into the base of the climb so you can carry speed into it, despite the best efforts of the park staff: There’s the infamous speed bump at the bottom, although it’s overhyped.  It’s definitely ridable with a bit of caution, although certainly nerve-racking.  Strategy on the descent is to just tuck.  With junior gears (this time corrected by blocking out the 11t) spinning out at 33ish, it’s better to get aero to save energy.

Anyways, the pace out of the gate was really fast.  The strong teams/riders kept throwing attacks, trying to get away and, since I was at the back (what a surprise, right?  I should work on that) I was feeling the accordion a lot.  Everything got chased down by the field, although I failed to chase down the field and got dropped with 3 or 4 to go.  Sucks when the moto passes you.  Anyways, I finished strong, going all out to the finish and came in 26th again, this time out of 38 (maybe b/c there weren’t any DNFs).

Tip if you’re in contention to win: In my not-in-contention-to-win, the winning line is on the inside the entire course.  The cuts down the distance you have to pedal by at least a couple-ten meters each lap and, going into the sprint, it’s definitely the line b/c you’ll have a shorter path up the hill and you’ll come around the last corner wide and carrying speed, instead of having to break and then accelerate.  Also, you’ll have the inside of the small bend in the finish and, when sprints are won by tire widths, any advantage you can get you should take.


Overall, the results so far have been good, I think.  The competition is much higher than anything I’ve raced in and, at least according to the USAC points system (the lower number the more competitive), I’ve done the best I’ve ever done.  I’ve been beating a lot of Cat 4s and even some 3s, so that’s pretty good.  I’m certainly riding faster than last year and earlier this year and I’ll be doing power testing after Glencoe, next week.  It’s also great to be able to race in this super-competitive fields with Cat 1s and 2s.

But let’s not get ahead of ourselves.  Next is Quad Cities Criterium which, although traditionally flat, now has a 9% hill in it.  Cool, thanks race promoter.

As always, if you’ve gotten this far, thanks a lot for reading.  If you want to connect with me, hit me up on Strava (strava.com/athletes/zachryanwong) or e-mail me.  If you do happen to see me or race with me (I’m looking at you Diego Arana – I saw your dad by the Mississippi River), come say hi or something.  That’d be cool.  Learn about me at (guess where) the About Me page.

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