Memorial Day weekend is one of the few weekends during the season that I morph into a road warrior. It’s the biggest weekend of bike racing in Iowa with a road race on Friday, the Snake Alley Criterium on Saturday, the Melon City Criterium on Sunday followed by the Rock Island Carnage Criterium on Monday. I usually plan to do Snake Alley and Melon City, though this will be my first time that I’ve ever actually done Melon City. In 2004, I got knocked over by some knucklehead that was weaving back and forth like a drunken sow while struggling up Snake Alley. I managed to screw up my hand in the fall and opted not to do Melon City. In 2005, I had some allergy issues during the Snake and decided not to do Melon City.
Back in the day (my college days), I’d spend the summers at my Mom’s in Bettendorf. My buddies and I would always head over to Rock Island on Memorial Day morning, hit our favorite bar, order a pitcher of beer and a Rueben that was size of a football (seriously). After consuming mass quantities of beer and corned beef, we’d head out to our favorite corner on the race course and brace ourselves for the sound of metal and skin scrapping across the concrete. Needless to say, those images from the past tempered any desire to do that race.
Training leading up to Memorial Day weekend consisted of an easy recovery ride on Monday, TNWC on Tuesday, 3 hours of base on Wednesday, dirty goodness at the SC on Thursday and an easy hour on Friday with tPod.
tPod stopped by my place early Friday afternoon. We loaded all of my crap into his car, stopped by Panchero’s for a big honkin’ burrito, then hit the drive through at Starbucks for a large cup of joe for the road trip to Burlington. When I think of Burlington, the first thing that comes to mind is Sterzing’s Potato Chips. These have got to be the greasiest, nastiest, most fattening things that you could put into your body, but they taste so freakin’ good! So after about an hour of persuasion, I managed to talk tPod into stopping by the Sterzing’s Potato Chip factory so that I could score the freshest bag of chips in town.
So we roll into Burlington and bee-line it for the Sterzing’s factory, roll into the parking lot of this greasy, 1920’s looking building and their closed… CRAP!!! Oh well, I don’t need to be putting that kind of crap into my body anyway. I’ll have plenty of time to consume junk food at the end of the season. So we roll over to tPod’s brothers (Big Dean) place, unload all of our junk and head out for an easy recon ride of the Snake. We rode up the Snake and my legs didn’t seem to rebellious to the effort….. Hmmmm, this could be a good weekend.
We get back to Big Dean’s place, and there on the kitchen counter sits a big ‘ole beautiful bag of Sterzing’s Potato Chips. I think to myself, ‘holy crap am I in trouble now’. I rip open the bag and eat one. Then I ate a couple more. Then I thought ‘oooh a couple more won’t hurt me too much’, and so I had a couple more. Next thing I know, the entire bag is almost gone. A couple of my roadie team mates, Garrett and Nathan By The Lake (NBL) stopped by. NBL tried a couple and started to look like he was enjoying them. This got me a little angry, so I ripped the bag away from him and yelled ‘MINE!!!’. Then I ate the rest of ‘em. Yes folks, the wheels completely fell off my wagon that night.
So after a good nights sleep at Casa del Dean, we headed downtown to pick up our race packets and watch some people suffer up the Snake. For those that don’t know, Snake Alley is this crazy alley made of bricks back in the late 1800’s. It consists of 5 switchbacks and has an average gradient of 12.5%. If 12.5% doesn’t mean anything to you, go find a bike and try to ride it up the side of your house. You’ll soon understand where I’m coming from. The Snake Alley Criterium has the reputation of being one of the most strenuous races in the Midwest.
So about an hour before our start time, tPod, myself, NBL and Garrett suited up and went out for a warm-up ride. Race time arrived, we lined up at the start and awaited the starters whistle. My plan for the race was to try and get a decent start and do whatever it took to keep myself out of trouble, even if it meant drifting to the back of the 80+ rider field. The last thing that I wanted to do was crash and potentially screw up the rest of the season.
The race started and we were off like a bunch a cats on fire. Things got pretty congested going into the first corner so I backed it off a bit and ended up in pretty close to last place once we got to the top of the Snake on lap 1.
Leading the way early in the race.
My legs felt really good and it seemed like it took very little effort to climb the Snake compared to other people. On the 2nd lap I must have passed about 10 or more people going up the Snake. This continued until about lap 5, where I found myself in the lead going up the Snake. tPod was also in the front group. As I passed him, we looked at each other with a glance that said ‘it’s go time’. I think at around lap 8, one of tPod’s tires exploded, it kinda sucked. He was having a good race. The only other person that I knew of in the lead group of 8 or so riders was a cat named Jimmy Cochran. He’s been in the cat 3’s for as long as anybody could remember so I knew he’d be the guy to watch.
Gapping the lead group with Cochran in tow.
At about lap 8 I accelerated up the Snake to see if I could gap the field. I got to the top, took a look back and noticed a pretty sizable gap. It was pretty easy to maintain the gap, if not increase it, on the descent because I had a pretty good line going through the corners and never had to use my brakes. I took a look back at the bottom of the hill and noticed that my gap had increased. I had to do some quick thinking, do I want to try a solo flier with about 7 laps to go, or should I back it off and try it again a little closer to the finish? I decided to back it off and try again later. It seemed like the climb up the Snake was going to decide this one.
With about 4 laps to go, we were going up the Snake and I was sitting about 6th in line. Cochran was at the front and he started to pull away. I instantly knew what he was doing and I was pretty much boxed in and not able to respond. By the time we got to the top of the Snake he was already around the first corner on the descent. I stayed with the group for another lap and decided that it was time for me to split. So I punched it going up the Snake and gapped the remaining field. I kept the pressure on and ended up finishing in 2nd place, about 3 blocks behind Cochran.
Needless to say, I was very happy with the result as I had no real expectations of myself other than to get a good, high intensity workout in. It’s kinda got me jacked to do it again next year. Saweet!
We stuck around and watched the P/1/2 race then tPod, myself and NBL headed out for an easy hour long recovery ride, hit the showers, scored some grub and split a bottle of one of my favorite pinot noir’s at this swank restaurant that had a killer view of the river. Good times…
Sunday rolled around, we hit the local Hy-Vee for some greasy vittles and coffee, then hit the road for Muscatine. We got there pretty early so that we could watch some of the earlier races. We ran into Tater Tot and Amanda, so we pulled up a spot next to ‘em on a picnic table. So Tater is layin’ on the ground and began the process of taking a little siesta. I thought it’d be funny if I squirted a little water in his ear while he was getting some shut eye. So I did. This, obviously, woke him up and the first place that he looked was at his son sitting next to me, who is probably 5 years old. He yelled at him and about 5 seconds later, I see out of the corner of my eye, this little size 4 strike me in the leg like a flash of lightning. Luckily he hit my cell phone otherwise he probably would have snapped my femur in half. Sort of reminded me of when I saw Grand Master Lou demonstrate one of his lethal roundhouse kicks. Don’t think that I want to be on the business end of one of those. I’m thinking that’d be a pretty bad day. So Tater kind of looked up at us like he was going to take some serious disciplinary action and all he said was ‘Lucas, don’t hurt my friends’… After thinking about it, I thought that it was the appropriate course of action. I pretty much had it coming ‘cause he sort of got blamed for something he didn’t do. Funny…
So once again, my race plan was to hang back and try and stay out of trouble. Then once I got a feel for what the dynamic of the peloton was going to be like, I’d start to work my way towards the front with the intent on launching tPod into orbit in the field sprint. Like Snake Alley, there was close to 80 peep’s toein’ the line. The race started and I stayed near the back of the peloton to observe. While in the back, I spent a lot of time watching near the front of the peloton to figure out what the best lines would be once it was time to negotiate my way towards the front.
Another beautiful day in Iowa.
About midway through the race I started working my way towards the front. A few laps later, myself, tPod and NBL were patrolling the front of the peloton. If I saw any threatening breaks starting to get away, I’d chase ‘em down to keep things in check. As luck would have it, the one that got away was one that I didn’t think would succeed and didn’t chase down. With about 5 laps to go, I’m at the front of the peloton. I took a look back and tPod was on sitting my wheel. I asked him if he thought I should chase the breakaway down and he kind of looked at me like he wasn’t sure. So I asked him again and got the same look. The whole time this conversation is going on, it seemed like the entire front end of the peloton was watching us, waiting for us to do something. It was pretty cool because it seemed as though everybody was more or less keying in on us. So I asked tPod again and got the same response. Screw it, I dropped it down a couple of cogs and punched it. tPod jumped on my wheel and he said that we actually gapped the field.
tPod and Nathan By The Lake patrolling the front of the peloton.
I took a quick look at my speed and we were flyin’ at over 42 mph, saweet! Once we got to the climb I backed it off a little. I did the same thing again on the next two laps. After the 3rd acceleration I could tell that we had taken a serious chunk out of the gap that the breakaway had. As soon as we hit the hill with 2 laps to go, tPod and I were boxed in on the left side of the road. On the right side of the road, an Atlas rider was flying up the hill with Cochran on his wheel… CRAP!!! Neither tPod nor myself could respond, tPod was boxed in and I was tapped from my efforts to reel the breakaway group back in.
Cochran and his teammate caught the breakaway group and I thought the race was pretty much over. Once the road ahead of tPod cleared up he took off like a scalded dog in an attempt to salvage what seemed like a blown opportunity. Turns out that tPod was ridin’ like he stole something because he single handedly caught everybody in the break but Cochran and the cat that got 2nd. tPod ended up in 3rd place, I have no idea where he found the impetus to catch the breakaway, but he did. I was pretty amazed because the breakaway was a long way up the road. tPod said that his max heart rate was 210, that’s some freaky stuff.
Making preparations to launch tPod into orbit.
So looking back at the situation, if we had played our cards a little better, I’m sure that tPod would have pulled in the W. I do believe that over the last 5 laps or so, given the circumstances that we were faced with, we played the teamwork game to perfection and were able to bring home a spot on the podium. The weekend was a huge success for us, especially considering it was the first time that I had raced with tPod, NBL and Garrett as team mates. I’m definitely looking forward to more road trips with them, which happens to be next weekend at another roadie event. We’re planning on doing a stage race over in Omahole, the Joe Babcook Stage Race and were lookin’ to rip it up in the cat 3’s.
Thanks for reading,