By Liam Donoghue | May 23, 2009
Race name: Snake Alley Criterium
Race date: Saturday, May 23, 2009
I’m at war with myself; I miss the clip-in. Don’t panic, stay calm, move up. The snake is teeming with teammates, screaming my name. “Liam! Let’s go!” “Come on!” “Ted Nugent would be proud!” (Something about the beard, I dunno.) I’m moving up, getting back to my original starting spot that I so generously gave to someone less fortunate when I decided clipping in right away at the start was for the birds. And so it went, a busy and clustered climb up the big hill, grueling, sweaty, humid, yelling, loud, steep. A pure suffer-fest, a mash-parade. It was nuts. And I loved it.
I’m at war with my bike; after cresting Snake Alley, I switch into the big ring for the descent - SNAP! - I switch into the big ring for the descent - click. Ah, front derailleur cable’s done. Perfect. Least I’m in the small ring. So now what. Well, descend, and spin real fast. I’m no longer at war with myself, but now the bike is my sworn enemy. I reassure myself I don’t need no stinking big ring; hell, I believe my own lies all the time.
Downhill’s real nice, pretty quick, things are getting good, I’m back with a group and maybe 30 off the front, let’s take this turn and - BUMP! whirrrrrr. Oh, nice, chain popped off. Let me just flick that trusty front derailleur over and—- ohhhh, right.
Complete stop. Dismount. Put chain on. Remount. Don’t panic.
I am Ivan Drago. My bike is Rocky Balboa. And I tell it, “You vill lose.” It quickly reminds me I’m the other half of the bicycle/rider combination, and if it loses, then I lose too. OK, truce. I’ll hold my end of the bargain, if it holds its; hell, I believe the lies my bicycle tells me all the time.
After that wonderful fiasco, I’m sitting pretty, like maybe 50th. God. Who knows where I was at that point. I quickly debated whether I should quit, and politely ask for a beer hand-up on the Snake. Then, hilariously now as I write this in hindsight, I thought about what my teammates would think after I was sitting 30th the last lap and 50th this lap. Sucks this guy joined our team. Quitting’s for the birds.
I booked it. I tried not to think that over the course of the last three minutes I essentially turned this into an 11-lap race and gave myself a solid half-lap handicap, but that’s all I thought about, besides riding as hard as humanly possible.
Then the brief bit of good news in this otherwise overcast day (literal and figurative). I spent the next eight laps passing people at will. Up the Snake, on the descent, I was killing it. Other people really like their brakes, I really like shooting to the inside or sweeping to the outside and passing people when they hit their brakes, so that worked out in my favor. It became quite formulaic. I was Rivers Cuomo circa the Green Album and the turns and climbs and descents were my hit singles that sounded hackneyed and thoughtless, yet still highly effective in the grand scheme. I boiled the lap down to a science: when to shift, where to enter the snake, when to throw it into the 25, how far to lean the bike in that first turn so I can pass people who didn’t read that thing Luke posted on CBR that basically said stay to the right of the manhole cover on the right-hand turn so you can set yourself up for the left. I have to commend myself, especially as the race dragged on and my concentration drifted, in how I was able to take good lines and continue to pass people on the descent until…
Three to go and I drop the chain again, this time on the descent. Yessss, just what I always wanted to do! Maybe my bicycle will explode, too! I gingerly stick my pointer finger down there while precariously bombing down, trying to get the chain back up on the small ring, but to no avail. And having all 10 digits on my hands is an excellent thing, I don’t want to muck that up. So again, I stop. Dismount. I want to pull a David Millar and hurl my bike into the bushes. I want to pull a Bjarne Riis and toss it into a cornfield. I want to pull a Bo Jackson and break it over my knee.
As if I hadn’t already spent the first nine laps riding like my life depended on it, I ramped it up even more at this point. Up the Snake those last few times it was like a cowbell-induced coma that I don’t remember. In a situation like this, as in many bike race situations, it’s the small victories that add up. So I targeted the goatee-sporting dude in front of me and made it my job to pass him in that final lap. Again, it was the first right turn on the descent. He swung wide, I took my chance again and cut it right inside on him, spun real fast (stupid small ring) and took that next left with ease. From there, it was just gun it to the line and make sure goatee-man doesn’t pass me. He didn’t. Apparently the main group finished just ahead of me, maybe 30 seconds, and I got 10th. Anyone want to know how to get a Top 10 and still be more pissed off than anyone on the planet, come see me and I’ll give you a few pointers. Hey, I can look on the bright side: at least I still have my pointer.