Snelling is one of those classic races that not only unofficially marks the start of the racing season, but has a special place in the memory of almost every cyclist in the NCNCA. Everyone has a story from Snelling. Like that one year someone put rubber ducks in all the puddles after it rained, or that other time when a tiny, territorial, terrier almost chased the peloton off the road. There was the time when one female rider escaped off the front in the first few miles of the race – and everyone forgot about her – and that year when it was discovered that some upset person had dumped a box of tacks in the road, resulting in flats for all.
I was reminded of all this as the group sat chatting at the startline for the 2017 edition of the women’s P12 race at Snelling. With JL Velo 10 riders strong and several noteworthy singles, including Clarice Sayle (Jakroo) and Megan Ruble (Specialized p/b Musclemilk), our squad of 5 – Sara Bird (aka Birdie), Sara Enders, Illi, Liz and I – knew we needed to make this race tough out of the gate and hopefully form a break with at least two of our riders in it.
As soon as we were released from neutral, Birdie and Sara started laying down attacks in rapid succession. Throughout the first half of the race we pushed the pace, trading attacks with Amanda Siegle (Jakroo), however each time we were pulled back by the numerous members of the JL Velo squad. In particular, the strong winds made it difficult to stay away and even when we managed to get our ideal composition in the break (at least two riders), riders from other teams would refuse to work (even if they had equal numbers of representation) and eventually it would get pulled back. I always liken it to a card game – each new break is a new hand you have to play and although it doesn’t always work out, you can reshuffle the deck and try again.
Nevertheless, by the last lap we had whittled a formidable-sized field down to a handful of riders – including 3 JL Velos (Marissa, Sandra, Emily), Clarice and Megan. Our entire squad of 5 was still riding strong, so we continued to attack with the goal of making Claire, Megan and Marissa (three riders we knew were riding strong) do as much work as possible.
The lead-up to the Snelling finish line is a long, straight, bumpy road, then a 90 degree right hand turn to a final set of double rollers. Position into the right hand turn is critical. Ideally you want to be sitting within the top 5 wheels (although not at the front) to still have enough draft protection up and over the first roller, but not so far back that you can’t kick and pass the remaining people by the second hill. On the bumpy lead-up Liz mounted an impressive attack, forcing Claire to chase hard into the right hand turn. Illi was sitting 3rd wheel and I was sitting 5th as we sprinted into the first hill. I knew I wanted to reach the base of the 2nd hill first (it’s much more difficult to pass people on a hill), so I forced my way to the front and was beginning my second kick when I saw Sandra from JL Velo come flying up my right hand side. She hit the base of the second hill first and I launched after her. I made up a good amount of ground, but not quite enough and she rolled over the line about half a bike length ahead of me. Claire finished 3rd with Illi close behind in 4th. Sandra had used the leadout of her remaining teammate to sneak up the right hand side, unbeknownst to the rest of the field.
There are always things you wish you could have done differently in a race – but at the end of the day I’m incredibly proud of my teammates and their selfless work. We are a different team than last year, so tactically we have a lot to learn, but the one thing that remains the same is our culture of active racing and sacrifice for the good of the team. On a personal level, I’ve always dreamed of being on the podium in this classic race and I’m happy to see that all my hard work in the off-season paid off. Cheers to many more races to come my friends!