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Cycling Fri May 27 2011

Memorial Day Weekend Races Are No Picnic

Memorial Day Weekend features two notorious destination races for Chicagoans: Saturday's Snake Alley Criterium in Burlington, Iowa, and Sunday's Gravel Metric in DeKalb.

The Snake Alley Criterium has boasted some of the toughest, most technical climbs in Midwestern road racing for 29 years. Amidst 123 feet of elevation change over the 15-block course loop, a one-block climb up Snake Alley features five switchbacks in 60 feet. The average grade of the grueling hill is 12.5 percent, according to the race's website.

The historic, brick-paved Snake Alley is a favorite viewing point for fans and hecklers, fighting for spots to egg racers on as they try to defeat hills many flatlanders have only seen in the movies. Only a few of the most svelte Chicagoans have made it atop Snake Alley's podium in the past.

DeKalb's dusty country roads, in contrast, stretch flat to the horizon. North Central Cyclery and Half Acre Cycling's Gravel Metric (62 miles), in its second year, gained a punishing reputation because of last year's 90-degree heat. Sunday's forecast looks slightly more forgiving, but with promises of more gravel and more mud riders should still fear the worst.

Tobie DePauw, owner of North Central Cyclery, said the goal is "to have it be just painful enough to be interesting, but not so exclusive that people are unwilling to try." DePauw called the race a "tasty sample" of some other Midwestern endurance races, like Trans Iowa or Almanzo 100.

Good luck to riders making the trip to either race. You'll need it.

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