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The Cobble Climb

May 25, 2015

One of the extra events during the annual Snake Alley Criterium in Burlington also involves a climb up a steep alley.  But unlike Snake Alley's winding path, this alley challenges riders with a straight climb of 60 feet over a single city block.

It’s called the Cobble Climb.

“You can do it as long as you keep grinding. You just gotta be tough, that’s all,” said Steve M. Cullen of Seattle, WA.

The Cobble Climb is a time trial that covers two blocks.  The first block is a ride up a bit of a hill paved with bricks.  The second block takes riders up the steep Cobblestone Alley, which is paved with big, bumpy, hard cobblestones. The alley is narrow so the hundreds of people who line both sides of it are right in the riders’ faces.

Credit Rich Egger

Cullen did not learn of the Cobble Climb until after he came to town to compete in a couple of the criterium’s races.  But it didn’t take long for him to know he wanted to give it a try.

“Before you race you’re going to do a couple 30-second really hard efforts to help warm up.  I don’t know why you wouldn’t do one with people cheering for you,” Cullen said with a laugh. “I think it’s awesome. I would do it again, for sure.”

He said other criteriums include hill climb events – which he said are more popular in Europe – but there is nothing else like the Cobble Climb in the U.S.

Cullen has been on the road since March 1 to ride in criteriums around the country. He anticipated taking part in at least 60 days of racing before finishing his trip at the end of September.  He said he’s writing a book on the history of criteriums that he hoped to publish next year.

Riders in the Snake Alley Criterium
Credit Rich Egger

“Snake Alley is one of the most legendary. You hear about it all year so you have to come and do this race,” Cullen said.

He also hoped more riders will start taking part in extra events such as the Cobble Climb. Jory Conor of Burlington concurred.

“I just came out to support the Cobble Climb because it’s the coolest race here and it doesn’t get much attention,” Conor said.

Whereas Cullen did the Cobble Climb on a road bike – with a skinny frame and tires – Conor did it on a so-called fat bike.  Its thick frame is designed to support the bicycle’s four-inch wide tires.

A rider works to reach the top of Cobblestone Alley
Credit Rich Egger

“It’s a ton of fun. You can ride over and through just about anything compared to a normal bike,” Conor said.

This is the fourth time he’s taken on the Cobble Challenge.  He did it in roughly 36 seconds.

The Cobble Climb has various categories for age and there is also a fat tire class.  It’s held over the noon hour during a break from the Snake Alley Criterium races, which are held every year on the Saturday of Memorial Day weekend.