Thursday, April 1, 2010

Killer Gravel

In the course of the last year, I was able to forget how painful the pace and the climbing of Barry-Roubaix really are. Within fifteen minutes of the start, trying to hang with some of the fast groups separating from the field, it all came back.

I woke up Saturday morning to bitter winds and a temperature somewhere in the mid 30s: it was going to be a cold couple of hours in the saddle. I slammed some yoghurt, banana, water, coffee, a bar or two, and warmed up my van to change into the kit.

My Hogsback was ready to go, and after a quick tire pressure check (35 psi in the Bulldogs), I got in some warming laps around the Gun Lake campground, although it was too cold to break the sweat satisfactorily. I knew the start would be cold, but I'm always willing to suffer a bit to avoid stripping layers later. Leg warmers, regular shorts, long-sleeve tech t-shirt, long-sleeve fleeced jersey, mid-weight gloves, cap,-no booties, no ear band, no shell-my setup felt perfect.

The (not so) neutral roll-out and start/finish area was just a half-mile from the campsite, so my buddy Jeff and I cruised over with a few minutes to spare. All classes, all racers, were rolling out together, over 700 riders! Rick Plite, race promoter, asked people from lower classes not to pass during the 3-4 mile roll-out, but clearly a lot of riders just started pushing to the front during the massive roll-out. I was foolish and conservative and should have moved up, but the accordioning pack had me a bit nervous and I figured things would stretch out before the sandy two-track.

As you can see, that didn't exactly work out. Observe the five-wide riders and the riders diving off the road in the background. People on twitchy 'cross bikes were going down left and right in the sand pits while I did my best to be patient. My Hogsback felt so stable in the sand and I go... fast! The roll-out was cool, but didn't stretch out the pack as intended. I know Rick has been actively getting feedback from racers and he'll have a solution next year. I did see another Sisu rider, Justin, on this section, so that was a lift.

After leaving the sandy two-track, the race opens up on laser-fast dirt roads, with over 2200 feet of climbing on the 35 mile course. I caught on with a fast group and we settled into a nice groove for about forty minutes, 20 of us, mostly on 'cross bikes, with a few groups going forward or backward. On the last massive hill before the pavement ending, I attacked. Apparently that hill shattered the group as some caught me, and others I never saw again. I caught some fast riders and cruised in 15 of 51 in my 30-39 Expert group, 57 of 441 overall in the 35 mile race.

This race will only grow and I recommend it highly. It's hard to beat the beautiful countryside, the campground and Gun Lake, and the super-fast tactical racing. It's not often I'm in a group hitting 25 or 30 mph on gravel roads! Thanks, Kiss-Cross and all the volunteers, for such a great event.

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