|Scenic Vermont countryside.|
This type of event has been around for ages of course, though the bigger and more competitive endurance gravel events were spread across the country, making attendance challenging. Regardless, Cathy and I had long been fixated, mesmerized if you will, at paying money to ride around in circles on boring paved roads or office parks and then being predictably frustrated at the outcomes of said races. Lately, we'd become so fed up that we had basically all but given up on road racing. With that we reverted back to our roots on the dirt with increased participation in mountain bike racing filling some of the competitive void before cyclocross season started. Last summer, with the addition of our new camp in Kirby VT, we had also gotten back to dirt road riding. And a fair amount of dirt road riding we did, which with our carbon fiber Cannondale SuperX disc brake equipped cyclocross bikes, became a literal joy. So when the Dirty 40 came onto the radar last summer we were all in, dragging a fair number of our friends and teammates with us. The event was great and a wonderful gateway to the cyclocross season.
|Gravel road took a beating from the storm last week.|
Anyhow, with much bravado a few of us who have roots in the Northeast Kingdom extolled the virtues and epicness of a real NEK mud season. We collectively suggested that an event should showcase those conditions in a race geared to the truly strong, all around rider who is equipped to deal potentially with the worst conditions imaginable, a real mud season. And so it happened. Anthony and Heidi, though somewhat cautious at first, switched gears and before we could say "just kidding" they had an event put together, with a slick name and everything. And so started the Rasputitsa. Cathy and I as well as Derek Griggs and Brian Irwin all put our money where our mouths were and quickly signed up. Along the way Cathy and I convinced our Bikeway Source/bell Lap Racing teammates it would be a great idea for them to sign up as well. Peter Vollers even put together a similar event this year, a ride in the height of winter out of Woodstock VT. This event, the Vermont Overland Maple Adventure Ride (VOMAR) was an outstanding ride and a resounding hit. people loved it and we managed to drag most of our team out to it. Another true highlight in a year becoming dedicated to adventure.
|Sunny and cold for the pre-ride.|
It was mud season for real. All of the stories we'd recounted of traditional spring weather and mud had managed to peak for the race. This was going to be awesome, or possibly horrible. After the storm, last Wednesday, Cathy and I took a trip up to Newport and did a frigid pre-ride of the the first segment of the course, out and into Cyberia. What we saw concerned us a bit as part of the trail was a solid stream of swift moving water. Cyberia was only 16 miles into the race so the thought of completing the remaining 30 miles with wet feet had me worried, given that the temperatures on race day were only supposed to be in the low 40's for the high. We got back home and scrambled to prepare footwear. We were also tight lipped on conditions and the exact details of Cyberia, not wanting to give up the surprises the promoters had been trying to keep.
|Every VT race must have a covered bridge.|
We registered then got ready and headed over to the start where we chatted with the multitude of friends from the New England cycling scene. Amongst the legions of top New England masters racers in attendance, the event also drew hoards of other US and international tough guys as well as a few professional cyclists. I love this aspect of New England cycling; the fact that at any given race you can draw many of the top racers in the country to an event. I'm humbled to be fortunate enough to compete with masters legends the likes of Peter Vollers, Jim Nash, Paul Richard and John Funk on a regular basis not to mention the throngs of other tough guys, many of whom happen to be on my team or guys I race MTB and CX with, people that I respect and admire. Add into that the fact that direct from the Paris-Roubaix classic race was Cannondale Pro Cycling professional Ted King and the California Giant Cycling newly turned professional Ansel Dickey and perennial Cannondale professional Tim Johnson. Combined with many of the strongest guys from the Dirty 40 last year including the Tall Tree Cycles team from Ottawa, I could tell this was going to be game on from the start.
|Back Coventry to Poutre Rd.|
I made my way through the gaps that opened as racers ran out of steam or veered one way or another for this reason or that, which always happens when the road goes up. Soon I made it out to the head of the group and just kept going, trying to keep safe and string things out a bit. My legs were feeling surprisingly good at that point and I was determined to have a good race. My season thus far has had some highs as well as lows, which has had me a bit down and at odds. The winter of fat biking left me with great power and endurance but less that desired top end, which the prolonged winter and lack of spring has not helped to improve much. This race was going to be the test, one I was determined to pass or crumble trying. I made it to the top of that initial climb at the front and gazed back at the long open hill to see an impossibly long string of racers making their way up. Ansel was right there as well and hit it hard to keep the pace going, Ted and TJ on his wheel. I jumped in as did a long thin string of racers on this hillside roller coaster ride that paralleled I91 south.
|Part of Cyberia during the pre-ride.|
No time to rest though as Cyberia was literally right ahead of us. The snow of our pre-ride had partially given way to soft spongy earth which was excruciating to try and ride through. I quickly found the corn snow over ice much easier to ride through and chose that line. Immediately racers began to struggle and bike handling skills quickly showed themselves and payed dividends. Ansel was pushing hard and doing well as was TJ. I slotted in with them able to ride at least as much as they could. Then we hit the section that was a flowing river a few days before. The water had partially subsided but not fully. We picked our way through, running with the bikes and keeping dry feet as best possible, completing that section and starting the endless run to the top.
At that point I was in third but by the half way point I'd slipped back a bit and was overtaken by Ted and then John Funk. My lower back was screaming and starting to spasm but we all basically ran the same pace and were all within maybe 40' of each other. Near the top the terrain got better so I tried to ride, surprisingly able to move along fairly easily. This allowed me to close the gap back up and rejoin the lead group, who stopped for a shot of maple syrup and some pictures. Soon though we were off and when it pointed downhill, I fell into my groove and just started letting the bike flow. This worked great and I passed everyone, gaining a reasonable gap and hitting the dirt road first with enough time to complete the following climb ahead of TJ. I hung at the top waiting for the rest of the lead group to come back together, excited to be where I was and psyched at just how much fun that descent really was.
|Cathy and Michael finish up a solid day's ride.|
The net was that when we hit those final soft gravel rollers, the real suffering began. Over the first we started to splinter and Jean-Francois, Robin and I got gapped with me being on the tail end. I managed to chase around and re-attach but the others could not make the jump. On the second of those rollers, the biggest one, Ansel decided to have a go at it and turned the screws. Ted went with him and the two caused a gap. John, Gered and TJ followed momentarily and I gapped off them, still reeling from the previous effort and the cast was thrown. I could see them just ahead but couldn't get there. Ansel and Ted were killing it and speeding away as my my ride and my race in the group behind them, in front of me. I wanted to bridge back but just couldn't manage as the gap continually grew while I watched the three dance up the rollers ahead of me. By the time we crested the final roller and made the right hand turn onto the false flat of Farrar Road my train had left the depot and was a couple hundred yards up the road ahead of me.
|Cathy happy to be done.|
The bulk of the BSBL team was not far behind at all. Finishing in the next big wave with Peter Vollers, Rob Stine and Andy Gould was Ben and Kyle. Soon after that was Sam and then Skip with Thomas coming in a bit later. Cathy persevered as always and finished up strong with our friend Michael Whitfield, crossing the line together. Cathy say's she didn't have a great ride but I know how hard she worked, how hard she always works and it makes me proud of her. Michele wasn't feeling it so took a slighter shorter route back instead finishing safe and sound.
|M40+ podium with John Funk (Jean-Francois Blais missing)|
This was the first real personal highlight on what I hope is going to be a successful season of racing. I'm not sure how many more of these I have in me and am starting to think about retiring to fun rides. Really though, they are all fun rides. With races like the Rasputitsa, maybe I'll never give it up. These gravel events along with the fat bike races and other challenges we haven't even thought of yet, help keep the sport fresh and new. That is what makes it exciting and fun, doing something new and challenging. Finding new adventures in the same familiar means, pedaling your bicycle around the countryside.
Many thanks to Heidi and Anthony as well as Newport for making this happen. You folks get it. This is what racing, and riding bikes is all about.