As everyone in the Northeast knows, the recent weather conditions have been abnormal to say the least. When the Rasputitsa was first conceived, the though was that the conditions would be as much a part of the race as the course and race itself. The race would become an individual battle as much or more between man, machine and the elements as man vs. man. The past first and second iteration of the race were more on par with that notion, making it a true tough but smart guys race. Tough in battling the elements but smart in equipment choice and preservation.
This year things were looking to be completely epic, with legendary mud and conditions to make note of. Exactly one week before we rode the course and the conditions were deplorable. It was below freezing and there was snow and mud, both of which froze to the bikes and rendered them useless in a short period of time. Equipment choice and close management and preservation of that equipment would have been crucial had the race been that day not to mention clothing choices for a long, sloppy, well below freezing race. I projected that had the race been one week earlier, the winning finish time would have been nearly an hour longer and the a solid half of the field would have run into mechanical issues caused by the frozen slop accumulation. Of those, many would not be equipped to deal with them and would have been walking. Of those, many would not be prepared for the weather once they were no longer generating heat from riding. They would have suffered and some would have been in trouble. In short, this was the race that I was hoping for, for selfish reasons of course the primary of which being that I excel in conditions like that. The pre ride that we did a week earlier was pretty taxing on my Bikeway Source provided Cannondale Synapse disc, which isn't designed to be a mud bike and as such has low mud clearance. When the mud, slush and grit accumulate and freeze, you only have a certain amount of time before you have to clear it out, otherwise things stop turning.
|Seven days before|
And so it was. I played it safe early and made it over the first series of climbs then went to the front and drove hard on the first descent to try and stay safe. That worked well but I used too much gas. Through the next sets of rollers I tried to conserve within the large, maybe 25 person front group. That in and of itself is telling as the race was only a few miles in and the nearly 700 starters had been whittled away to a small lead group of a couple dozen racers. By the next long, gradual climb I was starting to feel the strain but seemed comfortable enough, with the discomfort. At the top of Carter Road, the pace bumped and I spaced out, losing contact. I figured I could bridge the small gap on the descent but I couldn't, in fact, I was getting dropped. The pace down the somewhat sketchy rutted and steep race was insane and I was working way too hard, not recovering but digging deeper into the red such that when we started back up again the writing was on the wall.
I was done, fading, losing the lead group. Worse, there was no secret stash of really nasty stuff up ahead that would re-shuffle the deck like Cyberia did last year. I watched the group pull away ahead as we climbed Victory Rd. I was now with a small group including James from the Tekne team. The climbs were putting the hurt on for sure but despite the earlier mishap on Carter Rd, I was descending well. Knowing the course is always a help. Just before the KoM I was caught by the group behind, which had a half dozen folks including all around great guy, John Funk. I really like racing with Funky as he is such a cycling icon. I have the utmost respect for him and I consider any day that I can ride with him, a good day.
|Love this area|
And then we made the corner off River Rd onto Victory Hill Rd and the final real climb started. this was the big one, a solid 3.5 miles with some good double digit percentage grades. The climb was hard but pretty steady. Things spread a bit on the steep sections but came back on the lesser grades until we hit the run in to the last section of the climb, a solid half mile with looser terrain and some steeps. Over the top I was back a bit but within sight. I was again shocked how fast people were descending what I knew was a nasty, rutted road. Folks were taking huge risks I just wasn't prepared to take. Not on that stuff and certainly not when I saw Jake Wells walking back up the hill toward me holding his likely broken collarbone. I chose to be safe and take my risks on the road descent, one that I know well and knew would be fast. It was fast in fact. Luckily I was, with a huge amount of luck, able to catch back up on. The group came back together after the Kirby town hall and stayed pretty much together along Ridge Rd.
|Coming down out of Cyberia|
We all came back together for the final run in toward the finish. The last descent dropping back down into East Burke caused me the masters race last year when I let myself get pushed off line and crashed at the top. This year I wanted to be clearly first in so I attacked the group about 100 yards out, coming in hot. Unfortunately, I'm just not confident enough to risk dying down that rough chute at warp speed on a road bike. Though I was first in I got passed by three people in the group literally in the chute. I was awe struck that the bikes didn't explode given how much abuse they took. Still, I made it through toward the front of our small group, fourteenth place overall, the third logical group to finish and well out of any contention for a podium spot even in the master's race.
|Cathy got the job done in the women's fat bike again|
Did I mention that Cathy killed it, again this year in the women's fat bike category? She did and took about an hour off of her finish time from the previous year. She certainly seems to be carrying this team of recent. She also spent the day before with my mom making homemade donuts for the event. They were incredible and in fact, we just finished the last of them, which we'd had in the freezer. Many thanks for the efforts of both her and my mother, which were above and beyond. Both of my parents spent race day volunteering, perched at the base of the Cyberia section.
Darn, I said this wasn't going to be yet another, boring race report and guess what happened? Oh well. It was a great event and the good conditions, phenomenal and unheard of conditions, were indeed a treat for all. No hypothermia, frostbite. Still, wasn't that or the threat of that why we all signed up for the race in the first place? Nothing the promoters could have done on that front. This was all Mother Nature if not the bizarre, fickle weather patterns caused by the climate change we seem to be experiencing beyond the historic norm. Had the race literally been seven days earlier, everything would have been different, everything.
I'd also like to say how happy I am that the the event is being used to benefit the Little Bellas program, which is run by top professional athletes Lea and Sabra Davison, both VT natives. The program gets young girls into mountain biking through support, outreach and mentoring. Both Lea and Sabra beyond being incredible athletes, are true, genuine people who want to make a difference. In meeting them both I was abundantly impressed. They epitomize what it means to be a professional cyclist. I'd love to see more money go to programs like this, with local impact on every day young people, truly making a difference in their lives.
|The old NEBC junior team|
|Stellar Sunday recovery ride|
Anyhow, another great event. what will next year bring? Who knows given the weather that we've seen. Hopefully we are back to more of a seasonal norm but we will have no choice but to take that which we are given.