Rasputitsa: a 'road race' unlike the majority of road races we will encounter in a season. 45 miles, unsanctioned, Vermont. Anything unsanctioned in Vermont is bound to be the Jungle. We had four B2C2ers crazy enough to make the trip up to the Jungle for the ride. These are their stories.
Greg Colby - 29th, Men's Open
I got in the car at 4:30 AM Saturday morning to head up to the Northern reach of Vermont. The reason: the Rasputitsa gravel race. 45 miles with 4,000 feet of climbing on dirt roads. We got lucky this year - it was sunny, warm and (mostly) dry. There was enough mud to produce a nice splatter on bikes and faces and suck painfully at wheels while going uphill, but not enough to turn this event into the tractor pull it could've been or force me off my bike.
I was joined at the start by B2C2's Sad Leg Maker-in-Chief Julie Wright and we hung out for a bit while we waited for the start and wondered where Hannah and Sharon were (who showed up on time, but it was a near thing). We had a totally bananas Gran Fondo style start, which led to the unique experience of having my wheel viciously chopped, repeatedly, by Quebecois on fat bikes trying to get to the front of the group during the "neutral" rollout on pavement. Fighting for wheels with a bunch of crazed Canadians and Yankees with thirty-something miles of mostly uphill gravel looming seemed way too stupid to be worthwhile; I tried to stay cool until the actual race start. When we did make the first turn onto gravel, of course the leaders hit the afterburners to begin the burn-off of dead wood and I immediately wished we'd been a bit more assertive in staging ourselves.
I tried not to die on the descents, burned a few matches on the climbs, and made contact with the lead group about six miles in as the pace eased a bit. I let myself be pretty psyched about this for a couple of miles until we hit the first moderately long climb, and it quickly became clear that my tenure in this group would be extremely temporary. So I eased off and let the second group catch me. That was more my speed and we eventually winnowed down to a group of nine. I was climbing well, so well in fact that it was the descents that finished me off. Coming off the biggest climb, the descent was very rutted and bouncy. My lower back was shot at this point, which made it impossible for me to go fast on the descents. Descending on gravel is very physical; you need a working core to control your bike at speed. I suppose some bigger tires wouldn't have hurt, either. So I got dropped on the ruts, was really far back on the screaming fast gravel descent that followed. I almost made it back to my group on the following climbs, but cracked and couldn't quite connect. Dug in and came in only two minutes behind them for 29th. I'll take that. Julie came in only a little behind me to take third among the women! Not too shabby when the people in front of you are Lyne Bessette and Kate Northcott.
After having such a great time at Rasputitsa, I was really jazzed about racing some more. So of course I thought it would be super fun to head down to Ninigret for a crit the next day...
Sharon Sloan & Hannah Rossi - Somewhere, Women's Open
THE RACE TO THE RACE
Sharon: Because I am a luddite still using Apple Maps until two nights ago, and because Hannah and I had entirely too much faith in each other and kibitzed too much in the car to have any situational awareness, we found ourselves on a “Main Street” in entirely the wrong town about an hour away from the actual Main Street on which Rasputitsa started, wondering where all the other bikes were. Luckily, I also have an obsessive need to leave lots of wiggle room time and can drive like a Masshole when necessary (obviously I would never, ever speed), so we managed to find East Burke, get kitted up and bikes readied, pick up our numbers/chips as the national anthem played, and insert ourselves into the massive pack of riders just before the start gun went off. I still had a glove halfway on with two fingers stuck in one… finger?, but the neutral start allowed me to fix that without crashing anyone out.
Hannah: Yes, everything Sharon has stated is true except the luddite part, because she's way better at Twitter than anyone on B2C2. Apple Maps did mislead, but at no point was there a pause to question how a '20 minute drive' became an hour long. I suppose we were simply excited to be in Vermont, surrounded by mountains with the promise of dirt slaying in our near future. I don't know what Sharon is talking about when she said 'can drive like a Masshole' because I was giving updates from Google about our ETA (we shaved off 10 minuets) and arrived fashionably late. Nonetheless, thank goodness we parked near a secret port-a-potty without a line, that saved a lot of hassle too.
The race was big: 500+ participants. I've never been in a massive sea of people before. I went out hot(ish) and promptly forgot it was 40 miles with more climbing than I've done all year. But, I hung in there like a cat, slowly falling down a screen door, releasing its grip bit by bit. When a hill climb gets really hard, I remember the time I hiked up Mt.Elgon in Africa in a long skirt because my friend, who also wore a long skirt, told me to. I feel like my teammates are along those lines. Let's do this painful, slightly odd adventure together - because bikes! - and I agree every time.
Sharon: We planned to ride together, but about five minutes of trying to hang on to Hannah’s wheel was enough to make me realize that another 15 minutes, let along an entire race at that pace, would cause my heart to explode and I dropped back, sadly watching Hannah skillfully weave through the massive pack and ride off into the distance.
After about 15 miles of riding alone and slowly getting passed by people, I managed to find a group of guys (including teammate Julie’s wonderful husband Drew) to slog through the sticky mud and laugh about it with. I achieved one of my secret personal goals of riding up Cyberia (!!!), started passing some of the people who’d dropped me earlier and were now slogging uphill on foot, then promptly committed to the wrong rut in the 8” of mud on the descent on the other side and hilariously splatted over right in front of someone snapping lots of pictures. (If anyone finds them, they would be much appreciated.) My goals for this “race” were first to finish and not be last, and second to see how well I could do beyond that. Our little gang stopped to regroup a couple of times, which I was quite appreciative for when they waited for me after my mud bath, but pushed me harder than I could’ve done on my own, and gave me the satisfaction of re-passing a bunch more people in the last 15 miles. I was so happy and just tired enough to roll through last of the B2C2 crew, about 10' behind Hannah. I learned I’m better at climbing than I was last year, that doing a ridiculously insane muddy gravely mountainy ride with beautiful scenery and good company will hold up to three years of anticipation, and that all races should end with an afterparty, live music, and recovery poutine.
In traditional humble Julie fashion, comment from our watty beast of a teammate was withheld. SO - I think that gives us free rein to brag for her. Julie, hot off another excellent cyclocross season racing for B2C2's Team Averica, made her 2016 debut at Rasputitsa, taking 3rd in a field of 100 registered riders behind legends Lyne Bessette and Kate Northcott. The bar to which all of us will be measured for the year has been set. Thanks Julie, for making this season impossible.