Saturday morning was my first ever bike race. Dubbed Barry-Roubaix: The Killer Gravel Road Race it was going to be my first venture into dirt/gravel road racing as well. With over 1500 participants registered, it was sure to be an awesome event. There were three distance available – a 62 mile, 36 mile, and 24 mile. I chose the 36 mile course and am glad I did.
The event was held about 45 minutes from our house at Yankee Springs Recreation Area. I didn’t know what the parking situation would be like so I got left the house at 6:00AM for the 10:00AM start time. I arrived to a near empty parking lot. I was WAY too early. Oh well. It gave me plenty of time to do my packet pickup and look around for some friends that were racing.
I finally met Alex from Imported At Detroit in person after chatting with him online quite a bit. He is an Ironman who is just getting into the cycling scene as well. He has a bit more experience than I and has been helpful at giving me advice on gear and racing. I also met up with some of my Strider Tri Team teammates. It seemed liked everywhere I turned, I was bumping into someone I knew.
Before I knew it, 10:00 was approaching and it was time to get ready. There was a great loop to ride in the parking lot that everyone was using to warm up their legs prior to the race start. I got in a few laps to loosen up before lining up.
I was in wave 2 with about 300 other riders. It was supposed to be a neutral ride out for the first mile as we left the park, but right out of the gate people were jockeying for position. The first 3 miles or so were on pavement so it was relatively fast moving. As soon as we hit the first section of gravel, the crowds thinned out a bit, but it was still fairly congested.
The course included two sections of 2-track. Both sections were VERY sandy with the 2nd section actually worse than the first. We hit the first section, Sager Rd, about 5 miles into the race. It had been very dry all month, but with the rain over the last 24-48 hours, it turned the 2-track into a muddy mess in parts.
I was most nervous about riding the 2-track sections mainly because I don’t have much experience riding on that type of terrain let alone riding on that type of terrain with dozens of other people. I was actually doing pretty well to start. However, I got stuck behind a guy who kept falling and each time he fell, I would come to abrupt stop. I went done once before I was able to get around him before he recovered from his fall. There was definitely a lot people walking/running their bikes during this section. One of the problems was that if you crashed, it was really hard to get going in the sand so you would have to run to the top of the next climb before being able to restart. It would have been nice if there was a rule that walkers/runners had to move to their right, but as it was, there was walkers on both the right and left and occasionally even the center making it harder to move through the crowds.
After Sager Rd, the course moved onto primarily gravel and hard pack roads. I am really glad that I switched out my tires for less knobby tires. Outside of the 2-track sections which were less than 2 miles of the total course, knobby tires would have been overkill.
The top wheel is the original 2” knobby tires that came with MTB. I swapped them out for the 1.75” Michelin Country Rock tires that were much better for the hard pack surface.
Overall, this was a fairly challenging course. Lots of climbs to keep the legs shaking throughout. The 36 mile route had a total of 3200’ climbing. Youch! The climbs I remember the most were the two sections of named climbs: The Killer and The 3 Sisters. We hit The Killer first. Up, up, up we went. And just when you think you are at the top, we hung a left turn and kept climbing. The 3 Sisters hill(s) is a series of 3 climbs each increasing in grade and length. After each climb, you would get a brief reprieve before having to climb the next hill. I shamefully admit to granny gearing it up the 3rd Sister. My legs just couldn’t take it anymore.
I really struggled to stick with a consistent group of riders throughout the race. Each time I found myself with a group, we would get broken up at the next climb. This is something that I just need to practice as I am used to triathlon rules were drafting is prohibited.
After winding around the back roads of Barry County, it was back to more 2-track riding on Shaw. Like I said before, this section was actually rougher than the first section of 2-track. Despite the race thinning out, there was more sand here. Couple that with tired legs and there was lots of walkers and rough patches.
I was actually cruising along pretty well and even passing a few people. However, as I made a move to pass a rider, he slide out in some sand and went down in my path. I crashed into him and went down as well. As soon as I hit the ground, my left calf (which was still clipped into my pedal) cramped up into a giant knot. Ugh. It took me what seemed like forever to get my foot free and get moving again. I eventually got moving and before I knew it, I was turning onto the final 5 mile stretch of paved roads.
This should give you an idea of what the course was like, check out these videos that some riders filmed this year on GoPros.
I hammered it as hard as I could over the final stretch. It was mainly downhill and I actually found myself running out of gears. The crank on my MTB is a 42/34/24. The numbers being the number of teeth on each of the gears. The more teeth, the faster your high end gear will be. Compare this to the compact crank on my TT (50/34) or the triple on my roadie (50/39/30) and I was really missing the big gears I am used to. This also seemed to affect me on some of the downhills where a group would pull away from me because I ran out of gears and couldn’t do anything except coast.
Huge kudos for the onsite result kiosks. Again. All races should have these.
Before I knew it, I was flying across the finish line in 2:08:45 (16.8mph) earning me 52 out of 82 in my age group (20-29) and 335 out of 883 overall for the 36 mile race. My goal going into the race was to go sub 2:10 so I was really happy with my finish.
After finishing, I got cleaned up as best I could and changed in my car. And no, I did not flash anyone as I was changing in my car thank you very much. As I was wiping off all the mud and dirt, I found that I had come away with a minor “injury” (if you can even call it that). My first ever mountain biking battle wound.
Truth be told, I have no idea when it actually happened. That should be a testament to the number of times I crashed or wiped out. Good thing the legs were shaved or I might have had to amputate right MattyO?
Once I was cleaned up, I started to look around for some friends that I knew were racing. Everyone had a great race except for my buddy Steve whose race ended early after he got a stick wedged in his wheel ripping off his rear derailleur. Thankfully, he was uninjured – just the bike. He made the best of it and drove out on the course to cheer on the rest of the racers. I met up with Alex again as well as Kattie and AD from my tri group.
The did have some post race food available to racers, but they also had plenty of vendors setup selling everything from hot dogs to pizza to burritos – and for pretty reasonable prices. I opted for some pizza to go with the beer I brought.
Don’t worry, it is really only half of a pizza. They gave me the box instead of a plate though.
For dessert, I headed to the refreshments table and found this little piece of heaven.
It is a Sara Lee Simple Singles. I had never seen them before but it was a layer of cake, layer of frosting, and a layer of whipped cream with cookie crumbles on top. Race Directors – take note. I expect these at every finish line in the future.
I hung around for a while in the beer tent drinking some more Founders beer and watching the awards ceremony. I had all but packed it in for the day when I got this tweet from Alex:
It was like Bruce Wayne seeing the bat signal. I sprang into action and headed back to the beer tent to find Alex and help. “Crisis” averted.
1) Bike racing is a hell of a lot of fun. It is pedal to the metal the entire way. One thing I sort of struggled with was remembering that I did NOT have to run afterwards. There were a couple of points where I felt myself backing off thinking that I needed to save my legs. I had to remind myself to leave it all on the course and when I felt the need to back off I pushed harder.
2) I got my ass kicked. And I am happy with that. I consider myself a fairly good triathlete cyclist; my bike split times are usually in the top 25% or even top 15%. But when it comes to pure cycling, there is a lot of room for improvement. I know that if I keep working at it, I will I grow as a cyclist and my triathlon cycling will improve as well.
3) Not all cyclists are d-bags. I’m sure you know what I am talking about here right? We’ve all met the cyclist(s) who thinks his shit don’t stink and that triathletes “aren’t real cyclists.” Like Brooklyn from my Ride Around Kent County for instance. I am happy to report that I didn’t have a single bad encounter all day. There were plenty of fellow triathletes out there as well as newbie cyclists and everyone was super friendly and helpful.
4) Cyclists know how to throw a great post race party. When a race is sponsored by a brewing company (Founders in this case), you know it is going to be a good time. I could get used to this.
5) I will be doing this again. Possibly very soon.
Is there a type of event that you have been wanting to do? Something out of your comfort zone? If so, go try it and chances are you will have a blast!
Thanks for reading!