March 25, 2013

Barry-Roubaix Race Recap: MORE POWER Edition

With a gritty pre-ride of the course under our belts, Team Speedy Chubs took on the grand Barry-Roubaix dirt road race. 

Team Speedy Chubs before the race. Stolen from Kendal and Juho

First, let me say that this was one of the best organized races I've ever attended. The roads were well marked and there were people at every intersection helping you find your way. The start was easy to find and the waves were perfectly timed so there weren't overly large clusters of racers. They paid the county to condition the roads. Every detail was thought of. They even had childcare set up - unheard of!

Despite all this wonderful planning and coordination Mother Nature had created a crazy set of road conditions that XXC Magazine described best as being ". . . varied from rutted, pock marked, ass puckering sheets of ice and snow to clear pavement to hard packed, frozen solid stretches of dirt road". 

As I set off on my journey, with my single goal of staying vertical, I was very relieved to see that the conditions were different from our pre-ride. The mud was minimal, but the ice and snow were prevalent. Around the 5th mile I attempted to shift gears and instead heard an icy ripping sound. My rear derailleur cable tore into two, sending my derailleur to the smallest (hardest) gear in the back. I stopped and fussed with it for a few minutes. Nothing was going to fix it. I was looking at 30 more miles and over 2,000 more feet of climbing on icy gravel. In my hardest gear. I sent a text to our crew chief, Kendal, that I may need to get picked up but that I'd see how far I could get first. My coach has been getting me ready for Michigan Mountain Mayhem, so I've been doing a good amount of leg strength training. I changed my mindset from this being a race to it being a training opportunity. I would now see how far I could make it before my legs completely gave out. 

This set of circumstances made for some ridiculous situations, where even on the smallest of hills, I would be out of my saddle grinding away like my life depended on it, and someone would breeze by me seated with a cadence around 100 rpm. I'm certain many people passed me shaking their heads thinking, "why doesn't that lunatic just shift down a few gears"? 

For added hilarity, compare my face with those behind me.
Photo by Julie McGraw Photography

There were times when I looked for a main road to pull off to in order to call the crew chief and arrange a pick up. But each time I'd find one I'd think, "well, let's just see if I can make it a little longer". Along the way I witnessed several people go down hard, one person being escorted to an ambulance, and as I crested a particularly tough hill I saw a poor racer having CPR administered (we've since heard that he's doing well in hospital). With about 4 more miles to go I saw a woman at the side of the road looking very frustrated at her bike. As is my custom, I asked her if she had everything she needed as I approached. Usually this question is answered with a thumbs up, or some sort of variant on "all good", but every once in a while someone needs a tire lever or air can. She didn't respond verbally but I could see in her face that she was in mechanical trouble and needed help. I stopped and did what I could to mend a bent front derailleur and chain link (this race had a way of destroying gear in very creative ways). We did our best with the tools we had and I hope she was able to make it to the finish line. 

In the end the whole team made it through with only one DNF, due to a mechanical. And only two of our members crashed (they seem to be ok now). Our team placed 33rd out of 37, which is pretty good when you consider the number of professional and pro-am teams who participated combined with the level of preparation we had. 

Would I do the race again? I don't think I would, but that has more to do with my relationship to the dirt road race format than anything else (which I'll write about soon). Would I recommend it to others? It depends. It was, as I stated earlier, a very well organized race. I would recommend it to those who have plenty of dirt road experience and probably a good amount of mountain biking too. 

March 12, 2013

Barry Roubaix Recon Mission

Note from Joe: You can see Juho's account of this at his blog post on SlowVelo, here.

The Barry Roubaix race is in about two weeks. So, it made sense for a few of us to go out and ride the course in advance. See, last time we did a gravel race we all ended up lost. We thought that a pre-race social ride would help us get familiar with the course and it would be a good warm up since many of us (maybe just me?) hadn't ridden on dirt since October.

It took two hours to get to Hastings, then while we were getting saddled up a few people we met who were also going to ride the course said that people who had done it the day before said it was horrible. We were naively undeterred.

Is that mud frozen and good to ride on, or wet and slippery?
You'll find out as soon as you ride on it!
 Oh, and mind the ruts!
The course was a grab bag of ice, snow, deep ruts, and just about every type and thickness of mud there is. There were lots of hills, which alone is a good workout but when covered with ice or mud the consistency of peanut butter about four or more inches deep it was quite challenging. In some cases it was tough work even going down hill because the mud sapped so much momentum you actually had to pedal just to keep going (Downhill!). There were times where I had to dismount while going up a hill simply because I had lost momentum and it was impossible to get going again. There were other times toward the end of the ride when I had to dismount because the legs had simply depleted. On asphalt the amount of energy I was putting out (just to stay vertical) would have been considered close to race effort. And this was supposed to be an easy social ride! I was not prepared for this. If I had known what was coming I probably wouldn't have done it given all the leg workouts I had done the rest of the week. It was a rude awakening. However, I did learn a few things:

  • Despite how it feels while you are on the course, it is, in fact, of finite length.
  • My updated nutrition plan was far better compared to that of Lowell 50 (as in I had one). 
  • The hill queue card I put on my top tube was helpful (until we got lost and everything was off by a few miles).
  • I was pleased with my equipment selection. The course threw everything at us and my gear responded pretty well, even if I didn't.
  • Cell phone service is non-existent.
  • It will be impossible to predict the course conditions for race day. 
  • I'm developing something of a love/hate relationship with dirt road or "classic" road races.
  • New goal: Stay vertical.
According to wikipedia, we are "expert" riders because we are riding the 34 mile course - more evidence to never trust what wikipedia says.

I realized after the ride that I only took pictures when we stopped, which was always at the easiest sections (because we could restart without getting stuck)