A Thriller in Michigan: 2022 Barry-Roubaix
Commitment. Everyone says they are committed, but when faced with terrible weather conditions and an easy excuse (travel) to not take the start line, how committed are you really? All last week I was glued to the forecast in Hastings for the 13th annual Barry-Roubaix It could be snowy, rainy, windy, below freezing, at freezing, or above freezing. I think we got all of it in one day.
Travel Day and Pre-Ride
I decided early on to arrive in town early enough to pre-ride some of the course. The fine organizers of the race decided to host an organized pre-ride Friday afternoon. This would allow me to test out what tires to use, to check to see if I had enough gearing and to flush out the cobwebs in my body. After picking up my race number, poster and buying some additional goodies (stickers, cycling cap, gaiter and road sign), I was ready to go out for a spin.
There were a handful of other riders out for the pre-ride. It was supposed to be no-drop type ride. I stuck with the pack until we reached the first climb of the ride—the Three Sisters. Given my lack of a power-to-weight ratio, I was dropped. The good news is that I did have enough gearing this time around to get up all three. The bad news? I went way harder than I wanted to for a pre-ride and my drivetrain sounded awful.
After 10 miles or so, we finished. I had ample gearing to get around and was pleased with my effort. I rode on my 38mm Pathfinder Pro tires, but it felt a little to slippery for my liking knowing that it was going to be wet the next day, so I decided that I would ride the Vittoria Terreno Drys in 38mm. After taking a good hard look at my bike, I figured that my drivetrain noise was from a chain that may be too short. The angle on the rear derailleur looked OK but figured two extra links couldn’t hurt as I would likely be in the larger of the cogs of the cassette. At 6 p.m. on a Friday night, the only shop open wasn’t even a bike shop. It was REI in Grand Rapids.
I made a beeline to the store and bought the last 11 speed chain they had. I also looked around to see if there was anything else that could be useful for the next day. Nothing jumped out at me and had a nice conversation about the race with the cashier that was from Hastings and chatted about what was to come. At the hotel, I replaced the chain, checked torque on all the bolts and wiped everything down one last time. Fingers crossed it fixed the noise.
A little bit of everything on race day
I’d be lying to you if I didn’t wake up and think to myself WTF as a looked out of my hotel window as I prepared to get ready for the day. It snowed about an inch or so overnight. I had a car without a snow brush. I have never ridden in any condition like that. And there wasn’t anything in the hotel’s continental breakfast that was even remotely edible for me. (I brought oatmeal with me just in case.)
After my breakfast of oatmeal, a glass of apple juice and a half of a can of Pepsi, I made the final drive down from Grand Rapids to Hastings. I kept telling myself, “What’s the worst thing that can happen today?” The answers I could come up with includes crashing, bonking, getting lost, hypothermia and so on. The better question I asked myself as I pulled into the parking lot was “what story do you want to have on Monday morning?”
I could tell that a lot of people showed up begrudgingly. The guy that parked next to me was full of F-bombs the entire time. This was someone that had so much negative self-talk, I was convinced he was going to pull out and leave. Me? My self-talk got me fired up. I got to thinking about how epic, awesome and the stories I could tell when I finished.
After deciding on what to wear, I headed straight to the staging area. No warmup today. What was the point? I had 36 miles and once I hit the first hill in the lead into the Three Sisters, I would be hotter than hot.
At the start line, I didn’t have my usual nerves that I would have had during a cyclocross race. All the positive self-talk worked. I was pretty chilled out. Once the announcer said “Go!!!” I was off. I took the start and the lead into the first climbing section at a less-than-tempo effort. I knew that I couldn’t go out guns-a-blazing and finish with a time I was happy with. Once I hit the Three Sisters, I made it over the first two climbs with ease. The 2017 and 2018 me had to walk the second climb. I grinded out the third and made it over. Goal 1 completed.
The next few miles were kind of a blur. I don’t remember much as I just kept pedaling. At some point the course split from the shorter loop to my loop and there was a big, paved hill/highway where I could pick up some speed. First there was this short decent that turned into a 8-10 minute climb. Surprisingly, I was able to pass people up this hill. For a guy my size, it was kind of surprising, up at the top, I bombed downhill and ended up riding with nice lady that just got into gravel by way of triathlons. We chatted for a while until we got to the next test—Sager Road.
For those of you unfamiliar with Barry-Roubaix, the 36- and 62-mile courses have a two track, sandy section that is about a mile which is an old fire road called Sager Road. It is rough ride when dry and nasty when wet. Even with all the rain earlier in the week, and the snow earlier in the day, there was a rideable line. Having watched videos of this section, I wasn’t sure if I was going to be able to make it up all the way without walking some of it. Turns out, I had nothing to worry about.
I navigated the first section without problems trying to figure out the line. I then had someone pass me (while I was on the less-than-ideal line), and then I followed their wheel for the rest of the climb. There were some sketchy sections which included deep sand, large puddles where you had to hope and pray there wasn’t anything below and steep inclines. After grinding through, I made it. There were people passing out beer at the top. As someone who has embraced the straight-edge lifestyle, I respectfully passed. Goal 2 complete.
After Sager, the next point was the rest/aid station at mile 22. By this point, my hands were wet and cold, and I had to pee. (There, I said it.) I made it to the stop, used the facilities, ate a home-made peanut butter cookie, changed gloves for the next challenge—”The Wall.”
The Wall is 0.2-mile climb with an average gradient of 11 percent about 25 miles in. I didn’t make it up either time back in 2017 or 2018 and I didn’t make it up this year either. I thought about a proper CX dismount for a second, but then I realized that I am way too tired to do it without hurting myself. I hiked up the first 2/3 of the climb and got back on when the road turned left and the gradient was far less steep. While I didn’t ride it (likely could have with a 40T rear cassette), I knew that worst of it was behind me. 11 miles to go.
The last third of the race was kind of a blur. Going up and down hills. Passing people and getting passed. I kept reminding myself of all the people that gave words of encouragement the week prior. I kept reminding myself that this is supposed to be fun. And it was. At one point in the final 10 miles or so, I got a little bit choked up. I’ll admit it, a bike race/ride shouldn’t be this emotional, but finishing on a day with temperatures below freezing, 20 mph winds, wet roads with 2,000+ feet of climbing is quite the accomplishment.
I kept picking off riders in front of me one by one. By the time I hit the pavement in last mile, I decided to empty the tank. From about 800 meters to go, I went into the drops and put the hammer down. All out sprinting to the finish. Heard something go pop on the bike, but really didn’t care. I had a race to finish. Local townspeople were still out on their lawns and porches cheering us on. By the time I hit the finish line, I thought about posting up, but given I was likely around DFL, I decided against it. Plus, I was exhausted and would have ended up face planting.
My last personal goal was complete. Finish the race. Having only done the shorter races prior, 36 miles without any real climbing year-to-date or riding prolonged periods outside year-to-date was going to be a challenge, but I never once underestimated how hard this ride was. Looking at my riding history dating back to 2013, it was the hardest ride I had ever done. My TSS for the ride was a personal record. My IF (intensity factor) was .98 (1.00 is all out for 1 hour). I set all sorts of power records on the day.
It was the perfect day. Barry-Roubaix is very special to me for a variety of reasons, but the 2022 edition is one I will never forget.