Rasputitsa Race Recap – April 2014 Brian Irwin, Team Fit Werx
When you host an event in April, in Northern Vermont, you should expect the unexpected. When Anthony and Heidi, of “Dirty 40” fame, decided to “listen” to our requests to do a spring version of their “Dirty 40 Gravel Grinder”, that is when “Rasputitsa” was born. I guess it was time to shut up or sign up, and sign up we did – 347 of us.
Rasputitsa, is the Russian word or phase for mud season. It is a time when roads become difficult to pass as things begin to thaw from the long harshness of the winters in Eastern Europe. Truthfully, Northern Vermont is no different and with a date of April 19th, the day before Easter, no one really knew what to expect, except that it would be some degree of epic as the month of March saw record snows in this region and temperatures well below normal all winter long. A bike race, along the Canadian border in April, what were we thinking? But the people and town (city) of Newport welcomed us with open arms. I relished the opportunity to “race” my bike in an area where I have worked for 15 years and spent much of my formative years as a kid playing here. The course comprised itself of many roads I knew well and rode frequently.
Rasputitsa is a 47 mile single loop, about 2/3rds of which is on gravel roads and one epic section of Class 4 (unmaintained) road called Cyberia. It would be a race, but many in the field were treating it as a ride. For some, they were here to support the Mary Wright Halo Foundation, the benefactor of the event and their mission to help families affected by cancer defer costs of traveling to receive treatment. Others were looking for a challenging race, ala Battenkill, to test their early season fitness. Although I had a number on my Fit Werx jersey, I think I managed to fall into both groups as mid April is way too early for this guy to have race fitness. I decided to race the first half, then ride home at a safe pace as to make it home before the legs or lungs said, “no mas.”
On Saturday morning we awoke to a mostly overcast April morning, and then the rains came. Just four days earlier, when things were starting to dry out a bit, a cold front rolled through and dropped 2.5+ inches of rain before turning to measurable snow. Soft dirt roads were already saturated and more rain would make things that much softer and slower. But the rains stopped and as 347 riders, including the likes of Cannondale’s Ted King, fresh from Paris Roubaix, and multi-time national CX Champion Tim Johnson, rolled out of Newport, Vermont for the “neutral start.” To me neutral start implies easy, get situated, but not here. Jockey for position, attack in the ditch and do it at nearly 25 miles an hour was the order of the day.
Once rolling out of Newport, the first third of the course has a fair amount of climbing and I did a good job to stay with a decent sized group of like ability riders as we rolled towards Coventry village. While I intended to ride with some of my ski racing friends, I would find myself wondering when or if we would all regroup. As I climbed my way up to Cyberia along the Back Coventry Rd. one of them finally emerged, but when we began the one mile “hike-a-bike” that was Cyberia, my much longer legs allowed me to walk faster. Cyberia was surreal. Being the type A personality that I am, I had walked this section of the course earlier in the week and had some idea of what to expect. I had placed a piece of low density foam in my jersey and simply hoisted my trusty IF CX bike up on to my shoulder as I started striding up the gravel/snow covered stream bed we would ascend. After nearly eight minutes of hiking/walking/staggering I was greeted by a guy in a yeti suit and someone offering me a maple syrup shot in an ice shot glass and I felt it would be imprudent to consume. While the jolt of sugar would be nice, I’m sure I would regret it when the sugar eventually left my system some time before I had reached the finish line. The downhill off Cyberia could be ridden if you had the right equipment and mindset. I did, as I harkened back to my days of racing mountain bikes. Simply point the bike downhill, relax and pedal. Snow/ice covered grass and some mud for good measure and before I knew it I was back on the dirt roads waiting for the group of people I had just hiked and ridden though in the last two miles to regroup. We had 25 miles to go, it was going to happen, but it didn’t. I hooked up with an old teammate from a previous incarnation as a bike racer and we figured our group would swell. It didn’t. 300 plus riders out on course and we couldn’t find anyone to ride with! As we rolled through Troy and Jay a group of 5 or 6 caught us and promptly left me. I was 20 miles, or perhaps a little less, from the finish and I chose to ride my pace rather than lift it and pay for it down the road. Alone I was.
The last section of dirt leaves North Troy, right on the Canadian border and travels along Bear Mountain Road. It’s not a steep hill but rather a long one that seems to go on and on. I was in no man’s land; literally and figuratively. I would encounter a rider periodically, but they were either going by me, moving quicker than I could, or vice versa at this point. It had started to rain again, only this time it was freezing rain. As I crested the last dirt climb on Farrar Road, I was caught by a young rider who was on a standard road bike who was still mumbling about Cyberia. After a few words of mutual encouragement, and my assurances to him that it was basically downhill until the finish, we shifted our focus to that…the finish. We hit the Lake Road and put our heads down. Here his road bike left my CX bike for dead. Alone again. I could see Newport and the ice that still covered Lake Memphremagog and with every pedal stroke I was inching closer. The last little climb (grade) onto Main Street hurt, especially since I had three riders closing on me and I certainly was in no mood to sprint. Thankfully, I didn’t have to.
47 miles, 4000+ feet of climbing, Cyberia, a yeti…the first running of Rasputitsa was in the books for me. I had good moments and some of them where I questioned my decision to do this event. 3:12:00 and change was a long time to ride in April, even longer if you consider I rode almost half the course by myself. It was about the journey today, being out there on some fabulous roads with even better people supporting a great cause. I’ll be back to the second running of the “Dirty 40” on Labor day weekend with more miles in my legs and fitness to match, but trying to achieve the same result: having fun on my bike, supporting a good cause and flying the Team Fit Werx colors.