1st Barry Roubaix: a Special Report
[JP NOTE:The "Barry Roubaix" was a mixed-surface, dirt/paved/trail bike race held for the first time last Saturday. 32 miles for the normal crazies. 62 miles for the crazy-crazies. In western Michihoots. I put up a link to it elsewhere. It's just the kind of event to test versatile skills and a versatile bike. A friend of mine did the race as his way to rejoin the bike racing world. What a comeback! Here's his report...]
"so I did this bike race thing yesterday"
by Kurt Martin
Near as I can figure, the last time I stood on the start line for a bike race was 1988. So when I got out of the car yesterday and put a number on my bike I was a little keyed-up.
The race was called Barry-Roubaix and ran through the hills along dirt roads and two-track in Barry County, Michigan.
(One of the oldest bike races in the world is the famous Paris-Roubaix, which runs along very nasty cobblestone roads in northern France and Belgium. It is the most severely macho of the one day bike races, in that it's either terribly dusty or horribly wet and slippery. So it has tremendous cache, even with American cyclists. No American has ever won it.)
15 months ago I was not riding bikes at all, but I went to see some experts who decided that I could. Of course, in the intervening 20 years I had lost most of the cycling-specific muscle mass (as much as my body has any mass) so things were going to be slow.
Still, 6 months ago, Amy and Marc Mueller of Heart of a Warrior (cycling pain lab) got me started on weekly studio workouts. [powercyclingusa.com] By Thanksgiving, I was just barely able to put in a solid hour of work without knee pain, so Amy and I climbed Mt. Diablo in California. A big victory, as I had not scaled a mountain on a bike since 1988.
In December I started doing actual hour-long workouts with Marc, and have done them more or less weekly since then. In February I began actual road training, like in the old days. 5-7 days a week of actually riding with intent. A couple weeks ago, I decided that this 1st annual Roubaix would be perfect for me. Dirty, possibly dangerous, filled with glory even if I didn't finish.
I still remember a few things about racing, so I managed to stay at the front as the strongest guys surged off the line like rabbits. The beginning of most bike races is like that -- the strongest test each other, get to the key parts of the course first, and get rid of the chaff off the back. (If this doesn't happen, a bunch of goofballs get to the front and then do silly things that cause crashes and other commotion.)
This meant that we charged up a sandy dirt road, blew through a turn onto a paved road, then bent around a corner into The Forest. I tried to remember how to get on a wheel, how to keep from hyperventilating, and stay with the very front guys.
But as soon as we entered the darkness of the woods, the road became a sandy two track, the ruts filled with sand and the high parts loaded with big rocks. I started laughing out loud. It was ludicrous and we rode straight uphill over it, going like hell. By the top of the hill I was seeing red -- this was as fast as I could go and still avoid crashing. We crested the hill and plummeted down the other side, and I was having to constantly work the handlebars like crazy to avoid hurling into the trees or faceplanting in the road.
At the bottom of the hill I was with the top 6 guys as the road turned to pure sand. Some guys fell over and others jumped off to run with their bikes. This was Barry-Roubaix and the next section of road could be goat pasture. Just go!
I survived the next hill and the next section of sand, jumping off to run about 10 feet. Bad idea. I instantly lost about 100 yards on the leaders. I vowed to not set foot on the ground for the rest of the 31 miles.
We came flying out of the woods and continued on a tasty selection of up and down dirt roads with random bits of gravel and sand. When we hit the next truly nasty hill -- the steepest yet -- I got decisively dropped.
Getting dropped is a depressing event. Basically, a cluster of guys you've gotten to know by their pedaling style and jersey and bike slowly ride away from you, and your legs decide that your new speed (which is their speed -1 mph) is a better one. I fought this for a long time -- I don't like the feeling of being left behind -- but then decided that I did actually intend to go fast for the next 20 miles and shouldn't burn my candle all in one go.
Riding alone in the middle of a bike race is a big test I had not been looking foward to. It's easy to just slow down and wait for someone to catch you, to basically turn it into a little tour instead of a race. So a standard human emotion is handy here -- irritation. Irritated at the idea of riding into the wind alone for the next hour, I kept my head down and went as fast as I could without blowing up. I still got dumped by fast guys going up the hills (there's a lot of skill in going up steep hills in the dirt, I found out) but I ate up lots of guys on the road on the flats and downhills.
I went scary fast down sandy hills, passed a car in one hairpin, near-missed a squirrel and lots of big rocks and logs.
Mostly, I finished. 12th in my group of 50, and about 40th of a few hundred on the course. And twice when I came flying around a corner I happened to notice the photographer in the distance, so I should get some funny shots of myself at the event, tongue hanging out.
When I crossed the line on my 80's bike in my 80's clothes, some guys standing around who had finished before me said "Hey, check out the guy doing it old-school." I said under my breath, "No, just old", but I felt pretty good once I could stand up straight. It felt a lot like getting something really cool back. When they served hot soup, coffee, beer, and bread at the finish party, I had some of each and felt like I had truly earned it. I told people that I hadn't raced a bike since Reagan was president -- they looked at me as if this could only be due to prison time.
So big thanks to Amy and Marc for getting me back on this path. I figure I am building some fitness for my elder years, and there's nothing as gratifying as scaring yourself with hard things over the weekend.