This year we did Barry Roubaix for the first time! Oh wait, what’s that you say? Surely, I jest. What about all of those photos and posts from last year’s Barry Roubaix? Well, it’s amazing what a year and a little change in weather can do for an experience and a course. Barry Roubaix 2018 was held one month later than Barry Roubaix 2017 (end of April vs. end of March), and the weather gods seemed pleased by the race organizers’ decision. Last year, we grabbed our race packets in an absolute downpour. This year, we enjoyed a crisp but calm, clear, sunny morning heading into packet pickup. Last year, we dressed in every layer we owned and huddled in the car until just before the start. This year, arm and knee warmers perfectly complimented the chilly morning and comfortable afternoon temperatures. Although the sun ducked, and stayed, behind the clouds just as the starting bell sounded, the temperatures rose to the mid-50s and the wind never picked up. By all accounts: supreme conditions for a super awesome day of riding. The course made a stunning transformation from wet, slow, muddy, and miserable to dry, fast, and fun albeit pretty damn dusty.
So I’m just going to say this right off the bat: Brian totally stomped this race. Not only did he beat me but he bested his 2017 time by over an hour. That’s no small feat, regardless of the conditions.
Also, I just want to highlight the incredible community support for Barry Roubaix. Everyone seems to get involved across the county: Local retiree clubs man packet pickup and drive the sag wagons. Police across the county provide traffic control. Its marked with legit permanent signage. And random people along the route provide all kinds of motivating inspirational help: a beer stop set up in an old ass pickup on a dusty back road with several cases of PBR waiting for any rider who wanted some real fuel; entertaining signage everywhere, including my favorite “Worst Parade Ever”; a nice woman who offered racers bottled water in front of her home. People seem genuinely excited to have the racers checking out their community. Moreover, the race is supremely organized: hardly any lines at packet pickup, an awesome after party with food trucks and plenty of beer, and – the crème de la crème – no lines for relatively clean porta potties (an absolute win in my book). Of particular note: this year we stayed at the hotel-motel Holiday Inn, just a mile west of the start line. They had a bike wash set up for after the race and had absolutely no issues with bikes in the room. The close lodging made for a comfortable, unhurried morning with a pleasant warm-up ride to the start line.
Although the morning was chilly, there was a ton of excitement in the air. This year, Barry Roubaix offered a 100-mile course for the first time ever. They nearly met their 250-racer cap, maxing out at a spectacular 247 100-mile racers. That’s pretty impressive, considering that the memories of the crappy conditions from the previous year still sat fresh in most riders’ minds. The 100-milers took off at 7am… making sure they kicked up the dust of Sager road nice and good before us mere 100k-ers got there.
The 10am 100k start set us up perfectly weather-wise, with temperatures in the mid-40s rapidly rising to the mid-50s. We endured a chilly start but quickly warmed up as we entered the dusty dirt roads and took on the hills known as the Three Sisters. The course was fast and furious and pace lines abounded as racer after racer did everything they could to take advantage of the primo weather and trail conditions.
And now, my plug for singlespeed riding, especially for all you freakish fitness buffs out there: if you want a real full body workout, ride a singlespeed. Between perilously hanging onto the drops to stay as aero as possible to maximize your speed and momentum on a downhill to leveraging from the horns to crank up the steepest of uphills, singlespeed will jack your arms and core like no other bike riding – and if I did more than weekend warrior-ing I’d be pretty jacked myself. Buuut, the problem with singlespeed is that whatever gear you set yourself up with before the race, well, you’re stuck with it until the end of the race. And it takes some trial and error to Goldilocks your gearing – not too hard, not too spinny, but just right. Well, this race day, my gearing was a little too light, so I found myself spinning frantically on many of the downhills as I watched paceline after paceline fly by me at record speeds on the super dry, hard-packed dirt roads.
The real highlight of my day included the massive, barely ridable uphill somewhere in the middle of the race course (I don’t know the name). Well, in 2017 I recall barely being able to make it up that wet, sandy, super steep hill on my bike. I also remember one race vehicle manning the hill with its crew huddled inside to avoid the cold wind and rain of the day. And let me just say again – what a difference a year makes. This year, with the perfectly packed dirt roads, the hill was completely rideable. And actually fun. How, you say, could such a steep hill be fun? Well, rather than just one small support crew, a good quarter mile of the steepest sections were manned by: 1) a drum and bagpipe corps, 2) several pickup trucks and vans blaring the finest heavy metal, 3) an actual rock band. Plus a ton of people cheering. I mean, come on. Bagpipes. In the middle of nowhere. That was all the motivation I needed to crank my way up that hill with relative ease.
My second notable highlight was my Sager Road experience. This, I can confidently and honestly say, was my first time on Sager Road. During Barry 2017, the officials closed the road because of extreme washed out conditions due to the heavy rain. This year, with the recent dry weather in the area, Sager Road reached dust-level epic. And the roady-ness of many racers really shown through their dirt-laden kits as they struggled to navigate the deep sand and dust. Really, as a racer, you had two choices on this road: hold your line and barrel through the sand-pits or strategically pick the outside lanes to avoid the sand all together. Many riders went for option C: just get off your bike and walk the whole thing. I didn’t realize where we were at until I found myself stumbling over fallen rider after fallen rider. Eventually, I realized the outside lines were the best and safest routes, and I was able to ride a good chunk of the road – with some adept handling skills to avoid the throngs of walkers.
Even with the dust bowl experience, I enjoyed the scenery, people, and fast roads. And by mid-way, finding myself more often alone than not, I cranked up the tunes on my phone to get me through to the finish. With no real race goals other than to finish this ride faster than last year, I decided I would push myself through to the finish, working the gear as best as possible. I didn’t want to have to stop so I didn’t want to cramp, but I was willing to toe that line.
With 10 miles to go, my weekend warrior-ness started to catch up to me, and I could feel the PCQs (Pre-Cramp Quivers) shifting through my quads as I attacked the rolling hills leading to the finish. My last 10 miles of 2017 were marked by me rotating between wet pairs of gloves and finally embracing the numbness of my frozen hands. This year, my last 10 miles was marked by me trying to strategically shift my weight and balance pushing and pulling the pedals ever so exactly as to avoid cramping. Miraculously, I was able to maintain some decent speed and power, pass a few people, and stave off, what felt like, inevitable quad cramps.
All in all, I had a successful day. I met my goal of besting my time from last year and pushing myself to my current physical limits. While my uber competitive side wanted more from the race, my realistic side was stoked with the fast roads, sublime weather, good tunes, and awesome people. And, to reiterate, Brian stomped the course. Over an hour faster! Seeing my teammates – especially my bestie – progress? That makes for a good ride any day.