I have never been as prepared for a race (or was it a "race"?) to go completely ice-world as I have this one. As someone who regularly loses sleep over race budgets, seeing this race EXIST AT ALL with 340 racers at an average entry fee of maybe $10 each blew my mind. Putting on a road race with a $3400 budget is basically impossible.... hell, by the time you pay for insurance, timing and portapotties for that many people, you might be already out of money.
But you know, when you're so deep in the Kingdom the race course regularly has to turn away from the Canadian border, those might be your only expenses...and I'm not convinced we were actually insured. And you know what? It was AWESOME.
The nice thing about $0-10 entries is the massive no-show rate reduced turnout to "only" a 220-rider neutral start, behind a pickup truck. I established a position at the front well before we rolled anywhere, and missed the shenanigans you knew had to be happening when hundred of people on road bikes are packed in a tight group and being forced to ride under 20 miles an hour.
After 1.8 miles of being caged we were unleashed onto a dirt road and the pace immediately hit "yep, we're bike racing" speed. The absence of a lead car or yellow line meant that we used the whole road. It's Vermont at 9am, there couldn't be any oncoming traffic, right?
|Looks like a normal bike race to me.|
The course was just barely selective enough in the first five miles to split it up. Evan "I think I can win this" Huff was on the front, I didn't know how long the climb was, and it didn't take long for me to make the executive decision that I would be sitting up and finding a chase group to ride the rest of the day with. I waved goodbye to the actual strong riders and settled into the strung out train of pretenders.
|The moment where you think you're doing fine until you see the front of the race go around a bend miles ahead of you|
I CAN BRIDGE THIS!
Yeah, you know how far 15 seconds is? Because I sure don't. I attacked my group, pedaled 'til I was out of gears, and then sat on my top tube. SO PRO. Should definitely be catching the lead group any second now...
...except that a group of 15 rolls downhill at least as fast as a solo chaser, at least one as aerodynamic and adverse to pedaling as me.
|So it turns out the view my GoPro gets when I sit on the top tube is "majestic"|
Of course since they had just slowed down, we went up the next hill at LUDICROUS SPEED and I immediately realized I was going to get bounced from the lead group again in short order. I started moving up so I could make sure Evan knew I was BACK before I was GONE, but you know what? Moving up is also one would set up for sag-climbing the next hill, so I made it over THAT ONE, got some more recovery, and made it over ANOTHER ONE, and suddenly I was like, "maybe I can do this."
Somewhere in here I looked around and realized the guys I had bridged with had all been re-dropped, which reinforced my feeling that I was actually accomplishing something the pace hadn't just gone totally soft.
We then bike raced through the gorgeous Vermont countryside for the next two hours.
I could tell it was a bike race because there was frequently "someone up the road" and I planned my entire existence around avoiding the wind and not getting dropped on the climbs.
|The roads were not exactly closed. It was fine. There was a break up the road, and we still slowed to 15 mph and waved at this very confused truck.|
At one point we went up a hill and Evan let everyone in the group know that if the finish was uphill on pavement, he was going to win.
I went from 3rd wheel to last wheel during this time, but I stayed on, dammit!
Shortly after this he and I were discussing the race situation, as Todd Bowden and "rando Quebecois" were up the road and had just been clocked at 40 seconds up.
Since we were rolling downhill on a rare pavement section, this discussion was quite relaxed and there may have been a hand off the bars at one point to punctuate a sentence.
Unfortunately, at the exact moment of peak gesticulation, Mike Rowell bunny hopped a GIANT pavement hump/frost heave thing ahead of us and I had just barely enough time to think "oh thank god I'm not going to hit that."
Evan was not so lucky, and took his second 30+ mph pavement ride of the year, the poor guy. Sam Evans-Brown slowed enough to get significantly less road-rash, but also went pavement diving.
The group discussed if we should wait, and unfortunately, there was a break up the road, and marshalls just a few hundred yards past the crash. We kept racing, slowing only briefly when Sam appeared chasing frantically behind us.
|The final moment of Evan. Note Mike Rowell landing a bunny hop|
as Evan talks with his hands.
I counted the lead group at 14 riders now, and I really had to pee.
We recaptured the break and I attempted to get my Cat-2-road-urination upgrade by letting it fly on a shallow descent.
DUDE. Do you KNOW how long it takes to pee? I ran out of downhill long before I ran out of bladder, eventually having to cut things off regardless of emptiness as I teetered at 2mph at the base of a climb. And then I chased.
The effort of the chase reminded me that I was still the weakest guy in the lead group.
We went up a steep hill at 42 miles in, I once again barely avoided getting shelled, and I felt the first twinges of cramps one might get if one was riding every hill anaerobically for two hours and not used to that kind of thing.
But, we passed mile 50, and I was still there. And it was getting bike racier, as the finish approached.
There was a break of two, and a guy bridging, and then Sam Evans-Brown trying to bridge to that, and then we went down a dirt road at 45 mph with a turn and Sam went flying into the ditch.
Thirteen guys left.
Then it got weird.
The roads weren't closed, you know? So after 2 miles of chasing a break with a 5-10 second advantage, the break got shut down by a TRAFFIC LIGHT.
I was ok with this, because I had been contributing to the chase by sitting last wheel and praying for death.
We went up a hill and I could feel the cramps lurking. There was another traffic light. We paused for a second as it went green, and when I went to pedal again.... BAM. My hamstring tied itself in a knot and refused to move.
Thanks to my powertap, I can tell you I averaged 30 watts for the next 90 seconds and had an average cadence of SIX.
Which is to say, the lead group rolled away from me at a piddling 18 miles per hour while I curled up in a ball on my handlebars and coasted to a stop, completely unable to get over the top of my pedal stroke.
Finally thinks relaxed enough that I was able to limp in by myself for the last five miles, so long as I didn't actually try to pedal hard in any way. This was not enough to keep me ahead of Sam Evans-Brown, who had regrettably come out of the ditch with a still-working bicycle. But the lead group had built such an advantage over the chases groups that no one else caught me, even when I spent a minute riding back and forth in front of the school we finished at trying to figure out where the course went (remember, it's a "race").
So, as you might be able to tell from the length of the report and the ACTION, this was either the funnest group ride I've ever paid $10 for or the funnest, weirdest "race" I've ever paid $10 for. The course was selective enough to be challenging throughout (at least for me), but flat enough to force some actual road racing dynamics into play. The gravel was in spectacular condition and the roads had so little traffic on them, it was easy to forget they were open to cars.
There was plenty of room for improvement here (like I said, the break got shut down by a traffic light), but the core experience was RAD and the organizers' level of enthusiasm is the kind of thing that takes an event to the next level. There was an afterparty at a bar and podium girls.... so they've already out-produced every Weasel Productions (tm) event, ever. If they keep date-conflicting with GMSR, I might even be able to make the lead group again next year. See you there!