How the Race was Won: Rasputitsa 2015

East Burke, Vermont, April 11, 2015

I realized on Tuesday that I can borrow from Cosmo Catalano‘s HtRwW approach instead of calling these things ‘race reports.’ Why not? After all, I was there.

Where? East Burke, Vermont, a locale known to many as a hotspot for mountain bike riding just over 4 hours from Ottawa. Far fewer people know that the region also boasts incredible dirt roads. George and Rebecca Lowe know. They bought a house in the area to retire to in a few years, and have hosted a number of us over the last couple years for racing and riding in and around their place. When Iain Radford and I took in a ride with George the day before last year’s Dirty 40 race, we were blown away by the quality of the dirt road riding out his front door. ‘Concentrated’ would be an understatement. ‘Up and down’ was the simplest way to describe the topography.

When Heidi Myers and Anthony Moccia announced East Burke and the Kingdom Trails would host the 2015 edition of the Rasputitsa dirt road race, we were amped. We knew the terrain was fantastic, and with local Mike Rowell helping out with course layout, it’d be sorted. It’s fair to say that dirt road racing is a passion for George, Iain, and me, and we all spent the winter riding either the trainer every day, or outside on snirt roads. We wanted to arrive at the Rasputitsa ready for the climbing. It could be the hardest race of the season.

Iain and I drove down to East Burke Friday morning in time to meet up with George and Brandon, a local photographer Heidi and Anthony had hired to shoot the event and some recon with Iain and me. Grey skies and rain were on the menu as Brandon jumped into the back of George’s truck, and we headed onto the course.
Climbing almost immediately on pavement, then transitioning to pot-hole riddled dirt, we got the taste for the course immediately. Brandon bouncing in the bed of the truck, Iain and me dodging and hopping holes, getting splashed by the truck and other traffic; wet and wild. We rode about 30 minutes, much of it climbing, and confirmed our strategy. Ride hard off the start.

We continued on to drive the rest of the course, bundled inside the cab, trying to attend to the conditions while talking about them at the same time. Arrival at the crux of the course, the Siberia sector, confirmed our suspicion. Siberia named the Class 4 (unmaintained) road that would normally be clear by mid-April, or perhaps, frozen. The weekend prior the race, Mike Rowell had ridden it on his CX bike. On Friday, it was corn snow, unrideable on any bike. This weekend it will be clear. Timing is everything. So we’d run. How far? 1.2 miles up, 2 miles down. Ok, better get the socks right….

Race day broke cloudy and cool, but dry. 300 or so riders lined up to the start their adventure at 09:00.

Iain and I are aware some fast guys are in here. Tyler Wren, ‘Oh, hi, Tyler’ is beside me, Anthony Clark is over on the right, the Trek-Fiera guys are here, and lots of other guys we don’t know but look good. George is lined up back a bit, on his singlespeed.

Roll-out is neutral, and the legs feel pretty good. It burns out, signaling the official start of racing as we roll into the base of the first climb, paved. The pace seems a little light for a distinguished gent on a mountain bike, how attacks to everyone’s surprise.

Clark jumps once mtb man is 15 meters off the front. Why not? I’m up and on him as he’s in the saddle, settling into a rhythm. I’m certain Iain is close. I set a tempo, knowing how long the climb is, and hold it.

The pack it strung out, and I’ve now got 5 seconds. That’s not really the plan, but it’s fine. Turning onto the first dirt road, pock-marked and soggy, it’s a perfect opportunity to step on the gas and make it hard for everyone behind. There’s Clark, then Iain, then another guy in black I don’t know. It’s only been a few minutes, but we are now a break of 4, and I know its solid.

Working together on pot-holed dirt roads is predictably difficult. But what’s hard for us is harder for any chasers. They are out of luck, it’s clear to me. We’ll need to roll with these two for a while and suss things out.

Guy we don’t know is good, but his bike fails. He suffers some manner of Di2 malfunction, and now he’s gone. Iain is going pretty well, Clark seems ok, I’m fine. Clark encourages us to work together smoothly to stay away from the chase I know isn’t coming. There’s simply nowhere a group can be effective. You’re either going up, down, or across in the wind, all the while with soggy dirt and holes. It’s us, that’s it.

Iain and Clark are not holding the pace I’m doing on the climbs and tell me to slow down. ‘Ok, I want to work with Iain, so keep it together.’

Rolling into Siberia, Clarke digs, I follow, Iain is gapped. I’m not worried. Clarke starts running, looks comfortable, and I feel ok doing the same. Trudging, trudging, he’s keeping it going. Seems a bad idea, he’s going to blow himself up. I should walk a bit, mix it up. Oh, Iain’s on. “Push it in the ski track.” Ok, good idea. Clark’s up there, I’m thinking 30 seconds. Keep him to 1 minute, and we’re good.

This stuff here is icy, I’ll try to ride it. Man, that’s soooo much easier. Iain doesn’t ride, and he’s off again. Damn, now it’s me against Clark, one on one. Must run, no more walking.

Oh, is that the top, where that guy is standing? No. Ugh.
The top! These folks don’t even try to offer me donuts or whatever else. They can tell I am not going to slow down. I’m riding now, and it’s madness. Riding in a straight line is not happening, all I can do it go forward. In the drops, this is taking tonnes of muscle I don’t have in my arms, but whatever. I see Clarks track, try to stay out of it, crash once. Hairy? Yes. Dangerous? No.

Rolling out to the road, “Gap? Gap?” They don’t seem to know what I am asking. Oh, they call mountains ‘gaps.’ Three minutes. “What? Shit!”
I’ve been riding downhill, not able to pedal very hard, so I can ride full gas now. But damn, it’s soooo windy and soft! I can’t reach top speed in this stuff, how will I close 3 minutes?

I’ve only got about 10k to do this. Now it’s maybe 5, and I can see Clark up the road, maybe 2 minutes. All I can do is what I can do. I recognize that the last snow sector is looming, and he’s still about 1 minute up. I can’t get there.

Clarke finishes at 2hours, 35 minutes, and I’m in a minute later. He’s won $100 cash for the KOM, and taken the top step. Chapeau, that was a hell of a run. Naturally, I’m kicking myself for how I played it, but nevertheless happy. Happy to be in shape to choose to attack or not, happy to do the first part of the race perfectly, happy to have Iain on the podium too, and happy to be able to do races like this at all.

We huddle in an army tent with a propane stove until the podium is ready to go, do our thing, then scurry to the shuttle standing by to drive riders up Burke Mountain, where we’d parked. Best. Shuttle. Ride. Ever. We are so cold by the time we climbed in, nothing could have been better.

We cap the race with a terrific spread of food at the Publick House, pints, a chat with a couple lovely volunteers, a bit of banter with George, Rebecca, and friends, then we’re back in the car to roll home. George won the men’s singlespeed race, making it three podium spots for the club on the day. Fantastic!

The race raised a whopping $10, 000 for the Halo Foundation! Started in 2011 by Mary E. Wright’s family who recognized a need to assist Orleans County residents who have been diagnosed with cancer, 100% of all donations and money raised is used to assist cancer patients.

Congratulations and thanks go out from George, Iain, and me to theKingdom Trails, Anthony Moccia, Heidi Myers and the whole organizing team, the sponsors, all the volunteers, and every single riders who took on the adventure known as the Rasputitsa. Russian for ‘mud season,’ the race lived up to the name, and it was awesome.

Thank you to our partners for helping us do what we love! Woven Precision Handbuilts, Mad Alchemy Embrocation, GiroSportDesign,Clement Cycling, Rebec & Kroes Cycle and Sport.

We can’t wait to see what’s in store in 2016, but before then, we’ll see you all at the Dirty 40 Race in September! And if our American friends are inclined to take a trip up north to get a taste of our stomping grounds, check out the The Ride of the Damned, June 14.