For my second go at a gravel race, I rode Barry-Roubaix. Located in Hastings, Michigan it’s the largest gravel race by participation in the U.S, with about 3,500 riders. One of the reasons for its popularity is the choices of courses from 22 to 100 miles. I entered the 36 miler in the Men’s 61-65 age group.
Dry, clear and 40°F at the start. Winds about 8 -14 mph
- GT Grade Carbon w/ Ultegra
- Wheels: Stan’s Grail
- Tires: Schwalbe G-One Allround 700x35 @ 32/35 psi
- Gearing: 52/36 and 11-32
(credit to Rick Plite for the Strava files).
Riders released in waves of over 100 each, two minutes apart after the start of the most competitive races: the 62 mile Men & Women Open.
The thing that stood out wasn’t the difficulty of the climbs, but the constant elevation changes – the course is a good advertisement for electric shifting. For most races, it seems the sand on Sager Rd will have more impact on the finish than the climbs. When hundreds of wheels are fighting for foot-wide paths along the edges of the deep sand the casualties pile up pretty quickly, at least they were by Wave 11. I crashed over a downed rider than on my own. My meager off-road skills prevented me from getting started and relegated me to some walking. In early waves being at the front may keep you out of trouble, but later it’s about minimizing the damage. Other than this section, there were surprisingly few times where having room to pass was a problem – “slower riders keep right” is observed and the roads are typical Midwest gravel fairly well packed and fast when dry. Minimal rutting this day, though I understand that is not always the case. In summary, unless you don’t like crowds I think riders of all abilities can get what they want from this race.
Wouldn’t change anything next time for the same conditions. My legs and technical skills were the only things holding me back.
If you’re in an age group and want to finish well but not expecting a podium place, avoid blowing up on the three short climbs (the Three Sisters) at the start. As there are few places to take a breather, gong too deep in the first miles will make for a long day. There will likely be traffic coming forward along the course. If you are looking for a high finish you need to cut warm-up short and get into the line for your wave early enough to get at the front.
Race Registration and Organization
Extremely well-organized event. Registration was very efficient. Even with all the entrants, free parking was available reasonably close, with paid parking right at the start. If you come in the night before, book a room early or expect to drive at least 30 minutes, as it isn’t much available in Hastings.
I finished 12th of 68 entered in my age group. More than the minutes lost in the Sager Rd sand, my biggest regret was getting pipped by 0.01 sec by someone in my age group thinking I was alone and not pedaling through the line. After all that work, losing a place by not taking two more pedal strokes is a lazy mistake not worth repeating.
Shout-out to VeloAngle sponsored CCB Foundation-Sicleri for taking 2nd and 3rd in the 62 mile Men’s Open. Just as impressive was CCB principal Tim Mitchell’s top 10 finish. At 41 years young, Tim’s leading by example with his legs. CCB is a U23 development team and non-profit organized to provide their riders with the opportunity to pursue their education while racing.