The American Classic p/b Bicycle X-Change Elite Gravel Team for Barry Roubaix this year consisted of Bob Cummings and I, Nate Beams. Neither of us had contested this race before, so we tried to learn what we could about the course ahead of time. With the Men’s Open race at 62 miles, and lots of smooth fast road surface, we expected some quick road race style racing, but came prepared for heavy, muddy conditions.
To be on the safe side, I brought along just about all of my cold weather clothing. Thankfully, temperatures turned out better than expected. With a low temperature of 20F at the start and 30F at the finish, and bright, sunny skies with little wind, the cold wasn’t a significant factor. I filled my insulated bottles with hot tea, mixed with lemon TriFuel, which helped during the chilly early part of the race.
The Race Plan
Bob and I took a fairly conservative approach to the race. Namely, conserve early on, stay with the lead group and attack them hard in the closing miles. As so often happens in bike racing, things never go according to plan. The gravel roads started around mile three, with three short steep roller hills ascended in quick succession. Bob and I hung around the back, to avoid crazy accelerations, and sketchy riding up at the front.
I noticed a solo rider had accelerated off the front on these hills. With a long way to race, we didn’t worry too much about him. Around mile 17, the course made a hard left hand turn from pavement onto a mile long section of rocky, rutted double track (Sager Road). We knew this would be the first major pinch point of the race and the plan was to be on the front for that turn. That is where the plan broke down. Bob and I were caught off guard when the turn came earlier than we expected and we were nowhere near the front.
Bob jumped for the inside of the turn, with me on his wheel. Bob made it through, while I was brushed by some crashing riders, but stayed upright. Following this, we rolled conservatively along Sager Road to avoid trouble, until Bob got tangled up with some more riders. He was forced to stop, assess the situation, and get rolling again.
Meanwhile, the race was quickly rolling away. By the time we exited Sager Road and re-grouped, the front of the race was well out of sight. I expected that there would be flurries of attacks happening up front, in an attempt to force a selection, taking advantage of the gapped riders separated by the speed and terrain.
Bob and I began rotating together at a fast, but steady pace. We began catching straggler groups of two and three riders at a time, who would jump into our slipstream, and hitch a ride for a little while. After a few miles of chasing, we caught sight of the expansive front group. We closed steadily, and made the catch after ten miles of solid chasing. It was difficult to believe there was still thirty riders hanging together in this group. Surely that would change.
The Solo Rider
We received word from the roadside there was a solo rider off the front holding a three minute gap, with approximately 30 miles of racing left. After our hard chase, Bob and I took the opportunity to sit on the back, eat, drink and recover. After a little recovery time, I felt good, and relayed to Bob I thought it was time to start trying some attacks, in an effort to snap the cord, establish a breakaway, and bridge to the solo rider.
Bob disagreed and said we should wait, and react to attacks from other riders in the group. I followed his advice, as it was probable the front group would work together, and catch the solo rider before the finish. Unfortunately, attacks from the other riders were few and far between, and they were never enough to break up the group. By the time Bob and I agreed it was time to start attacking, there was around 10 miles of racing remaining, with leader David Lombardo still off the front.
Bob and I launched some good attacks and counter-attacks. They were enough to stress the field and break it apart temporarily, but it would always come back together. Around this time, we merged courses with the shorter Barry Roubaix rides, meaning there were hundreds of riders going slower on the right side of the road. Fortunately, there weren’t any collisions.
After making the left turn onto the final three miles of pavement to the finish, the group was back together, barring David Lombardo, still off the front. There were some minor attacks launched to disrupt things, but it was clear the group was having none of it; we were destined to race for second place.
My legs felt good and I was angry with myself for not following my instincts, and attacking earlier in the race. At the very least, I knew I could win the field sprint for second place. Bob did a great job of scouting the final mile or two, helpful knowledge to have when negotiating the seven or so ninety degree turns in the last kilometer. Knowing the roads leading to the finish would be lined with slower moving riders, I decided the safest thing to do would be to attack before the first turn, allowing me to pick my line. I jumped up the outside and immediately opened a gap through the first couple of corners.
My Felt F1 PR handled flawlessly. By the second to last turn, two riders had crossed the gap, and latched onto my wheel. Thankfully I had enough of a kick through the turn and down the final straightaway in the sprint to keep them at bay. I was disappointed for missing the win, but happy to be on the podium.
David Lombardo had the ride of the day, winning the event, making his move with 59 miles to go! Congratulations David!
I hope to race Barry Roubaix again next year. For the safety of everyone involved, I hope the organizers can find a way to avoid combining riders from different groups / distances, with vast differences in speed, finishing on the course at the same time. That is my only complaint.
Everything else about the event was impeccably organized, and the atmosphere was amazing! I’m new to participating in organized gravel events, and it just makes me smile to see huge numbers of people who are so excited to be out riding bikes.