I am going to skip right to the moral of the story. No sleep and lots of life stress have no negative effect on your performance. In fact, I have scientifically proven that they may improve it.
Last year, I raced worried about my wife going into labor. This year, I snuggled my enormous one year old, in a baby blue cat print suit, right before the race. Last year, my wife kicked me out of bed at 4am to drive to East Burke. This year, I rolled out of bed minutes from the start line.
I did not win Rasputitsa this year but I was there long enough to see the race unfold from the front. There is a story to tell about the race and just maybe, my cause and effect science is bad about sleep and stress. Perhaps there is more to bike racing than those two things.
There is also more to Rasputitsa than just the race. In fact, the race is probably the least popular part of the event. Heidi and Anthony put on quite a product. Their product is people on bikes getting cold, tired, and muddy together. It is the together part that makes it a great experience. There is a live concert the night before with a very busy expo. I got to check it out this year and usually expos make me sad because it’s lots of people standing around in tents being neglected. This was busy and part of the togetherness of the event. After the race people stayed together to eat poutine, drink beer, and thaw their extremities. Re-share the shared experience.
I know how to put on a sad race. I have done that at UVM and at my house on my own CX course. This isn’t that. The logistics of getting 1500+ riders to show up and supply a good time from registration till well after the race is most impressive. I am thankful for that and it is this kind of event that makes me happy to be a cyclist.
Before the race started I did something that was worth one improved placement in the final results. For me, it has worked 100% of the time. At the time I thought I was being a fanboy. Turns out I was being cunning. I will tell you the secret. If you want to improve your place by one, tell a former World Champion and Tour de France stage winner that his stage win was your favorite stage win ever. I think that’s why he didn’t come by me at the line. Try it the next time you race with a Tour de France stage winner.
When the race did start it was cold and wet. It was actively raining and 37 degrees Fahrenheit, I don’t know what that is in Canadian. 100% peak crappy weather. I haven’t ever had conditions like that on Watopia. Thankfully, I had great layers. Lots of neoprene thermal layers. I actually have a collection of Ice World gear on Velocio, this is shameless plug, but it is funny I picked this kit and it turned out to be the best one for a race A WEEK FROM MAY. Seriously though, with the right clothing weather isn’t a problem.
The race course had to be changed last minute, like day before, because of, well I don’t know why, but I think some of the dirt roads were so soft there was no way to send 1500 cyclists on them without extensive damage. The new course was last year’s course and I know this course! I have never lost on it, oh, shit, it is the future now, I have lost on it.
For the first half of the race there were two things I was worried about: Water Bottle Graveyard and Cyberia. Water Bottle Graveyard claimed enough plastic bottles the town considered opening a redemption center there. This year it was totally fine and nothing happened, which was a total bummer. The temperature would drop to 28 with a heavy mix of rain and snow and thus severely limiting water intake. So in the end I carried around all that freaking water for nothing. Where was the bone chattering washboard when you need it?
The Cyberia conditions were unknown other than the fact that I knew where it was this year. Last year I was too far back going into it and I BARELY made it back on. This year I planned to start at the front and lead into it. So naturally, I BARELY made it back on after it. Last year there was total snow coverage and everyone had to run. This year it was soft mud for almost all of it with just a little now towards the end. IT was all rideable but many of the lines were like quicksand but mud and slow, which is totally the opposite of the term. It was slowmud. Anyway, I made some mistakes and lost some space and had to chase back on. But not as bad as last year. The army of pro Canadian mountain bike racers made themselves known here as well as a slowmud slayer named Lars Boom.
After this, the race went slow to steady with occasional hard surges. Every surge shed a good part of the group but it would come back together again minus one or two. What finally slowed the return of some of those dropped was Lars Boom. On the longest dirt downhill, with the worst of the snow/rain/ice Lars went to the front and drilled it. The roads were wet, soft, slow, potholes everywhere, and he was full send at 30 to 40 mph (I don’t know what that is in Canadian). He did this for longer than should be possible, stringing us all out. That was certainly the moment his talent was best seen. Even really talented riders can’t just do that. That was something else.
As we got closer to the finish the hills got faster, both up and down. We surged over the top and went full send down. Going into the last climb, with what started at over 1500, was now 7. This year didn’t include the “get lost in the woods” section so I was going to have to rely solely on my pedaling. One thing against me, other than the fact that everyone in this group was super strong, was that I had a front flat. Not total, but about 10psi left in the tire. Non-ideal. PSA: Clean your valve stems of sealant residue!
Last year Ansel Dickey unleashed some serious Vermont gravel fury at the start of the finish climb and the group exploded. This year’s race was very different and the final climb turned into a who had what left survival effort. About two thirds of the way up the climb I started to come off the pace of Magnus Sheffield and Raphael Auclair. But so too was Lars Boom, Bruno Langlois, and Marc-Andre Fortier. The 7th to start the climb was Kevin Girkins from Texas and came off at the start. You know what isn’t bigger in Texas? This climb.
As I started to slide off with the others I did my best to slide off less than them and went over the top with a small gap. That didn’t stick however and in the rolling climb up to the Burke Mountain Academy we were a group of not so motivated four. I wanted to attack but I didn’t trust my tire on the downhills. Unfortunately I was running out of time and I knew there was only one last kicker before a steep dirt road descent that led to the ski lifts and the finish line. So after a super sketchy on a flat tire 100 degree turn I attacked. I got a gap over the top and lost all of it riding the brakes into the final technical section that led to the ski lifts.
I knew this section would be very muddy and hard to ride. Two years prior I actually rode it better than Tim Johnson as we hit it side by side. His mistake was he had the wrong line, the soft muddy one. This time I did what he did and I blew it. I got stuck in the mud and had to get off and run. Marc and Bruno rode it and I watched the podium disappear less than a minute before the finish.
Going into that section I surged and bumped shoulders with Bruno sending him into the good line and me out of it. The second I touched him I felt regret. Not because I would end up blowing the podium but because I hate racing against people. I like racing with people, that is what makes gravel great. It is karma for breaking the spirit of the event. It wasn’t intentional, but fate doesn’t consider intent.
I tried to close the gap from having to run but I lost too much. Coming back up on me however was Lars Boom. I am certain he holstered his quad guns when he remembered I idolized his Tour win two hours prior. I would end up 5th. Sounds much better than 6th. Thanks Lars.
Up the road for the victory the supremely talented 17 year old Magnus suffered a frozen-hand-icle and missed a turn and rode into a ditch. The also very talented 22 year old Raphael finished clean to win. I suspect both riders did the finish climb closer to 500 watts than 400.
I really wanted that podium and I am disappointed to blow it at the end. But the riders around me were fantastic, strong, and resilient. Kudos to them. There were many incredible riders that had fallen off the pace much earlier. I am fortunate to be there to see the story at all. That’s what makes Rasputitsa great. Every year I have a story to tell. I have raced on and off for over 20 years and most races don’t have a great story. This one always does.