Barry Roubaix started so fast last year I got dropped before the first climb, about two miles in. Rode by myself first half of the race, and dropped my chain in the sprint finish to miss the fifth spot on the podium by 10 feet. So I knew what I wanted to avoid this year.
Warmed up well. Got to the line 25 minutes ahead of time- which meant 15th row in the starting chute for the 255-strong combined field of men’s 40+, men’s single speed, and women’s open. In its sixth year, Barry Roubaix is immensely popular. 3,500 riders descend upon Hastings, Michigan – increasing the town’s population of 7,300 by practically 50% on race day. (The race starts in sixteen separate waves by category.)
There were 44 women registered, including women’s 2013 American Ultracross Championship Series champion Ruth Sherman, 2013 Hilly Billy Roubaix champion Vanessa McCaffery, 2012 Barry Roubaix champion Samantha Brode, and last year’s Barry champion Mackenzie Woodring. Woodring has numerous accolades including a gold medal in the 2008 Paralympics in Beijing, China, where she (as pilot) and visually-impaired cyclist Karissa Whitsell won the women’s tandem time trial.
Few of these women were in view, however, as we waited for the start. I was surrounded by cyclists unknown to me. As the race began, riders got strung out to a manageable 5-wide, allowing me to work my way up the field. When we made the right turn into the first muddy climb, I was situated well enough to be carried up the hill by the momentum of the other riders – and some pressure on the pedals. Samantha Brode appeared to my right and I took this as a good sign. She always has a good start at this race.
The pace for the first 15 miles was so fast I knew I could not sustain it for the full 62 mile course. No idea where most of the other women were, I had a feeling there was at least one in a pack ahead of me. As the race spread out into smaller groups, I found myself in a pack of 20 men, which soon doubled as we caught riders ahead and other riders caught us. Out of nowhere, a woman unknown to me (Illinois State Cyclocross Champion Danielle Smith) attacked our group, and jumped up to the next pack. I knew my legs didn’t have it to follow, so I hung on for dear life with our group as it surged forward.
We eventually caught the pack with Smith and around 20 miles in, we swallowed up a smaller pack with Woodring. For the next 25 miles, we settled in, but the gas was on the whole time. Single speeders George Lowe and Dan Rapp (who finished 5th and 7th respectively, in their class) were in the pack with us – pushing the pace on this flat-to-rolling course.
With about 10 miles to go, George rode up to me and said we had gotten a 30-second gap on the larger group on one of the steeper rollers. There were 15 of us left. Mackenzie was still with us but Danielle didn’t make the selection. George rode up to the front and quickened the pace, and with the effort of two other riders, widened our gap.
As we came into town with about half a mile to go, Mackenzie made a strong surge that gapped me out. I caught up and with no time to catch my breath, put all my strength into a sprint pretty far out from the finish. I held my position and won by a narrow 2 seconds – after 62 miles of tough racing.
My finish and my progress this year has me dizzy with happiness! I have so much to be thankful for – including Pittsburgh riders John Cotter and Chris Mayhew – who led group rides through the rain, snow, and sub-freezing weather this winter. My coach Jacob Fetty/CycleSmart gives me a training recipe for success and my Specialized Crux rode like a champ – not flinching once over the numerous potholes and washboards on the course. So grateful for my team support from Rare Disease Cycling and Pro Bikes Pittsburgh. I feel like I should also thank my legs and lungs. Thank you, everyone and everything! This is my best race so far, and words don’t describe how happy I am.
Congrats to Gerry Pflug who won the men’s single speed category after getting caught up in a crash and time-trialing back to the single speed leader. Congrats also to Mary Boone, Pittsburgh Rare Disease Cycling teammate who finished 14th out of 41 in her category. Here’s to more strong racing for all in 2014!