Barry-Roubaix, in it’s sixth year, is quickly becoming a spring gravel road race classic. It’s a 100km course, rolling hills, often windy, a few short, hard climbs. The weather is a toss-up: in the four years I’ve done it I’ve seen sheet ice to dry roads, 15 degrees to 60 degrees. This year, it was 20 degrees at the start, warmed up to 30. The roads were dry and the sky was blue, so it felt like ideal racing conditions for a spring event in Michigan.
Returning from a victory in 2014, winning by a two-second margin over MacKenzie Woodring of Foundry Cycling, my goal was clear: to defend my title against multiple-time Barry-Roubaix champion Woodring – and also 2015 Worlds Cyclocross Team Member Crystal Anthony – participating in this race for the first time.
At the beginning of the race, Crystal Anthony rode by with a friendly “hello”. I trust her wheel and know her strength well, having finished behind her twice at the Hilly Billy Roubaix– so I was happy to ride behind her. Riders in our 200+ field vied for position, and crowded me in as a car passed, and I lost her wheel. This lack of assertion cost me.
Shortly thereafter, the pace really got going. After the third roller, our field was strung out double, then single-file. A gap formed about 10 riders ahead, and I hung on to the wheel in front of me. The gap widened, and it was clear: I was on the wrong side of a crucial split.
I found myself in a pack with about 20 riders, including four women: Kae Takeshita, Verdigris-Village CX, Kathryn Cumming, Cyclocross Magazine, Vicki Munnings, WAS Labs Cycling, and Victoria Steen, Lady Gnar Shredders. Victoria was quite active in the front of the pack, with Kae lingering in the middle. Kathryn and I were riding toward the back, and although we didn’t know each other, we quickly became race “co-conspirators” – discussing the pace and the other women in our pack, and who might be ahead of us. We estimated at least two riders – Crystal and McKenzie – were up the road.
The pack hummed along at a good clip when we turned into Sager Road, about 20 miles into the race. Sager is a rutted four-wheeler road with a few small rocks and some sand in sections. There was also a sink hole with ice on it. I passed Kae early on, after encouraging her to push through up a riser. That was the last I saw of her in the race. There were three crashes on the uneven road, which I did not get caught in. However, many riders hesitated to pedal through the lumps and bumps, simply coasting. I encouraged them to pedal, “Pedal”! What I should have done was find a way to ride through them. When I got to the end of Sager, the strongest members of the pack were about 10 bike lengths up the road. I put my head down and chased, which was a bad decision, because some stragglers had reassembled, were chasing hard, and I was so gassed out by the time they passed me that they rode me off their wheels.
I spent the next five miles chasing that group into the wind. The pack in my sights, I simply could not bridge – despite numerous full-out sprints (and recoveries). In a lucky twist, the pack was slowed down behind a few cars at a left hand turn, and I was finally able to latch back on. I was hoping to be the only woman to make it this far with the group, but I found Victoria and Kathryn mixed into the pack after I caught on.
The rest of the race was relatively uneventful. Victoria got dropped at an uphill feed zone. A mystery woman who was further up the road from our pack (and who would have finished 3rd or 4th) got a flat – Kathryn and I passed her as she repaired it. Kathryn fell off our group about 10 miles from the finish, and I rode over the finish line with the pack, finishing fourth behind MacKenzie, Anthony, and Kelli Richter (PSIMET Racing) who was, unbeknownst to me, three minutes ahead.
Fourth – I was hoping for top three, but an (extended) podium finish is still gratifying. More importantly, this race has set that fire in me to be more assertive, even aggressive. A little hesitation at the beginning of the race can cost all. Sometimes I need a race like this to remind me how important that is. My next race is Amish Country Roubaix in Ohio – and I just might play the start a little differently.
One highlight of the event, unrelated to cycling, is that promoter Rick Plite asked me to come on stage after awards and sing a song with the band. How so? Over the course of the last year, I’ve been posting to youtube and facebook silly videos of myself singing. I’ve also done some more formal recordings with family friend Richard Franklin, who is a concert guitarist. My postings must have set the idea in Rick’s head to have me sing, and I was thrilled! In the midst of the training and racing, it’s easy to let other hobbies fall by the wayside. Here I was combining two things I love to do.
I chose “Dream a Little Dream of Me”, popularized by Mama Cass – because I’ve been singing that song since childhood and I knew that regardless what state I was in after a 60 mile race, I’d remember the words. It wasn’t a perfect rendition, but I must give the band, Sweet Japonic, great credit for a superb accompaniment – considering we had not practiced once together. So in that regard, despite a race that didn’t quite go my way – the event did, pardon the pun, end on a good note.
Special thank you to promoter Rick Plite, all the volunteers and timers, the town of Hastings and surrounding areas for their warm welcome. Hearty congratulations to all finishers and especially those who made it on the podium. I can’t wait to see what weather holds for Barry 2016!