Rowlesburg, WV, May 16 – 17, 2015. “This is not a road race.”, reads the first sentence on the registration page. No, the Mountain State Dirty Double Roubaix presented by Pathfinder of WV is a two-day gravel racing stage race. The routes are comprised of paved roads, tar and chip roads (most of these have numerous pot holes), gravel roads (sometimes deep gravel, sometimes large gravel), dirt roads, unmaintained county roads, and steep downhills. If this sounds like fun, then the Dirty Double is for you. The rules are simple: General Classification (overall) scoring is based on the total time of both days. Lowest time wins. Riders must complete each day’s stage on the same bike they started the day on. However you can use a different bike on day 1 verses day 2. No outside support is allowed, so riders must carry what they need apart from nutrition available at aid stations. Cyclocross or Mountain bikes are highly recommended.
Rare Disease Cycling rider Stephanie Swan looked to improve on her 2nd place GC performance at the 2014 inaugural event where she placed second among the open women. Swan would have her work cut out for her with multi-time Iron Cross winner Ruth Sherman (Stan’s NoTubes/Corning Race Team) and host team rider Justine Pagenhardt (Pathfinder of West Virginia) in attendance.
For the Saturday stage, the weather was overcast with the possibility of rain (which never materialized), leaving racers with perfect 70 degree temps and comfortable racing conditions. The Day 1 early pace was brisk and Swan was separated from the women’s leader Sherman up the first selective climb. Fortunately for Swan, she had a nice group to work with for the remainder of the stage and was able to hold off the rest of the women for second place on the day.
With a 10 minute lead over 3rd place Pagenhardt and only 6 minutes down on GC leader Sherman, Swan was well positioned to have an impact on Day 2.
Things went downhill in a hurry.
The heavy rain that hit after the stage on the first day had been steady enough to leave some large puddles at the top of the first climb of Day 2. Some of these stretched across the entire width of the dirt road which had become soft, muddy and slow. It was over this muddy section at the top of the hill where Swan lost contact for the 2nd time with the GC and Day 2 leader Sherman. Chasers Pagenhardt and 4th place rider Carryn Purdon were not far behind.
Swan was left riding alone as rain continued to fall during a long, twisty technical descent. “My hands were slipping all over my handlebars from the water coming down.” remembered the RDC rider.
“At the bottom of the first descent, I was by myself, and over the next six miles I passed about five riders, as I time trialed on the rolling flat section of the course.” recalled Swan about the miles after her Day 2 separation from Sherman. “This effort really wore me out and I must have lessoned my pace. I heard voices behind me about half way through from a group of about five riders including a woman.”
It was Carryn Purdon, who was conserving energy, working together with other riders to maximize her advantage and to regain contact with Swan. This race was not over.
“I presume she had had other riders to work with on the flats because she seemed pretty fresh.” recalled Swan of the catch.
The group, which now included Swan, stayed together until mile 26. During this temporary alliance, Purdon had shown herself as an expert descender. Since the last part of the course is a fast twisty technical gravel descent, Swan decided to take her shot on the final climb before the run in to the finish. “I dug deep and put in as much time into her as I could on the climb, hoping I could hold her off on the descent.” remembered the RDC rider.
The strategy worked. Swan held just enough of a gap she was able to get to the finish of Day 2 ahead of Purdon and Pegenhardt for second place on the day and a second place overall.
Full results here.
Photos courtesy of abraracing.com.