A year ago two wonderful people who had never put on a bike event decided that a dirt road race was exactly what Newport VT needed. Anthony & Heidi did such a great job of promoting it & laying out the course that 200 cyclists showed. The enthusiasm & organization they put into the inaugural Dirty 40 made the race memorable.
This year they decided, why not put on another race, in mud season. Thus the Rasputitsa was born. Again the promotion was superior, the organization even better. So 300 people packed an alley off Main Street in Newport VT waiting to race 48 miles of dirt road in mud season.
Personally, I went up knowing that I have bigger fish to fry. I am training for the Dirty Kanza 200. Last year I had almost no racing in my legs before going to Kansas. So I figured 48 miles of dirt road racing would be just what I need to get the engine revved up. I brought my cyclocross bike and the Clement MSO tires that I will likely race at Dirty Kanza. Bike & tire choice were a wide variety at the start line. Some who had raced Dirty 40 were on their road bikes with 25c tires. Some had cyclocross bikes with file treads. Some were on 29er's or fat bikes. There were no wrong choices, but a few folks on 25c tires spent as much time fixing flats as racing.
The race started after a long chilly set of introductions & instructions. I slot up to 4th row at the start. Once the pace car pulled off it was clear that for most this was a race, not a ride. The front group had serious fire power in it too. The pro's, Tim Johnson & Ted King, might have been only riding tempo, but the New England master's champions & strong Quebecois were going to keep them honest. John Funk, Mike Rowell, & James Nash lit up the pace on the first hill 5 miles in. Indeed everyone seemed to be pushing & maneuvering for race position. I kept in my mind that I was there to train more than race so I tried to ride a sustainable pace. After 10 miles I was in the 2nd chase group, but still in sight of the leaders. After a strong pull I bridged up to the first chase group.
Then we hit the entrance to Cyberia. This section was talked up for a month. I figured it was just a steep somewhat loose jeep trail like many I ride at home. No it was much more. 2 miles of snow & ice covered hike a bike with several rocky stream crossings. Running it looked dangerous. Riding it seemed impossible. Early on I chose to walk Cyberia carefully. I did not need a repeat of a year ago & break a foot before Dirty Kanza. But my cautious approach meant I lost at least 10 minutes on Cyberia. Though that pace did allow me to take a frosty maple syrup shot or two. Once I crested the top I followed Dave Rath down the slippery snowy field. His bike handling on this difficult descent was impressive.
As we resumed the dirt road climbing part of the course I started to feel cramps in both calves. I knew that if I rode steady I could keep from locking up, but if I pushed it my day would be over. The road conditions were wet in spots but mostly packed firm dirt. I felt very comfortable descending & cornering on the Clement MSO tires. I think I would have felt too loose on narrower slick tires that day. I may have lost a little speed on the long paved section in the middle of the route. But it was a marginal difference in the group I was riding with. Two different groups caught me in the 2nd half the race. I could roll with each for a while, feeling good. Then we would hit a stiff climb & would need to back off to avoid cramping up. Frustrating as that was, I just had to keep riding my own tempo. By the last 7 miles, I still had energy and my calves felt better. I started picking off riders who had fallen off the pace. I kept upping my tempo & passing solo riders all the way to 500m to go. It felt good to finish strong through the big Bontrager arch on Main Street back in Newport.
The best part of the day was yet to come. The post race meal & party was top notch. Even Ted King, who seems to love to eat as much as he loves to race bikes, was impressed. For many of us it was the first chance this year to connect with our bike racing buddies. Everyone seemed happy to have finished & happy to be there, even folks who had a much harder day than they expected.
Thom Parson's documented all the shenanigans during & after. http://dirtwire.tv/2014/04/raspua/
Honestly this was the most fun I've had at a road race in longer than I can remember. I will absolutely go up again for more dirty gritty suffering with my fellow bike nuts. Did I mention how much I like banana's?