Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Rasputitsa 2016: Same As it Ever Was

you may find yourself in another part of the world

It's hard to believe that the Rasputitsa has been held for only 3 years. It seems like longer, like it is the classic it's meant to be. So the night before in the midst of my race prep stress I fixated on the 35 year old Talking Heads single, Once In a Lifetime. Thinking on it now, it's fitting that a song from the dawn of MTV and the last decade of the Cold War would be my earworm for the event: Same As It Ever Was....

But I digress. The route this year would be the exact same as last year, but under polar opposite conditions. In 2015 we faced freezing temperatures, a gray sky, &a forced march on 5km of snowmobile trail over Kirby Mountain which the promoter deemed "Cyberia". This year it was sunny, mostly dry, & everything was rideable, at least with some courage on the descents. But a dry course was not an easier course, no sir. I should not choose this event for my first race of the year. I climb long hills like a bowling ball, and this course has 3 extended climbs. But the event draws many of my cycling friends from around New England. It is like the NECX pre-pre-season opener, so how can I resist? Moths to a flame...

Last year I made two critical mistakes: first I brought a hardtail 29er thinking that I could ride the snowmobile trail with it (I couldn't) & that it would be as fast on the packed dirt roads as a cyclocross bike (it wasn't). Second, that I could hold the pace of the lead group over the first large climb. I did o.k. on the first few rollers heading toward Burke Hollow, but as the dirt climbs got steeper I popped out of the bunch hard. I recall Tim Shea yelling at me "That's not a sustainable pace Carl!" as I went backwards.

rolling out of East Burke. photo by Ralph Samson
This year I resigned myself to starting outside the lead group. Though foolish pride compelled me to line up behind Don Seib & next to David Gray. Seib told me that he was going to ride a "social pace", of course his social pace puts most of us deep into the red zone. Sure enough when we rolled out Don & his son made their way up to the front of the chase group. I followed feeling comfortable with their tempo. After the first few rollers we began to pick up stragglers from the lead group. I bridged across to Ellen Noble and gave her a shoulder tap hello. Following her down a washboard section my water bottles both ejected. 3 miles in, 14 miles to the feed zone with no water on a warm day was not a good start, not good at all.

I tried to throttled back my effort on the first long climb to avoid getting dehydrated, but it's not easy to go easy when your friends are racing past. I quickly forgot self preservation and pushed into high tempo pace. The group fragmented up the Burke Hollow climb. A few guys came past me then some would fall back again. Racing down the descent gave me some relief from thinking about my lack of water. David Gray & I played leap frog on the bottom of the Victory Road climb. I hoped he would catch me before long so I could beg a bottle from him. But he caught me closer to the top and he was down to one bottle as well. Finally I crested Victory Road. I slowed to grab 2 bottles at the feed zone, gulped half of one down, and started the plunge to Granby. Two big climbs over, one to go, Cyberia.
in the bunch on River Road: photo by Ralph Samson
The only flat section of the course is 6 miles of River Road to Masten hill. Since I had backed off the pace of the chase group in order to drink & eat I was riding alone. This is the one place on the course that drafting is an advantage. I did catch one racer a couple miles onto River Road. We traded pulls for a while, but not going all out. With about a mile left before Masten Road a group of 8 caught us. The group included some familiar faces like Julie Wright, Colin Johannen and Charlie Boudrages. I took a pull then shuffled to the back to eat before the crux climb. I have a bad habit of starting long climbs at the back of a group. Whether I back down due to lack of confidence in my climbing or to create an incentive to chase I don't know, but it's not a useful tendency.

I was feeling good since I got some food & water into my system. The group quickly splintered with each climbing their own pace. I was able to pick off 5 racers and saw the remaining 4 ahead as we turned onto Cyberia proper. The jeep trail was mostly hard pack on the climb, though occasionally we'd plow through a power sucking wet patch. We reached a false flat 3+ miles up and I surged around the remainder of the bunch. I wanted to start the descent in front of the group. I had forgotten about the last steep section of jeep trail. Catching sight of it I was demoralized. The 3 people I had just passed came by me again with a few more in tow including Charlie. I clung to his wheel as we worked past a couple of others up the final pitch of Cyberia. At the very top I downed a maple syrup hand up & readied for a tricky descent. Peter Vollers & The Rowells had warned that the Cyberia descent would be dicey. The jeep track was severely rutted, muddy, & rock strewn. This section is 1.2 miles long at an average 9% decline but thankfully fairly straight. Charlie came around me as we bombed down it. He slowed catching up to another racer so I popped over into the opposite rut. I took my chances letting my speed go down the track & hopping a few water bars. It was WooHoo factor 11.
Charlie & I pick our lines down Cyberia. photo by Meg Boucher
Someday I'll stop at the Rowell Family tent for a homemade donut at the end of the jeep trail. They look delicious. But this was not that day. I continued a quick descent on the Victory Mtn. Road in pursuit of the faster climbers. The best section of the course for me is the rollers on the final 6 miles. The short punchy grades are good for a sprinter like me to chase down fading front runners. I thought I had lost Charlie, but no. He is like the grizzly bear of NECX. The myth is that grizzlies can't climb, but indeed they can, and a guy his size should not be able to climb so well, but indeed he does. As I started up the first hill on Ridge Road, Charlie came roaring past. I pushed to regain his wheel. We caught then passed Colin Johannen & Julie Wright as we pounded tempo over the rollers. I made a hard attack on the false flat before the turn onto Brook Road. But half way down the descent Charlie zoomed past me again. There was only one thing left to do...    
As we turned onto Mt. Hunger Road, Charlie had a 6-7 second lead. I had a mile to try to claw him back before the turn onto the final chute. But he was clearly not holding anything back. I hammered the pedals to catch him on this last rise. 100 meters before the turn he caught 2 other guys and sat up. I was able to close on them with 50 meters to the chute. I wanted to be first into the final plunge, but could only get around Charlie and one of the other two. I had the line I wanted down the rocky chute, but was on the wide side of the turn coming around the East Burke store. Sand on the pavement forced me to slow to avoid sliding out. With 100 meters left I stomped on the pedals, but the guy who had the inside line sprinted clear. I held off Charlie at the line. Racing him for the last 10 miles was an all out effort. It was a glorious battle, comrades, for 33rd place. 

Michelle Roy & Karen Nash enjoying the hang outs. photo by Pete Hurt
The true reason for coming up to this brutal course is the cycling camaraderie. The racing is good, especially mixing it up with people who are outside my normal "old guys" category. But the hanging out is as good or better. Right after the finish I was chatting with John Moser & Don Seib who finished a few minutes ahead. My team mate Jordan finished just a bit later. We waited for his wife Ryanne to come across the line before going on a cool down ride together. I always would rather spin out the legs with team mates than alone, so we brought Kat Zalenski & her fella along too. The food & socializing at the Rasputitsa is the best. No other race I've been to has recovery poutine, it's worth every painful climb. The sun warmed faces and soothed our aching legs as I shared a beer outside with my team mates. Anthony & Heidi have created a very special event in 3 short years. I trust we'll get to do it again every April for a longtime to come.
The JAM Fund kids & their mentor Al Donahue

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