Written by Mike Benson Friday, 13 July 2018 18:33
2017 was my first hilly, muddy, snowy ride at Rasputitsa in East Burke, VT. I remember vividly how spent I was when I finished. But, like all good sufferfests, I registered for 2018 within a week of finishing my first event. Not only does the race provide a great venue at Burke Mountain ski area, but the surrounding roads are terrific.
After some good warming efforts on the ski area roads, I lined up as far towards the front of the 1000+ registered racers. I would be racing my Kona Major Jake with Vitorria Terreno Dry tubeless tires. I ran a Sram 1X 40 tooth chainring with an 11-36 rear cassette. As I sat on the start line trying to stay warm and wondering if I dressed appropriately for the day, I looked to my left to see Jeremy Powers and many other familiar cyclocross faces.
When the whistle blows, there is a controlled rollout from the top lot at the ski area down to the bottom of the entrance road. The problem here is that everyone that lined up behind you is jockeying for spots and trying to pass at every chance. When you hit the bottom of the hill, everyone is off towards the first big climb. As we crested the first hill and began the descent, I quickly found myself elbow to elbow going 35-40 mph down a loose muddy road. Right in front of me two guys clipped bars and went down hard. Luckily there were people there to help them.
My goal was to see if I could hang on with the lead group without blowing up. This goal would seriously challenge my pacing plan in the first 45 minutes. As with any race, I try to settle in and find a power/heart rate zone that I can maintain for the duration. Pacing is key at this race because of the constant climbing. Having known my repeatable power from training files, I kept my cool and let others go as hard as they could on the climbs knowing that I would likely catch them when they run out of gas. This plan worked great. When we reached Cyberia (i.e. basically a jeep trail) and 6-8 inches of snow, we were off our bikes and running for what seemed like miles. Finally, at the end of the snow we were back on our bikes racing down a long descent. I recovered a bit and tried to catch back on to whatever was left of the main group but I missed my opportunity and joined a fast second group.
As with any race, I usually find myself with similar racers by the mid-way point. Our group had about 8-10 guys that all had great fitness. This lead to constant attacks and chases which was very fun. Fellow Bikeman Team member Andrew Farrell was also in our group. This gave me more confidence to push hard and not give in to the relentless steep hills. When we got to the last quarter of the race, you could see Burke Mountain getting closer and closer. This was a site for sore eyes. But then, things got ugly. We all came bombing down a gravel road and hit a loose section covered in half inch stone. The road must have washed out and the stone was used to make it passable again. This claimed many flats on the day. At the bottom of the hill stood Anthony Moccia (Race Promoter) waving his arms for all of us to bunny hop a curb into a pile of snow which looked like a trail (Later called ‘The Bowie Loop’). We were off our bikes almost immediately running. This ended up being about 3 miles of up and down until we finally came back out to the road again.
Much to my chagrin, there were other riders coming down the road that I didn’t recognize from our group. Apparently, once our group came through, everyone went straight and skipped the snowy run. When we got to the final climb to the finish, I was dejected for two reasons. Number one: I knew my result was going to be wonky with all the route issues. Number two: I did not want to climb any more hills☹. When we came out of the woods, there were people cheering everywhere. My wife and kids were there to greet me and to laugh at all the racers crashing in the snow right before the finish. As we crossed the finish line, we were handed a beer and a congratulation from promotors and volunteers. The sun was out, the grills were cooking, and everyone was enjoying post-race food and beverages.
Later in the week, the promotors posted a new result for those that competed on ‘The Bowie Loop’. This gesture was not expected but it was nice to see how much Anthony and Heidi cared about every detail. I registered again for 2019 that day. This is Rasputitsa (not your everyday gravel race).
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