The Chainlink

Race Report: 2015 Founders Barry-Roubaix Killer Gravel Road Race

Photo Courtesy of SnowyMountain Photography

Road season is officially here. The last night of the Half Acre Gapers Block Criterium Series takes place this evening (you should check it out, by the way). The Spring Super Criterium is Saturday. And weekly group training rides are starting back up.

But before we bid a final farewell to old man winter, we wanted to bring you a recap of what might wind up being the year's coldest (and one of the hardest) races: Barry Roubaix. To help us out, we rounded up three members from the BFF Racing team. And if that's not enough Barry recap for you, we've linked to additional race reports at the bottom of the page.

Amber Ritter grinding away in the 2014 Barry (photo courtesy of SnowyMountain Photography).

Amber Ritter

Barry Roubaix 2015 started out with a whimper. Literally a whimper, as a dozen of my BFF Racing teammates and I crawled up off the floor of the house we rented after a sleepless night (nerves, random noises, a 4 a.m. Amber Alert, and some teammate with restless leg syndrome) into the cold, cold morning. "Gah, it's so cold, and so early, and also it's cold," we whimpered. I was especially whimpery, as I had just returned the day before from a two-week trip to Hawaii. As we layered all of our cold weather gear under our kits, I tried to remember why I actually scheduled my vacation around this race.

But then we got to Hastings and it all came back. The crowd of several thousands racers was amped, and the sun was shining. This was my second go at the 36 mile race. The year before had been warmer, but wet, and the course had the muddy consistency of peanut butter. This year was much colder but dry, so it promised to be a fast paced day. Bike handling is my weakest bike skill, so I was happy that the course this year would be a lot less technical.

The race started and I felt great right away. I can't quite figure out why I love gravel races so much, but something about them represents everything I love about riding my bike. Unless you're sticking with the small lead pack the whole race, drafting isn't as crucial as a strict road race, and you're pretty much plowing through on your own. Powering up and down the significant hills, making up time on the straightaways -- all of this is up to you and your bike, who you can talk to the whole time. This is our kind of race.

The day before the race, one of my teammates asked me about my "hydration plan." My carefully considered plan was my Camelbak and a couple of Nuun tabs. Unfortunately, the weather had a different hydration plan, and my Camelbak nozzle froze. (I learned later that this happened to lot of others too, and even met a guy afterwards with a 5-inch icicle coming off his nozzle.) So, I changed my hydration plan to drinking no water the entire race and trying not to think about it. Luckily there was an aid station at about mile 25 for a quick water-down-the-throat dump. Death was avoided for another day.

Besides that hitch, the race was ideal. Despite my 2 week tropical beach vacation and jetlag, I felt good. I was picking off guys from earlier heats left and right and gaining power like Pacman. The circling hawks and shivering livestock of rural Michigan gave me encouraging nods as I flew by. Anyway, it was fun.

Two-and-a-half hours passed fast, and I ended up finishing 6th in my age group. Just missed the podium and a shiny shiny Barry-Roubaix medal that I'd probably still be wearing to sleep. But I'll take it.

Jasmin Welter jumps at any opportunity to shred on her cyclocross bike (photo courtesy of Ronit Bezalel).

Jasmin Welter

Barry Roubaix 2014 was my first bike race, and despite the fact that it’s an early season race with relatively unpredictable conditions, I immediately knew that I wanted to do it again in 2015. Which is why I registered ridiculously early, not anticipating a nagging injury that would prevent me from training for quite a while.

Anyway, I decided I was going to race or at least ride those lovely 36 miles of gravel.

The conditions turned out to be great – despite a somewhat chilly 18 degrees at the start. Inevitably overdressed, the race started out pretty smooth, and I felt fairly confident. Climbing the first hills was enough to warm me up, and about 5 miles into the race, I started noticing an inner struggle between riding cautiously to spare my knee or to push through to keep up with the lead group. Eventually, I decided to let reason prevail and not push it too hard, and I settled into a slow-ish pace among some fat bikers for a few miles, being slightly frustrated with the overall situation I found myself in. At least I was one of the few lucky racers whose water bottles and gels didn’t freeze, so I focused on enjoying the sugary goodness of my snacks.

And then something wonderful happened: Sager Road - by far my favorite part of the course. The double track section had been un-rideable and thus closed during last year’s mudfest, but it was open this year, providing a great and fun change of riding mid-course, as the gravel parts of the course were almost too smooth for my taste. I was so pumped going up Sager, passing many riders with difficulties on this more technical intermezzo, that I decided to pick the pace up again. Being pretty much by myself for at least 10 miles wasn’t the easiest and probably not very efficient either, but I didn’t want to repeat the mistake I made earlier and get stuck with slower racers. So I solitarily chased into the void - sadly failing to catch anyone.

While hoping that each hill would be the last, I was lucky enough to find some strong climbers to get up those paved ascents toward the end of the race. Oh, and just pace lining for a while never felt better! When we finally hit Hastings, I knew my newfound companionship was both a blessing and a curse. Sure enough, I got outsprinted by whoever it was at the final turn, but at least I crossed the finish line with my chain on – unlike my 2014 race! I was a little surprised to find out I had finished 3rd in my age group – a fact that cheered me up a little bit after not being very satisfied with my race performance. If anything, I’ve learned once more that bike racing is all about making the right decisions, and making those decisions in the right moments. “Dare to tri” and “tri hard” are usually my triathlon mantras, but they’re just as true and valid for cycling.

Overall, Barry, while being a completely different experience from the previous year, again proved to be a most fun race, especially with so many of my BFF teammates & Chicago racers. I can only say good things about the race, the atmosphere, and the overall experience, and I’m sure to be back for more next year!

Jasmin Welter third place podium, Lauren Conroy (far right) grabbing a fifth place podium in her category (photo courtesy of Amber Ritter).

Conroy smiling through the pain (photo courtesy of Ronit Bezalel).

Lauren Conroy

The start of the race was absolutely insane. I have never seen that many people in a bike race before. I felt less nervous since the start wasn’t very formal and we just sort of took off when the clock hit 10:24. I was surrounded by more than 10 BFF-ers so that felt awesome. I know Annicka (Campbell-Dollaghan) is crazy fast so I just tried to hang on her wheel at the beginning. It worked out pretty well at first. We were pace lining down the road, but I think I was a little too amped and getting frustrated about having to use my brakes so I started passing a few people and really, I couldn’t hang with the ladies I was next to. After a few miles I got dropped by that group, but I could still see Annicka’s and Jasmin’s bright BFF jerseys out in front of me and that pushed me to go faster to try to keep up.

When we hit the hills I was huffing and wheezing and having a hell of a time. For the most part I was pretty happy with the gearing I had set up on my bike. On pretty much every hill I’d downshift, downshift, downshift and then be like oh. Well, this is what I have to work with. Better get up the damn hill.

As the race went on I would check my watch and decide when I needed to drink, or have a snack. Unfortunately not long into the race all my snacks were frozen and very difficult to eat, and my water bottles had frozen. I was pretty thankful for all the food I crammed in my face at the start line.

Somewhere around mile eight, Amber and Kelsey caught up to me. I had mixed feelings of YES! my friends are here I have people to work with...and OH NO I’m slowing down and people who were behind me are passing me. I did my best to hang on to Amber and honestly I think her passing me was the best thing that could have happened.

We worked together for a few miles but she was very strong. She became that bright BFF jersey in the distance that I kept pushing myself to keep up with.

I think it was around mile 15 that some beautiful, wonderful people were handing out bananas and water bottles. I saw Amber pull over and I realized, yeah the 30 seconds it will take to chug a bottle of water is totally worth it because my bottles are frozen and we’re maybe halfway done. Soon after I asked someone with a bike computer how far we were and he said 14 miles to go. I felt really rejuvenated from the water bottle, and from knowing that 14 miles is just not that far.

One of my favorite moments from the race was this random woman in her yard with a giant gong. She had the happiest look on her face and she hit it over and over again. The randomness of it made me smile and forget about the pain in my legs.

I realized if I wanted to catch anyone I didn’t have a whole lot of time left so I started going hard again, wheezing my way up more hills.

I started to have a lot of fun in the last 10 miles. There were some pretty fun descents. I was going so fast I had tears in my eyes and I’d try to look down to see which chain ring I was in but I couldn’t see.

I kept trying to power down the descents as fast as I could so the uphill on the other end would be over as fast as possible. I saw Yasmeen right around the time we took a left and the 62 mile route took a right. Seeing teammates and cheering each other on really helped when I was feeling tired. She told me I wasn’t that far behind Amber so I took off with a little extra vigor.

At one point I asked another guy how many miles we had to go and he said 6 and I was like ok its on and just started riding as hard as I could. When we hit the pavement after the last gravel section I was looking around me like, why aren’t these people sprinting? What is going on? I think that was the most confusing part of the race was being surrounded by people from all different heats who were sort of racing a different race. I pulled a line of guys up the last set of hills. I’m not sure anyone can actually get much of a draft off of me, but no one was going as fast as I wanted to go so I took off. The last bit of the race through town felt so great. Like, wow. Flat pavement is easy and we’re in town so the finish has to be right around the corner! I had no idea if any other 36 mile women were anywhere near me so I just rode as hard as I could.

After the finish my legs were twitching and I couldn’t stop coughing and I knew I put as much into the race as I could. I felt really good about it. It was icing on the cake to find out I finished 5th in my age category so I was on my FIRST PODIUM EVER.

Conroy and Welter showing off their hardware (photo courtesy of Amber Ritter).

For additional recaps of Barry-Roubaix, check out race reports by Nathan Schneeberger, Brett Ratner, and this story by Dan Meyer (who a few months back was confined to a wheelchair due to injuries).


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