MIDDLEVILLE, MI - Saturday was the highly anticipated, much feared Barry-Roubaix: Killer Gravel Road Race (BRX). The BRX offers three distances, 62 (for the Pro/Elite and the Daring), 36, and 24-miles of grinding pain through the rolling hills of scenic Barry County, Michigan.
In the last few weeks Michigan has experienced an unusual, record-breaking August-like heat wave with 80-degree weather and sunny skies. I’ve uttered many prayers of thanks: I’d be racing in shorts and a short sleeve jersey!
A line of storms dropped over an inch of rain on the eve of BRX 2012 and the temps cooled to a race-perfect 60 degrees.
Race morning I loaded my gear and to my dismay, I had a flat. A really flat flat tire. I pumped some air into it and then left to meet my friend Michelle. When I unloaded my bike the tire was flat again! We quickly pumped it full of air but it was depleted before we were able to reload it onto her car! Oh nooooooo.
As we hastily made our way to the race venue we “chicked” many guys driving cars topped with bikes. As Michelle said, we had a flat tire to fix!
For others, a flat tire may not be a big deal. But the last time I tried to put a tube in a tubeless tire it took 2 failed hours and 4 bike “mechanics” to fix it. Upon reflection, I question their qualifications as actual ‘bike mechanics.’
When we arrived, I was able to find one of my favorite real mechanics ready and waiting for a bike to wrench. I left my currently un-trusty steed in his care and went on to packet pick-up. Fifteen minutes later I found my bike race-ready with a new tube in the front tire—faith reinstated. Thanks, Bill!
There were approximately 1500 people racing BRX. It was an overwhelming sea of brilliant colored bike jerseys—a beautiful sight for an overcast morning. The group had swelled and I was forced to line-up in the grass for the wave start.
The tangled mass of bikes began to inch forward. I thought we were moving up for the next wave start but everyone kept going. My wave had started! Ooops! I quick clipped in and we were on our way for a couple hours of pain and suffering.
The course rolls out on pavement for several miles before the first assault of gravel. The cross bikes had the definitive advantage here. I held on as best as I could on my mountain bike, averaging 22 mph for the first three miles.
Around 7 miles in, BRX holds up to its reputation as “The Killer” when the course turns upward onto a sandy, tire-sucking two-track called Sager Road. Here the tables turned and it was the mountain bikers that gained an advantage. I steadily weaved my way through a maze of toppling cross-bikes and hike-a-bikers.
I was joined by another mountain bike ridden by Roxane Kruse, a friend of mine wearing Team Priority Health green. Roxane is a strong and steady competitor and I was glad to see a friendly face. She inched her way past me and I was happy to follow her line of safe passage through the maze of carnage.
Off Sager Road and onto wide-open gravel roads, I leap-frogged my way from group to group and managed to get ahead of Roxane. This was a first for me.
I was hoping to find a pack of 10 or so guys to get in with for the bulk of the race, but I wasn’t having any luck. I spent many miles alone or with just one or two other cyclists.
Around the 16-mile mark, a group of about 8 cyclists passed me, tucked in the middle of the group was Roxane! I knew she wouldn’t be far behind and that at any moment during the race she could come along and take me back a place. I tried to accelerate to catch a ride with their group, but there wasn’t enough power in my engine.
I made a valiant effort for the next two miles to catch them, but on my own I didn’t have the speed. I settled in for a long second-half of riding alone.
Considering how my race was going, I was delighted when the gravel road turned once again onto another “Killer”—Shaw Road. This marked the last section of two-track before hitting the pavement for the last 5 miles into the finish.
I was hopeful that my mountain bike would once again allow me to ride past some cyclo-crossers. Unfortunately, there was an impenetrable wall of hike-a-bikers. I jogged up the hill pushing my bike. I hopped back on the saddle as soon as possible for a fun and super-muddy descent. The rainfall the night before had created massive lakes across the road.
We were back on the pavement for the final run to the finish and my legs felt strong. I steadily increased my pace up a long climb, doing a lot more passing than I was getting passed. On the downhill I revved my engine and managed to pass quite a few more cyclists—I was feeling good.
And that’s when I spotted another woman. I had a chance to take back one place in the standings. At this point, I knew I was only going to get faster as the finish line came closer. I breezed past her, putting the hammer on the cranks and steadily accelerating the last two miles for a strong and satisfying finish.
My time was 2:19:48. 15th place 30-39 Women.
The top five women overall in the 36-mile race were: Marie Dershem with a time of 1:59:27, Laurie Brockmiller at 2:00:55, Jane Van Hof at 2:04:19, Danielle Musto at 2:05:56, and Chelsea Strate at 2:06:49.