Barry-Roubaix for Beginners
A quick Google search on “Barry-Roubaix” yields 651,000 results in 0.35 seconds of which most, I’m sure, refer to the now famous Midwest gravel road race hosted in Hastings, Michigan. Barry-Roubaix just celebrated its 11th race edition on April 13th, and the coverage is well documented for race veterans and enthusiasts alike. As an admirer of well-organized events and based on my beginner experience, I do believe Barry Roubaix is a crown jewel of which community, safety, and race participant experience are central themes. I sincerely appreciated all this, and it helped to calm some over-my-head trepidation. My only idea for the 2020 Suggestion Box is that the Founder’s beer tent recycles a race sign and designates a reserved line: “Slower Racers Stay Far Right.”
I signed up for my first Barry Roubaix with the full intention of riding the 22-miler on a borrowed bike; but as good luck would have it, the Michigan Gravel Race Series scholarship awarded a new GIANT ToughRoad GX bike with a condition of riding four short-course events. I’ll cover my training more in a future post, but my winter/spring prep consisted of roughly 80 miles per week on a road bike or on a stationery trainer using Zwift virtual reality. A chance to ride on real Michigan gravel included one 28-mile mentored practice ride and the Lowell Classic 32-mile short course.
THREE WICKED SISTERS
Prior to race day, I Googled a YouTube video featuring the Three Sisters of the race course captured from a bike. It didn’t look too scary after all, so I thought. Unfortunately, I was mistaken: video seriously underestimates the true reality of mean hills. Never having seen the hills first-hand, I realized I was in for some climbing trouble when I spied a posted race sign: “Three Sisters is a B_tch!” OMG—while accustomed to spinning or standing to conquer asphalt hills, the Sisters was a new deal where the one-after-another steep grade and sand mattered. Consequently, I walked Sister #3. Nevertheless, the good news is this monster climb served as a reality check and motivator as well as a powerful deterrent to ice cream and chocolate chip cookies, since the thought of carrying any extra weight uphill makes me lose my appetite. As for gravel descents throughout the course, the solid stability of the Giant ToughRoad SLR GX1, Velocity USA performance wheels and Teravail gripping tires seriously contributed to my confidence that the bike would safely carry me. With a little nerve and some helpful coaching given in advance, I accomplished most downhills without tapping the brakes.
SAGER ROAD: A MGRS Veteran’s Favorite
I met Melanie Splitgerber on the warmup on race day, and at the encouragement of fellow veteran racers, followed up with Melanie by phone after the race to learn more about her story.
Seems Melanie’s very favorite part of the race course is SAGER ROAD and if she had it her way, the entire course would be just like SAGER ROAD—rocks, sand, ruts, and all—and there’s a good reason for this. Melanie is from northern Indiana and grew up camping at Yankee Springs Recreation Area in Barry County, Michigan. Fun times for Melanie meant BMX biking on the wooded trails in the morning, water skiing in the afternoon, and back to the bike in the early evening. Melanie was introduced to a mountain bike as a young adult and has worked cycling into her schedule at least twice each week.
Melanie shared that she experienced a serious accident in August 2007 when new cleats prevented her from clipping out, causing a close encounter with her handlebars and an immovable boulder. Suffering five broken ribs, a rotator cuff tear, and a lacerated liver she managed to bike home, driving herself to the nearest hospital. After a week stay and recovery, she was back at competing by that October! Since then, she has taken to a Fat bike and has won Iceman twice, Melting Man, and this January won the Frosted Fat Tire/Green Rivers 50-mile relay with Jenny Acker, Emily Mileski, and Jill Martindale all dressed up like Care Bears in tutu’s for some intimidating good measure.
At Barry Roubaix this year, Melanie took the podium in 3rd place for the Fat Bike division. She’s admittedly bashful about any public recognition but clearly a strong and determined MGRS Cool Kid badass racer. Pushing herself to achieve her personal best is all that matters. Melanie noted, “The people you meet and the small words of encouragement they give you and you give to someone struggling (that could be ready to give up) can help them finish their first race and sign up for a second. That’s what it’s all about.”
CROSSING THE FINISH LINE
As a gravel beginner, I was really happy to cross the finish line after 36 miles and am grateful for the favorable weather and experience. My only regret is not stopping for a selfie with the Scottish bagpipe band.
Having the opportunity to share a race course with veteran athletes like Melanie and others was inspiring and motivating for me. And, I’ve quickly learned that gravel informs your level of physical fitness quite like nothing else, and it makes me think of cycling-strength and endurance in a whole new way.
To encourage me for the Hellkaat 50 on May 5th, my sister Lou presented me with a new buff saying she chose this design thinking that it would be good for my image.