The Killer Gravel Road Race is almost here, and we take a look at the biggest #GROAD race in ‘Murica.
With the best-looking members of the team taking off for the Joe Martin Stage Race (Cat) and the Belgian Waffle Ride (Al, Danny, Sean) this weekend, it won’t be until April 21’s Barry-Roubaix that all the red-and-white pajamas will toe the line together. The third race of the Michigan Gravel Race Series, Barry-Roubaix coming at the end of April is a bit like the Super Bowl coming in October. It’s the one everyone wants to win, and everyone is ready to go after it. Hard.
Ten years ago, Barry-Roubaix wasn’t even a race. It started off as a group ride from Yankee Springs. A year later, Rick Plite decided to make a lady of it, offering two distances, timing, and one heckuva brawl getting onto the infamous Sager Road just a few miles into the race. Flash forward a few years and the tenth-anniversary race is now nearly as big of a landmark as the Iceman Cometh Challenge in Traverse City. The even has long-since outgrown Yankee Springs, and indeed all the vendors, racers, and spectators barely fit into the new host town of Hastings, Michigan.
The switch to Hastings offered a slightly new look to the race, albeit it without changing all that much. Starting on the east side of the course instead of the west means one big difference; Sager Road now comes much later in the morning, which makes for a slightly reduced bunch spilling onto the treacherous two-track. That short section is often the decisive point of the race, and the home of the oldest cliche in cycling; just like the Arenberg forest, you can’t win the race there, but you can lose it.
Last year, however, the biggest factor was the weather. After steady rain through much of the week, overnight, and most of the morning, the temperature was only just warm enough to keep from the precipitation from turning to snow. In the wet and the grit, hundreds of brakes pads were worn through in a matter of miles, with riders in every race distance lacking any stopping power, some even resorting to dragging their feet like The Flintstones.
There are plenty of riders in with a chance in 2018, with the addition of the 100 miles Psycho Killer giving some a moment of pause in deciding what to race. It is the 62-mile race that gets the ‘Long’ race distinction for the MGRS, with a few masochistic Series going for 160km, just for the glory. For 3T Q+M, we’ve opted to send Al to keep Mike company, and with Mr. McWilliams taking on not one, not two, but three 100 miles races over the course of four weeks, we think he’ll have plenty of fitness to start that block off right.
Sean, Danny, and Scotty lead the way for the squad in the 62 miles, with Cody and Jay enlisted as faithful domestiques, who’ll no doubt insist on the splitting of prize money and/or an ample cookie and beer supply on the drive home. Cat will be taking on the Joe Martin Stage Race the week before , so all the women at Barry-Roubaix better have their helmets on straight. It’ll be all butts on Exploros for the squad at Barry, with everything from 38-40mm tires being used.
That 62-mile route is suited for a well-rounded rider, and with strong winds in the forecast for raceday, it’s also good for one who knows how to hide or how to uses the gales of April to their advantage. There aren’t many areas of exposed road in Barry County, but the ones that exist will serve as a ready-sprung trap for anyone not paying attention and lingering too far to the back.
With 3,500 feet of climbing, it’s a deceptively tough course that doesn’t cater to climbers, who rarely have an ascent longer than two to three minutes, or the rouleurs, who never quite get enough flat road to find a rhythm. If it’s wet throughout the week, some of the low-lying roads near water can be incredibly soft and soggy.
Registration for Barry-Roubaix closes April 18, but there are already over 200 riders in the 100-mile event, capping it off for the first-year category. There are nearly 600 riders taking on the 62-mile event this year, and hundreds more in the 36 and 22 mile distances as well. It is, of course, very early in the season, but the real contenders in the MGRS are already starting to separate the wheat from the chafe.