It just so happens that this past week, the two corners of America with the hottest two races are two of the furthest possible points away from each other. Belgian Waffle Ride stormed into its seventh edition taking place just north of San Diego and just six days later Rasputitsa rolled out its sixth event in the northern woods of Vermont. Their starkly different locations — an entire country apart — are fitting since they both firmly slot into the gravel-slash-mixed-terrain category, yet they’re as polar opposite as one could ever imagine.
BWR, colloquially called the “Hell of the North County”, spanned 133 miles over an oppressively hot day, with more than one third of it off road. A formidable 46 miles distinctly off pavement, this includes an enormous delivery of sand, long stretches of small sharp stones, torn pavement, and as much pavé as a city founded just shy of the year 1800 could muster. 1,300 brave souls set out from Lost Abbey brewery contending with all of those features as well as long, sustained climbs, a series of punchy bergs, and blisteringly hot temperatures.
I don’t speak a lick of Russian, but I’m told that rasputitsa is a word meaning the mud season in which roads become menacingly impassible. The Northeast Kingdom of Vermont spins a web of gravel roads in all directions, intertwined with well worn farm houses, centuries old stonewalls, and maple sugaring operations throughout. Advertised at just 40 miles in length, Rasputitsa — the race, not the mud season — keeps a few tricks up its sleeve that you only encounter in the height of the race. Cyberia, a lengthy running section through ankle to shin high snow, occurs every year but the length and snow conditions are generally unknown. An unforeseen final snow run that we didn’t know was even part of the course made for a fifteen to twenty minute run, or slog, through the snow just shy of the finish line.
My former ProTour fitness is fleeting. While interval training previously occupied large portions of my day, that’s no longer part of the program. Hitting start and stop on my computer and staring at my powermeter was once part of the job, but that’s no longer the job. Riding my bike a lot and riding my bike hard remains fun, so that’s the direction I’ll happily keep pedaling.
Professional cycling lore says not to break out brand new kit in a race, as it’s unlucky and you’ll find yourself on the pavement with a hole in it. Mercifully, I'm officially retired from professional cycling and no longer subject to its whims, I also didn’t want to overheat so I found this to be the perfect venue to test out the new Ultralight Bibs. Matched with an Ultralight Link jersey and the Signature sock, which are optimal on hot days when your feet tend to expand, lady luck was on my side and after a brutally long hot day, I found myself on the second to top step of the podium — kit fully intact.Time: 6:33:09
With the thermometer still below freezing at the start line, another 1,300 riders huddled at the base of Burke Mountain, seeking the warmth from the rising sun as it cut through the trees. Knowing that we were about to contend with gravel, snow, slush, and a constant spray of mud from the freshly fallen snow the day before, the key is to stay warm, and not be weighed down with bulky clothes. My Powerwool thermal sleeveless baselayer was the perfect pair under the ES Jacket. The outer layer is breathable yet super warm, is very fitting and doesn’t billow in the wind. I went with the Signature Wool sock for some added warmth to keep the toes happy. Unlike BWR where one-third of the course is off road, it’s nearly 100% of Rasputitsa that takes place off road. A race of attrition with constantly sharp climbs and harrowing wet descents, I would have loved to step on the podium, alas, I ended up in 4th place. (My hat goes off to a former collegiate racing buddy, Kevin Bouchard Hall, who races for Velocio Northeast, who took the win!)Time: 2:32:25