To Be Determined Journal

To Be Determined is a journal of cycling, adventure and photography, curated by a NYC-based cycling team known as TBD Racing or Team TBD. From criteriums to cyclocross to product reviews and travel diaries, it is all part of the TBD Journal.

Rasputitsa 2017: How the Weekend Was Won

Rasputitsa Spring Classic is a unique beast amidst a team calendar that is in many ways dominated by the criteriums and circuit races of New York City. But after a great introduction to the event last year we looked forward to returning to the mountains of Vermont with an even larger crew of riders for the 2017 edition of the event. 

Going into race weekend it became increasingly apparent that weather was not going to be on our side this year - the blue skies and fifty degree temperatures from last year were destined to be replaced by a dreary and at times rainy Vermont landscape that proved apt for an event created in the spirit of the Russian mud season. 

But regardless of the weather conditions, Rasputitsa once again proved to be one of our favorite weekends of the year - both on and off the bike - and we look forward to returning to the mountains of Vermont for the 2018 edition in twelve months time. In the spirit of Cyclocosm's 'How the Race Was Won' and the unique attributes of Rasputitsa here is our account of 'How the Weekend was Won.'

Words: Matthew Vandivort & Chris Burati
Images: Matthew Vandivort & Daghan Perker & Lisa Vandivort

Winning the Race Prep

Leaving New York City Behind

The week leading into Rasputitsa was dominated by a back and forth around weather conditions and equipment choices. While Ted bragged about his new motorcycle mud flap, both JB and Colin lamented trading warm Caribbean beaches in the day's leading up to the race for what appeared likely to be a dreary Vermont landscape. 

But come hell or high water with a nearly six hour drive from our home base in NYC to the race venue in Burke, Vermont we decided to make a long weekend of it, piling four riders, four cx bikes and one very fat bulldog into our car early on Friday morning for the drive north. 

A long drive and a short ride

Our early departure meant plenty of time for a warm-up ride through the Vermont countryside. With a bit of research we discovered that a 15-mile section of the Lamoille Valley Rail Trail started less than one mile away from our hotel. So Chris and I threw on some winter kit, prayed for the rain to stay away and jumped on our bikes to stretch our legs.

The trail kicked off with a long tunnel tunnel under State Route 5. Having departed a bleak New York City landscape at peak rush hour a few hours earlier, that tunnel felt a bit like a portal to another world - the lush Vermont landscape quickly surrounding us. 

Starting with that initial underground passage the Lamoille Valley Rail Trail was quite an impressive bit of cycling infrastructure - well maintained throughout as it cut through Vermont's steep terrain. Unfortunately for me it was a steady, unyielding incline. As the miles started ticking by, Chris' power-to-weight ratio meant I was putting out quite the effort just to stay on his wheel and what were planned as openers were becoming a workout in their own right.

As a hint of what was to come in Rasputitsa's Cyberia section at one point we hit a stretch of trail that was a solid of block of ice. We dismounted and walked our bikes before carrying on in search of the 'summit' of this long incline. Shortly after our ice crossing our prayers for dry weather were ignored as we were hit with a gentle rain that soon turned into a downpour.

With rough weather in the forecast for Saturday we had no intention of extending our stay in the rain. We pulled a u-turn and headed back to the hotel, keeping on the gas throughout the descent.

Fueling for the race with a few beers

We arrived back at the hotel a bit chilled and absolutely drenched to the bone. But thankfully a quick strip to the jacuzzi cured all complaints about riding in the rain. Soon our compatriots from New York City arrived and we headed off to dinner in St Johnsbury featuring a few of Vermont's finest craft beers before wrapping the night up by shooting the shit and telling stories in our hotel room. 

Winnie captures the pre-race mood at Rasputitsa perfectly: very chill.

Winnie captures the pre-race mood at Rasputitsa perfectly: very chill.


A different kind of race and a different kind of race morning

While a gravel grinder for some, to others Rasputitsa is a race. Rasputitsa is not a race where you wake up at 5 am, visit the hotel bathroom (then port a potty) multiple times, choke down coffee and a bit of food, and sit nervously at the starting line waiting to put out a VO2 max effort right when the whistle goes. It’s a fun race, and that’s how I treated it. No pressure, just go as hard as I could until I couldn’t anymore – that was the TBD plan.

After the normal pre-race “I need to pee 500 times" ritual, I lined up at the start without seeing any teammates. I quickly found Matt and Johnny B and managed to pick Ted, Daghan, Roger, and Colin T out around me amongst the sea of nearly 800 starters. I was probably inside the front 100, which was fine; it just meant I needed to pass people en masse.

The last thing I remember before the start whistle was Johnny B lamenting his rear gearing choice and stomach ailments while we sat there cold with rain pissing on us, and then we were rolling out in a neutral start. A mass neutral start in a fun ride where you have a mixed group of racers and non-racers on road, CX, mountain, and fat bikes felt a bit sketchy to say the least.

I knew I had to move up especially after I saw Colin T and Roger - amazingly I might add - riding lawns on the outside of the group to move WAY up. At the base of the neutral descent some people hit large orange cones in the middle of the road, dropping them like bombs around me – I knew it was time to burn a match and put that hard “move up” effort in.

Hitting the gas. again and again

I hit the gas, and hit the gas, and hit the gas. It was about 9 miles to Cyberia, the dreaded mud/ice/snow mix segment, which is the last third of an already nasty, steep, somewhat technical climb, and I knew I had to get there before it became a traffic jam. Ted was pretty far up and he was my beacon. I waved goodbye to my teammates, and made contact with him around mile 5 and we formed a chase group that was about 30 seconds or so behind the group containing the eventual winner.

We “worked” together as much as a group could in a race like this coming into the climb that turns into Cyberia. Now this climb was already hard, but apparently I subconsciously desired to make it even harder on myself. I realized about halfway up that I brought my wheel set with my 11-28 cassette and not my 11-32, which one really needs for this race if you are running a 1x with a 40T chain ring. On top of my gearing screw up, my derailleur hanger was bent meaning I had to adjust the indexing in order to shift properly, which took my 28T cog out of play.

This climb was a grind. I couldn’t go any easier other than hard or else I would become unseated and would need to walk. I dropped the chase group and then it was just me and the winning group ahead of me. At this point my normalized power was 300, which I knew I couldn’t sustain through the rest of race especially given my limited gearing, my lack of riding all week, and my choice to drink after work rather than complete my workouts.

I blew up. I blew up hard. I managed to walk up through Cyberia and seemed to get passed by the whole field.

Bad roads and bad luck

Ted was ahead of me now, but still a beacon – a tall beacon - I could pick out. I came out of Cyberia, skipped the maple syrup shots that were on offer at the summit, and started the treacherous descent through the mud and snow. I was unable to clip in given the snow and mud in my cleats so I white knuckled it down.

Once the descent turned back into packed dirt and gravel I banged out my shoes, reclipped in, and began a reinvigorated chase. I knew I had a chance to catch back up to the chase group and then…BAM. I hit a blast hole in the dirt and my bars rotated 30 degrees downwards. I could have stopped (and probably should have in retrospect), and tried fixing them (Zipp stem and torx bolts are a pain without a torque wrench), but I decided to slog on. 

For me, the rest of the race was pedal as hard as I could until I couldn’t, join up with a group, drop them or get dropped, and climb on the tops and do everything else in the drops. I finally cracked for good on the last long dirt climb before the road into the CX course. I got halfway up, slowly rolled to the side, got off my bike, and leaned over it.

After what seemed like an eternity, I proceeded to slowly walk towards the top, back aching, legs cramping, stomach growling, mouth parched, my mind dreaming of beer. When it flattened out I hopped back on, only to descend into a crazy mud pit, which I later learned claimed Matt’s derailleur hanger.

Cyclocross is here?

Being unable to navigate the finishing cx course in the drops or tops, I dismounted and waded through. I was actually totally surprised by the cross course awaiting me back at the mountain. I would have been fairly stoked except for my bars situation and the inclusion of a dreaded pinwheel. Daghan caught me in the pinwheel as I gingerly made my way through the course like a toddler. Him passing me within one kilometer of the finish with his classic Daghan grin is not something I will soon forget.

Coming through the finish line was the greatest feeling as I knew I could now have what I wanted to the whole time – food, beer, and to not riding my bike anymore. I was actually surprised to learn that I still finished 90th in the Open Men’s field of nearly 600 riders especially given how much time I spent standing still at the side of the road or walking.

I can’t wait to tackle this amazing event with the team next year. Lessons learned: make sure your bike is in working order before leaving home, have proper gearing, drink more water, eat something, don’t ignore maple syrup shots, and bring clear lenses to avoid going blind while descending from all the mud and dirt spinning off the front tire and into one’s face.

Winning the Post-Race Party

Good chow, good beers, good times

The post-race party at Rasputitsa is perhaps the easiest part of the weekend to 'win.' The new Burke Mountain venue featured all of the amenities you could hope for - a bike wash tent equipped with warm water, a message tent, a calorie dense post-race buffet and of course plenty of cold beer on tap. We partook in everything on offer (including a second helping of the cookies) before eventually retiring back to Saint Johnsbury for dinner and several more beers as part of a late evening that ultimately concluded sometime in the early morning in our hotel arcade (yes, there was an arcade and yes it was awesome). 

All things considered it was a very long day but one that epitomized everything that is terrific about Rasputitsa: a warm community of riders and racers of all genres coming together to play in the dirt followed-up with an evening of good times and laughs with friends and teammates at a roadside hotel somewhere in the mountains of Vermont. 

Winning the Drive Home

Hangovers, hotel breakfasts and maple syrup shots

With a significant improvement in the weather on Sunday we planned an extended pit-stop to break up the drive home and sneak in a quick spin. A mild hangover from the prior evening's festivities meant we blew through our planned departure time but by late morning we found ourselves parked in Brattleboro, Vermont taking shots of maple syrup and preparing for another ride. 

Blue skies, dirt trails and abandoned railroad bridges

The weather could not have been more idyllic as we rolled out through historic downtown Brattleboro and crossed the Connecticut River to explore the backroads of New Hampshire. Unfortunately my jury rigged singlespeed setup - necessitated by the destruction of my rear derailleur as part of the Rasputitsa 'cross course' the day prior - meant I was forced to abandon just a few miles into the ride. 

I retired to a sidewalk cafe on the Vermont side of the border while the team ventured on across dirt trails, eventually returning to regale me with tales of attempted (and failed) crossings of abandoned railroad bridges. Thankfully no To Be Determined racers were injured in the making of those adventures and before long we were back on the road to New York City and the real world, leaving the mud of Rasputitsa behind for another year.