The Worst Weather Brings the Best Out at Rasputitsa
The snow started falling halfway through the race. Signs of hypothermia weren’t far behind. As we stopped at a feed zone to wait for teammates and warm up with shots of Fireball whisky, the shivering was near uncontrollable. Speaking was difficult—and words slurred from our mouths. We were freezing.
And yet we loved it. It was insane. It was hard. It was wild. If Rasputitsa wasn’t legendary already, it will be after this weekend. This year’s edition—a 41-mile epic in the rain and snow, featuring 4,727 feet of climbing on Vermont’s soggy dirt roads—was one for the ages.
The weather forecast
There’s a Norwegian phrase that goes like this: Det finnes ikke dårlig vær, bare dårlige klær. This translates to “There is no bad weather, just bad clothes.” This is also the correct mindset to take into Rasputitsa. The weather forecast called for cold temperatures and rain throughout the race. Mandatory items this time included rain jackets, our fleece-lined Shield jersey, arm and leg warmers, foot covers, wool socks. By the time we hit the start line it was 41 degrees and had been raining for about 8 hours straight with no sign of stopping.
This year Rasputitsa added a “wave"-based start to cut down on chaos at the beginning. The organizers put former World Tour pro Lars Boom along with other local favorites like Kevin Bouchard-Hall and Magnus Sheffield in the first group—the “fur bib” wave. We started in the second-wave, about 5 minutes later.
For those who haven’t raced Rasputitsa before, it’s important to warm-up well beforehand. The race starts with a descent, and if it’s cold and raining, like it was for us, it is a chilly start. This cold is short-lived, however, because the road almost immediately kicks up after a mile and the climbing begins.
One of the best feelings in cycling is to be at your absolute limit and then look around and realize that most of the field has been dropped and you’re in the leading group. You’ve made the selection. This was my realization about 45 minutes and 4 climbs into the race. There were 8-9 riders leading the race for the “second-wave” starters, and I was in it. Exciting!
One of the worst feelings in cycling is when everything is going right and then you yard-sale into the mud and break your front derailleur and almost snap off your rear derailleur hanger. My demise was on a quarter-mile Class IV stretch of snow, ice and mud—the sector that Rasputitians call “Cyberia”—and my crash and ensuing mechanical effectively ended my chances in the “race.” Lucky for me, Rasputitsa is not just a race—it’s also a ride. It was at this point that I thought, "I'm going to fix my bike, wait for my teammates and then ride the rest of the time with them." So I did—and it was awesome. There's no better way to endure rain, snow and occasional hypothermia than with teammates!
This is one of the great things about Rasputitsa. You can race it. But if things don’t go well, you can choose to ride with friends and have fun instead. Or just finish for the sake of finishing. We’ll explore why this is a good thing for the State of the Sport in a future post.
We rode near threshold for the first hour and a half—climbing higher and higher. As we ascended, temperatures dropped to 27 degrees and the road turned white with snow.
The feed zone was a sight to see. People shook as they refilled bottles and grabbed snacks with clumsy, numb hands. Some cried as they waited for the broom-wagon to take them away. Scott Rettino—who had opted to not wear a waterproof jacket—stared into the distance, eyes vacant. Even after a shot of Fireball whisky he simply couldn’t get warm—and he eventually piled into a car, day-done. Hundreds of people opted for the broom-wagon along with him on the day.
Others couldn’t help but laugh at the insanity of the situation. “It’s like the Iditarod!,” quipped TBD”s Austin King. “We’ve got to get the polio medicine to Nome!” So we kept going—and stuck together in pairs to avoid leaving teammates alone.
Faces of the finish
After a couple of hills we were warm again, and temperatures rose as we descended to lower elevations. The race ended with a brutal final climb— 1.5 miles of uphill dirt with maximum gradients of 13%—followed by a few more rolling hills and a run through a mud-pit to the finish line. Afterward folks piled into the ski lodge for poutine and meat pie, which, by all accounts, was objectively delicious and well-deserved.
We’ll have more to say about Rasputitsa in the coming weeks, but for now we’ll leave you with this statistic: Despite the conditions, 863 people finished—some taking nearly 7 hours. That’s an incredible number considering it was just about the worst possible weather for bike riding. It also goes to show that Rasputitsa is one of the best possible ways to spend time on a bike—no matter the circumstance.