Is Rasputitsa the future of Bike Racing?
“So how long is this drive gonna be?” asked Scott.
“Not sure.” I hand my phone to to him so he can get the directions going as I finish adjusting the mirrors on our rental car.
“Right, this is saying six hours.”
We’re still parked on my block in Brooklyn and its 7pm the night before we need to be in Burke, Vermont for the 9am start of Rasputitsa.
Throughout the drive, the rain turned from torrential to monsoon and it just flickered back and forth between those two settings. Scott and I made the most of the drive, chatting about bike racing and living in New York and jobs and old jobs and our significant others and traveling and growing up. Every story interrupted once or twice with one of us commenting on how the rain was the worst we’ve ever seen or wondering aloud if its raining like this up in Burke.
After stopping for gas and food, and stupidly not combining those two stops into one, we pulled up to the Airbnb the team had rented at almost 2am. We got confirmation that it was in fact raining like that up in Burke.
Our teammates who arrived earlier had done a big grocery run. I rank it a 9/10 job. They also bought a bunch of beer and had drank much of the beer and had each fallen asleep in one of the four bedroom’s king size beds leaving Scott and I to sleepily wander around the house looking for blankets and a place to crash. I rank that a 2/10.
In the morning, we all get up and make coffee and someone tries to make pancakes and then another person finishes the pancake job. Its not that hard to make pancakes but we’re distracted and thinking about the race we’re about to do.
Scott and I load up the car and head over to pick up our numbers before the rest of the guys. We’re in the parking lot on the side next to other cyclists. Everyone has the same face on. It says both “I’m going to regret this” and “If i don’t do this, I’m going to regret it.”
We’ve slept four hours and have warmed up for exactly 45 seconds on the ride from our car to the building with the registration. I get my number and attach it to my bars, and show Scott how to do it like I know what I’m doing.
We line up in the group behind the Actually Fast people and get the signal to roll out. Its raining and cold and right now is your chance to bail if you want to.
The descent is as I remember it from last year. We’re all together and it’s cold and there’s a lot of brakes and yelling. It’s easy to realize that this event attracts plenty of folks who may have never raced before and so a pack this size this close might be freaking some people out. But whatever because we all get to the bottom of the hill safely and the lead car (a beautiful Range Rover Classic) turns onto the gravel road and accelerates. The race is on.
I was anticipating the pick up in pace and my goal was to be near my teammates and my secondary goal was to not be behind any of the one hundred million gaps that were opening up.
We hit the first hill and the acceleration was intense. People started flying past me. I was letting a hundred million gaps open up now. I can’t just blame the poor sleep or the lack of warm up or the fact that i was just on vacation with no bikes for 15 days, the folks around me were fast and they were Racing.
I’ve DNF’d races before. I’ve also stubbornly finished races before. But that feeling of dread and disappointment and “why am I wasting my time doing all this training and wearing funny clothes if I can’t keep up with people” sucks. And that’s usually why I bail. It’s dumb and bad but here I am trying to explain it to you.
Last year I DNF’d a race with the same length and cold and wet as Rasupitsa. It sucked and I went from having fun to “this is zero fun and won’t be fun in retrospect” on a hill not unlike the one I’m getting dropped from at this part of the Rasputitsa story.
But I was having fun.
“Oh” I said. “I’m just not going to race with that group now.” I was able to flip to a pace that I could hold — Zone Fun — and another group caught me and now that was my group too. I was immediately able to switch modes.
The rest of the race was brutal and hard and it literally started snowing at the top of a mountain. “How did they get that to happen” asked a guy I as riding next to, jokingly.
My group stopped at every feed zone and took shots and had wine and cheese and also ate tons of food. We grabbed waters from the volunteers and had them pour fireball shots into our mouths. We raced too though. Trying to drop each other on some climbs and on the descents but then coming back together, or finding a new group to ride with.
Around mile 30, I started to recognize the roads and I realized we were close to the finish. I put my head down and decided to try and go as fast as I could to the finish and a few folks around me did the same.
The final steep climb brought us to the final straight away and then to the final muddy woods section. I blasted across the wide muddy grass and then to the finish line and it was over. Instead of disappointment or embarrassment, I was grinning the dorkiest grin you could imagine.
In the end, I set two heart rate PRs, one for 60 minute and one for 90 minute and finished 20 minutes behind the teammates I started next to and ahead of a hundred of other riders who were grinning the same stupid grin I had on.
We’ve done some of that already and will continue to publish more State of the Sport analysis. But all I’ve got for you, two weeks out from the event is this: 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.
The photographs in this post were all shot on a disposable film camera - perhaps the safest way to shoot a race as wet as Rasputitsa 2019.