So you're signed up for Rasputitsa...
and it just snowed/sleeted/rained, again.
You can disagree with what I am about to publish with regard to how-to/when-to/why-to and if-you-even-should. I don't care. I am simply sharing my two decades plus worth of experience for people that may be under prepared, ill-prepared or just flat-out unprepared for what Rasputitsa is going to the deliver to their feet next weekend.
Without further ado...
On Thursday April 12th, 2018 (a mere 4 days ago) I rode the entire 2018 Rasputitsa route (as it was published). If you want to see the nitty gritty details, you can see it on Strava. With that said, I feel confident that what I am about to share is at a very minimum, informed.
Here's my major advice for these types of events. Whereas "these types" is defined as a mass start event with a wild array of skill and ability embarking on a challenging route that involves challenging terrain at baseline and utterly unpredictable conditions. First and foremost, know your goal. Or, as some might say, your why. Why are you here? To win? To place in the top 10? The top 100? First fat bike? First U23? Finish in under 4:00? Finish in under 5:00? Finish ahead of that skinny guy with the mustache you see at all these dirt road events? As soon as you have that pinned down, pin it up. Write it down. Know it. Then, that simply why will help inform every other decision leading up to and during the event. For example: Goal- Finish in under 5:00. Situation: Should I go to the David Bowie cover band show on Friday night? Yes. (but you already knew that).
Great, you've got your why, now you can interrupt the stuff I'm about to offer with the correct optics.
- Warm-up well. The start rolls down a mountain road before the first climb and you will get chilled. You can: Ride the trainer in your Burke Mtn hotel room. Ride further up the road from the mountain. Ride the trainer by your car/truck/van. Doing jumping jacks/burpees/tuck jumps. Order a third espresso. You can't: warm-up on your trainer on the start line. Expect to make the lead group without warming up. Attempt to ride from the back of the group to the front on the descent in the neutral.
- Mile 1.7- Watch for Anthony Clark to attack. First climb. It's paved. It tops out at 11%. It's short. Don't kill yourself here. Save it.
- Mile 3.1-3.6- the business end of that paved climb. First separation begins to happen here as you hit the 90 degree left into the first dirt section. Stick it.
- Mile 4.7-5.0- Last KICK and where the lead group will separate fulling and be gone for the rest of the day. If you missed it, I daresay you missed out. You're 15-20m into racing at this point at the front.
- 5.3- WICKED sharp right hand, high speed, off camber, dirt/sandy corner. Please stay upright. More descending after the corner.
- 6.3-8.0- Stair stepping climb up to Burke Hollow. Dirt. Wide open in a field. Pray for a wind out of the South or someone big and powerful to draft.
- 8.0-11.4- Sugarhouse Rd, while serenely "Vermont" will break you. It will also break the race. Expect the leaders to lead and the pretenders to fall. This is your degrading approach to Cyberia.
- 11.4-12.0-Cyberia. If you're on anything other than a fat bike, you're walking. It takes 8 minutes. Suck it up buttercup.
- 12.9-13.4- Hope you didn't set a 800m PR on Cyberia, because this climb is robust and comes at you quick.
- 14.4-17.7- Got a bike with tall gears and fast tires? Here's you opportunity to make up ground on those guys that dropped you like a rusty muffler in Cyberia. Get on it.
- 19.2- Remember, that from here, you are losing more elevation than you are gaining. Said another way, you're descending more than you're climbing.
- 26.8-29- Maple Ridge Rd. stings. It's drawn out, slow and grinding with some robust steeps to assert it's dominance. Fuel up.
- 31.4- They call this one out in the map, but it's not an obvious turn as you approach it. So, don't be surprised when you see the road littered with skid marks. Sharp left.
- 34.6- This is the only section of the course that I found to be potentially hazardous (weather not withstanding), due to the road surface. It has been recently "repaired" with very large gravel stones and they are CHUNKY. If you're running smaller tires, exercise caution. Especially if you're using tubes. It's fast.
- 36.1-37.2- Use what's left to get up this rather unfriendly climb. It's the last major obstacle. There are some short steeps following, but this is it. It took me nearly 13:00 on Thursday applying some good pressure to the pedals.
Route in Summary:
Don't kill yourself in the first 20 minutes, unless you really want to be in that lead group. That is where the race will certainly be lost, not quite won. The road conditions are Thursday were very agreeable with only a few soft/slow sections. It was 98% rideable, with Cyberia being the only walk/hike-a-bike section out there. So with that said, don't expect the road to be anything like that next Saturday. They received a bunch of snow and mixed precip this weekend, and the week calls for strong winds on Monday(good) followed by 4 days of flurries/rain showers (less good). The upside to that, is the temperature isn't expected to rise above 44 degrees any of those days. What we don't want, is the warm 55+ degree days slated for the following week. There will be dry fast dirt (thanks wind!) and soggy wet dirt, snow covered dirt, frozen dirt, sand over dirt and lastly my least favorite, sand over pavement. For the most part, the climbs are broken up in manageable chunks, with most efforts in the sub 10:00 range. Save for the final climb where you're already tired. I predict the race winner to come in just a tick over 3:00. 3:04 we'll call it.
There are a lot of ways to give away watts on this course. There are a couple of ways to maximize your output, but you need to learn to "read" the road and not necessarily follow all the tire tracks in front of you.
Dry dirt: Ride in the groove worn in by car traffic, it's smoother and generally free of debri. The exception is if it's wash boarded, in which case the center or crown of the road is generally the best option.
Wet dirt on flat roads: Ride where the standing water is. This is often the most packed/dense part of the road and therefore the fastest
Wet dirt on climbs: Look for the running water. This will be by far the firmest part of the road. Stay seated as much as possible.
Sunny climbs: Find the side of the road that is still in the shade. It will be firmer and potentially still frozen. Watch for ice obviously, but in this case, frozen dirt is far faster.
Everyone always frets about tires, and in the 5 years that I have waded into answering this question, my answer has not changed. Ride the fattest, most supple tire you can stuff into your bike without sacrificing mud clearance too much. Ideally, a 38-42mm tire is the sweet spot, on a wider rim (21mm+ internal measurement). Don't have that? No worries. Remember your why. A 33mm tire that you got used on eBay after CX season will do just fine. Hell, you can walk through Cyberia just as well with a custom titanium Indepenent Fabrications road bike fitted with 28s as the next guy. Supple is important though, so if you're buying new tires, get something high quality. Personally I have been using the Specialized Trigger Pro 2BR 38mm for a few seasons. Pressure is also critical here. Go lower than you think you should. I run these 38mm at 44PSI. (160# rider). This allows for great deformity to objects in the road without ricocheting all over the place and wasting energy. If you're on 29er MTB tires, I'd suggest high 20s.
What to Wear:
Fenders, first and foremost will help keep you drier and warmer than just about every other piece of clothing. Vermont based bad-ass Dave Connery just did a blog post about this recently, I haven't actually read DC's post, but he's a sharp guy. Here's the deal, keep your core warm and your hands and feet will also stay warm. Don't overdress because it will rob you of performance when you overheat shortly there after. However, dress for your expected output. So, if you plan on racing hard, you should be cool at the start line, maybe a little uncomfortable. Riding to hang with friends and take selfies in Cyberia? Be comfortable on the start line and adjust enroute. Not sure you're going to finish before dark? Pack a backpack and an extra parka. In recent years, for the approximate 40 degree weather and sunless day we'll likely have, I have found a wicking next to skin layer, followed by a lightweight LS jersey, topped with a shell jacket that I can easily unzip partially to regulate between climbing and descending. A lightweight buff/neck warmer is crucial and a thin cap depending on the wind. On the bottom I'd opt for thermal bib shorts (not wind proof deep winter tights) and leg warmers. Thicker socks and winter shoes or thicker socks/summer shoes/wind proof covers.
Rain is the big outlier and the one that can quickly ruin your day, she here's some ways to manage the cold on the cheap and in a hurry.
Gloves- thick neoprene kayak gloves work the best. Rubber yellow dish washing gloves duct taped at the wrist are an easy find. Latex (or nitrile) gloves inside your regular gloves can help keep the insulation drier, longer. All of these methods require you to keep the gloves on once you put them on. They work on vapor barrier principles.
Feet- Bread bags over your socks, inside your shoes, taped around the ankle. Gorilla tape over the vents and inside over the bolt holes helps preserve warmth. A thinner sock that allows toe wiggles is warmer than a thicker sock that constricts the foot. Put your leg warmer/tights OVER the top of your bootie/shoe cover to prevent water running into your shoe.
Head- Packing tape over the vents can help keep a lot of the warmth in and the rain out. It's a pain to install though. Often times any cap is better than no cap, but cotton caps can get super cold.
Eating when it's cold is more difficult but science tells us it's more important because we're under more stress. If it's challenging to retrieve your gels/waffle/bananas/beef jerky from your jersey pockets while riding hard, odds are you won't east as often as you should. So either, bite the bullet and get one of those silly bento boxes or make sure you can fuel accordingly. Need advice on what to eat? Aim for 200 calories per hour. That's one Untapped packet and a bottle of drink mix. In a perfect world, with a race start at 9:00am, you'd be finishing up a large well rounded breakfast at 6:30am. You'd eat a bagel (maybe half) and some peanut butter at 8:00am and polishing off a non-caffeinated gel or Untapped on the start line. I aim to start eating between the first 30 and 45 minutes and then following every 30 minutes after. So for anyone keeping score, that's a total 6 gels. 1 on the start, and 5 during the race, the final gel being consumed 30 minutes out from the finish. Hydration is tricky in a 3 hour event. Ideally, you're taking in 3 bottles, but who really wants to carry that 3rd bottle in their pocket? If you're looking at a 4:00 finish time, I'd suggest using a small hydration pack.
Expect the unexpected. Bring more food than you need. An extra Clif Bar isn't going to derail your race, I promise. Bring at least one tube and if you're using C02, bring a spare. Bring a dollar bill or two to use in a pinch but also to boot the sidewall of your tire if you cut it on something. The roads are bumpy and rough, bring a multi tool that fits your bike in the event your handlebar slips or you seat post or saddle slips. If it's VERY wet and muddy, bring a tiny sample bottle of chain lube: quickly clean the drivetrain with some water from your bottle and re-lube it. Find some fenders, use them.
Go to the Welcome Party and see the band. The winner will have been there, so I don't want to hear any nonsense about saving your legs.