In many respects, Barry-Roubaix is like New Year’s Day for members of the Chicago Area racing community.
After a winter holed up in basement “pain caves” and CompuTrainer studios, everyone emerges, then converges in Hastings, Michigan for 24, 36, or 62 miles of gravel, dirt and hills. Friends are reunited, stories are swapped, file treads are inflated, and many, many layers of cold-weather cycling gear is zipped up. Barry is also a day of reckoning of sorts. Some get to see if that new training plan actually did them any good. Others get a brutal wake-up call after a winter doing more beer sipping than pedaling. No matter who you are, the “Three Sisters” (a series of short-but-sharp climbs about a mile from the start) will make sure to tell you what kind of day you’re about to have.
The gravel and the hills are constants and you know that going in. Uncooperative weather, on the other hand, has added an element of unpredictability to the last few Barry’s. In 2013, the course was covered in sheets of ice. Last year, a rainy pre-race week made it feel like you were riding in peanut butter. This year, the Chicago race scene was collectively holding its breath after being treated to some sunny, 60-70 degree days in the weeks leading up to the race. As the temps started to plummet, optimism was quickly replaced by dread (and “why did I sign up again?” chatter on social media). When people’s alarms started to go off on race day, it was all of 12 degrees and climbed to a balmy 19 when the first wave rolled off. Fortunately the sun was shining at the start line, and a few minutes into the race all concerns about temperature drifted away, leaving you to focus on the task at hand. Lack of precipitation yielded a bone-dry course. Combined with mild winds, this resulted in a much faster race than last year’s slog.
Compared to other gravel events I’ve done, Barry County’s roads feel like sandy dirt with a light sprinkling of gravel on top. There’s none of that soul-sucking deep gravel, and only in a few spots do you feel that floaty, drifting feeling at speed. I don’t know what other people call it, but I call it “surfing” on gravel. Another thing that differentiates Barry from other gravel races is the tree coverage. At no point in the race was I on some farm road, grinding away completely exposed to a horrific headwind. What Barry does have are lots of steep and punchy climbs, and the fast people use them to attack. So unless you come to the race on form, it’s very challenging to hang with a group. Losing touch with your group, as with any road race, will make your day really long.
Anyway, the big news, thanks to the dry conditions, was that the Sager Road segment was open for the first time in several years. This is an uphill, rutted out, sandy climb that piled on the lactic acid while providing some technical challenge. A notable absence were the long sections of washboarded dirt. Sure, there were dips here and there, but not like previous years where literally hundreds of water bottles were jettisoned from bikes. All things considered, this was a fairly mild course, which allowed the racers to concentrate on going fast…and go fast they did.
Notable finishers from the Chicago scene were Lucas Seibel of Jus d’Orange, who racked up another win in the 62-mile single-speed category. PSIMET‘s Kelli Richter crushed it for a podium spot in the women’s 62-miler. Former pro and current Vision Quest owner Robbie Ventura continued his dominance of the Masters 40-50 62-mile category and Wheel Werks Bikes‘ Christando Lombardo came in literally seconds behind Ventura to grab a podium spot in the 62-mile 51+ category. And proving that his cycling genetics were successfully passed on, his son David Lombardo, racing for Herriott Sports Performance/Hagens Berma, grabbed the overall win.
The Bonebell’s El Maya, meanwhile, rode a #nogarminnorules race. In the process, he tells us, he achieved a few “zen” moments that reminded him why he loves cycling. In my book, those are the real podium finishes.