by Aaron Cruikshank
Hastings, Michigan has been playing host to Ultra Cross Series race, Barry Roubaix, since 2009. Regularly attracting 3000+ racers across several categories, it is the perfect mix of dirt, ice, mud, snow and pavement. This is the second year that the race has started and finished downtown, which allows for a real festive atmosphere with a beer tent, food vendors and band.
For me, Barry Roubaix has always been a race about managing losses early. Two years ago, the start was not in town, so there was a controlled lead out from the state park to the beginning of the singletrack. The “controlled” portion is somewhat of a farce in that you have 200+ guys and gals behind you wanting to make it to the technical section first. I held my own in the elbows and jostling for position, but ended up not being able to get out of my big ring for the entire singletrack section. Now some might say, “then you should have been leading,” but I wasn’t. In fact, I was being dropped by the select group and the next quarter of the race was spent managing that loss.
Last year, ice and snow created a similar selection to the race, as it was a controlled start out of town, but there was a downhill icy section followed by a decisive stair-step climb. I made it through both sections in a reasonable position, drifted back a bit, and BAM, I was on the ground, tangled in a senseless wreck. Again, back into management mode. Unlike the year before, I was never able to reconnect with the group, and spent most of the day in time trial mode ,only to be caught by a large group a few hundred meters before the line.
Previous year’s lamenting aside, this year we headed out to Barry with a team of five riders. We stopped on Friday afternoon to take a look at the course conditions as well as the finish, which was different than previous years. Got up early for a nice big breakfast and headed down to the start. It was “chilly” and windy with a 15 mph wind from the west. Much of the morning was spent trying to decide what clothing combination would work best and if enough embro had been applied.
The first miles were nervous, as usual. People were trying to move up to be in good position for the “three sisters” climb which is usually the first selection. We all made it over in good position and things were looking good. The next selection came on the second dirt road (where I wrecked last year). Everyone was going 25+ cruising along, but if you were in the wrong spot or too far to the edge, you nearly come to a complete stop while in the big ring. A group of 11, which didn’t include me, rolled off the front and up over the next climb as Mike Simonson attacked. Back in management mode again…
As the alarm bells were sounding in my head, I tried to stay calm and work with a few other stragglers before being absorbed by the main field. There was some cooperation in the group but it was fleeting. I pulled through when I had to but knew that I needed to save some for a possible bridge or attack. My chance came after the first feed zone where we had just received a time check of three minutes to the leaders. The wind had been let out of some sails, and a few others, seeing this as their chance, began making solo bids. For whatever reason, the group worked to pull them back before sitting up again. I attacked into a dirt section and held it open until I was far enough out of sight to be forgotten about. I was able to bridge up to a group of two and together we began the process of clawing our way back into contention.
Meanwhile, in the lead group, we had Adam York, Shawn Adams and Tom Burke. The group of 11 was driving the pace out to ensure they made it to the line. Mike Simonson was keeping things especially hard using each climb as an opportunity to shed riders. By the time they reached the first feed zone, the group had shrunk to nine riders. As smaller groups started coming off, my chase group of three began to pick them up. First, we were joined by two riders from the main chase to make five, and then we picked up Robert Forshag and eventually my teammate Tom, who had also come out of the lead group. All told I think we caught, absorbed or dropped six or seven riders during the second half of the race. In both the lead and small chase groups, it was on the entire time as the dirt roads felt like riding Velcro from the rain the night before, and the kickers were unrelenting.
By about mile 50, we got a time check saying that we were in the top 15 but were 1:25 down from a group of two and then three minutes to the lead group. Once we caught Tom and received the time check, I was expecting my companions to relent, but they did not. By this time, there were six of us in the group. Tom and I both sat on as much as we could trying to conserve whatever we had left. We came off the last dirt section intact. A rider from Treadhead Cycling made an attempt to get away on the climb into town, but we covered it. The rest of the race was like a mini-criterium, six turns in the last kilometer. As soon as we entered the last few turns, we could see a group of two riders (Justin Lindine of Redline and a Leadout Rider). A few of our companions kept the pace fast in hopes of catching them. Tom and I stayed in the sweet spot around third wheel and I punched out of the second to the last corner. Tom came around me for ninth and I was able to hold on for 10th. We never caught the group of two.
A similar situation had already played out up front. The lead group had been pared down to six by the second feed zone with two Waslabs riders (Adams and York) left. The plan was to keep York fresh, so Adams was doing a lot of work along with Daniel Lamb and Simonson. Together, they were able to extend the lead to nearly five minutes. The eventual winner, Steve Broglio, made a solo bid in one of the last two dirt sections but was brought back into the fold. After the group completed the final dirt section Simonson held it open on the pavement climb into town and cut the group to five. Then Adams attacked and was brought back by Broglio. Adams then stayed on the front to lead York out, but Broglio was able to get him at the line.
All in all, it was a great team day. We accomplished our goal of putting four in the top 10, all be it just barely. We also took home the team competition. Similar to years past, it was a race about management and salvaging what I was left with. I, of course, will be back next year to see what I can salvage. Thanks to Waslabs, Raleigh, Portage Cyclery, the town of Hastings, all the volunteers, and of course our hosts. It was a great weekend.