Like many gravel events, the Barry-Roubaix started with a group ride and turned into something much bigger. Based on a tip from a fellow rider, race director Rick Plite took an annual group ride that left from the Founders Brewery in Grand Rapids, MI to a state park in Barry County south of the brewery. It was love at first ride.
“A friend asked me to hold the ride out of a State Park in Barry County thinking I’d be blown away by the scenery and the rolling hills,” Plite said. “Man was I ever! I said on that group ride, ‘This needs to be a race,’ and one year later it started with 280 people.”
That group ride was ten years ago. Since then, the Barry-Roubaix has grown into one of the premier Midwest gravel events. The annual race based out of Hastings features several lengths, with the main event being the metric century 62-mile race. “I knew it could be big due to riders of all kinds and on all kinds of bikes we would attract,” said Plite. “I thought 2000 might be possible but never thought over 3000.”
Over the years, the Barry-Roubaix has attracted top-level talent, thanks in part to the massive $12,000 prize purse for the Women’s and Men’s 62-mile races. Last year, Dirty Kanza 200 winner Mat Stephens was the top male and emerging road and cyclocross star Lily Williams won the Women’s race. Other names that have appeared on the results sheet include 2013 winner Justin Lindine (he passed a lot of dudes that day!), Cody Kaiser, Brendan Rhim and more.
Plite said the prize money has played an important role in growing the event, but he’s still hoping it will continue to attract top talent. “Once the race became more established and was drawing more riders increasing the prize purse was the right thing to do. The larger purse has drawn quite a few semi-pros but we are still waiting for some of the legends that have attended Dirty Kanza, Land Run 100 and some of the other big races.”
New Twists for 2018
This year’s event adds a few new twists. The race is typically held in mid-March, when conditions can be pretty gnarly. Organizers moved this year’s race to mid-April because of Easter, but that does not mean the conditions will be pristine. A healthy covering of snow has blanketed the Midwest the past week, so there is a chance at least part of the course will be messy.
“The weather forecast calls for 50s Friday and race day so the snow will be gone and we should be left with perfect moisture in the ground to avoid dust,” said Plite about the conditions. “Except the Sage Road two-track that will be a mess, just the way we like it!”
Although the race pays homage to the Queen of the Classics [Editor’s note: I mean, how could they not?] the roads in Barry County are more road-like than pavé. “I like to call them dirt roads,” said Plite. “There really isn’t a lot of gravel to them. The road commission keeps them in really good shape so chatter bumps are not even bad.” Overall, the 62-mile race has about 3,800 feet of climbing, so it is hilly, but not that hilly.
With defending champion Mat Stephens, Mindy McCutcheon and others on the start list, sounds like it could be a fast race. Last year’s Men’s race came down to a sprint finish between Stephens, Mac Brennan and Ansel Dickey.
The other thing that is new for 2018 is a new distance. “It is our 10-year anniversary and 10 times 10 = 100 sounded like a good idea,” said Plite. Organizers added a new 100-mile “Psycho Killer” distance. (For the record, the metric century is merely “Killer”). Plite said he has noticed the trend toward long endurance events and figured the Barry-Roubaix can offer a similar challenge.
“Also with the popularity of 100, 200, 300 milers popping up we thought we could attract some new riders to our event by adding a torture fest. We’ll see if all the extra work paid off and decide if we should keep it or dump it. We’ve had a lot of interest and riders from all over the U.S. sign up for it so I imagine it will stick around.”
The 100-mile Psycho Killer has a bit more of a self-guided vibe, and the 62-mile SRAM Killer will remain the marquee race. The race has become such a fixture in the area, the shorter routes have permanent signage.
The 2018 Barry-Roubaix heads out through Barry County on Saturday. Waiting at the finish, will be an appropriate gravel ride party sponsored by Founders. Said Plite, “I come from a mountain biking background and there has to be a party afterwards with beer! No matter the event.”
More Info: barry-roubaix.com2018 Barry Roubaix course map