It’s always fun to race in your home state and I was fortunate enough to have that opportunity this past weekend at Barry Roubaix. This year’s BRX wasn’t quite like last fall when the race was moved to October and we had the most dreamy weather you could ask for. Rather this year, we woke up to snow and blustery winds that chilled to the bone. Not for me though, I was dressed like a pillsbury dough girl with all my layers and ready for the cold! After all, I am a thoroughbred Michigander, so I was prepared.
Okay, on to what matters - the race details! I think the start this year was actually fairly mild overall. I’m not sure if I was positioned better, or if my fitness is better this year, but going up three sisters didn’t feel overly taxing and I took that as a good sign. There was a split in the group at that point, but I couldn’t tell exactly how many other women were in this group. In total, I think this selection was about 40-50 people. I rolled with the lead men’s group up to Sager Rd, then unfortunately I dropped my chain as we turned onto Sager. I had been having issues with my derailleur the last few days, so I wasn’t exactly surprised when this happened. I had to stop, dismount, and then get the chain back on. At that point, I had to run up that first hill on Sager before I could clip back in. I knew the lead men’s group would be selected here as it is nearly every year. However, as I clipped back in, I was determined to catch back up to one of the chase groups and that other female I knew was ahead. Rather than fixating on the line through the mud and sand, I looked up and could see the other female dangling off the men’s chase group. There were decent ways up Sager, but I could still see them so I knew this was my chance to win.
So, I put in a huge dig through Sager and was able to take all my own lines since I was solo after stopping to fix my chain. I tried to gain as much speed as possible as I passed the other female. I figured if she saw me blow by her while she was struggling, it might mess with her mentally. After that, I knew the lead men's group was much further up, but then there were two other men's chase groups of about 10 riders each. I put in a large dig and regrouped with the guys around me. At this point, I knew if our group organized and pushed the effort,the female that wasn’t on the back of the group would fall even further back. With no group around her, she would be forced to work alone and then be caught by another group behind. So I tried to be near the front and keep the pace honest. For me, I was focused on gapping those behind me, but for the others in the group, they had motivation to catch the other chase group of men. At about mile 25, after “The Wall”, which is a brutally steep climb of about 11% for a quarter of a mile, we did catch that other group of men. I was able to see some familiar faces in this group, which lifted my spirits.
I kept looking around to see if there was another female in the group - it’s always hard to tell in a race what position you are in, but you have to keep riding as if you are chasing someone. What I haven’t mentioned yet is that after Sager with my chain dropping I am not sure if something was off with my derailleur or if it was the accumulation of the snow, mud and freezing within the draintrain but I kept skipping in my middle options of my cassette. This continued throughout the day and it was worsening as the race went on. I tried numerous things, including spraying my drivetrain with water,but nothing seemed to help. Eventually I had 3 gears to work with. This led me to having to mash my pedals on the uphills and sometimes come to a near halt with not being able to shift. I thought about starting to run some of the uphills, and honestly in retrospect, I think it would have been more effective and efficient if I would have ran.
Around mile 45-50ish, I could not sustain the hot pace the men were riding and had met my limit. As we entered a cross wind section I could not seem to get protected on the inside of the line. The wheel in front of me just seemed to always be on the edge of the road. I tried moving around to get a position tucked away from the wind, but nothing stuck. I slowly fell off the back of the group and I knew in my mind I had to stay onto their group. I kept telling myself to push harder and to hang on for a little longer, but the legs just would not cooperate. From there, I spent the next 13 miles solo into the finish. These were some of the most mentally brutal miles I have had. Between the frustration of the drivetrain and lack of gearing, and then the pure burn in my legs,I wondered how I could ride 10+ miles solo from here. I kept thinking a strong group would roll up any moment and in that group would be another female crushing my hopes of winning. I thought through how the race could unfold. I knew others would be racing in the same cross wind and head wind in the final 10 miles, but my pace was slowing so much I was certain I would be caught. What I failed to recognize was I had been working all day long to create this safety gap for moments like this. In my delusional state and out of desperation to come out of this bonk, I took multiple spring gels in a row, just hoping for a pick me up in that final stretch. I am pretty sure I had a slurry of sports gel, saliva, mud and snot dripping down my face at that point, but if anyone has truly bonked before; you know this feeling of not even caring what you look like or what is happening around you. The only goal is to soldier forward and hope for a second wind. I kept telling myself, “just keep pedaling Paige, NEVER give up!”
Thankfully as I made that final turn on to the pavement finish with 1 mile to go and no female rider in sight, I knew I was going to win. I tried to savor that last mile knowing I could take my own pace up the hill finish and not have to stress about a sprint finish or tactics at that point. But sadly, the pain in the legs was still strong and my frustration with shifting was still ever present and I found myself just wanting to be done. When I finished, I just leaned over my bike and kept asking my family if they saw another female cross. I knew in my mind logically I had won, but I like to see written results before I truly celebrate. For the next 45 minutes I constantly refreshed my results online, which were down unfortunately. I slowly rolled to my car to change and to blast the heat in my car in hopes to unthaw and feel my face and fingers again. My family walked over to the printed results and when the text came through to confirm the win, I was overcome with joy and gratitude. I proceeded to call my coach Dave and then update my family as well. From there, it was all celebration with my teammates and so many other amazing cyclists. These are the moments of Barry Roubaix that I’ll remember - getting my NorthFace puffy soaked in bonfire scents and drinking Founders with the cycling community sharing stories of our mud filled and iced up drivetrains through the roads of Barry Co.
Barry Roubaix Race Stats:
Distance: 62 miles
Location: Hastings, MI
Starting Temp: 20 degrees
Bike: Ventum GS1
Tire: Gravel King SS 38’s
Nutrition: Awesome Sauce Spring Gels + Cliff Bars