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by Ted King
With eyes glued to the European peloton hitting the cobbles at full speed in mid-April, that same jittery also energy shifts to all corners of North America. What we lack on this side of the Atlantic in the way of centuries-old farming alleys and cobbles roads, we make up with in gravel. The off road scene is booming with all the excitement and momentum of the industry tucked neatly in its draft.

Ted pushing the pace at Belgian Waffle Ride. Photo: Wil Matthews

 

It just so happens that this past week, the two corners of America with the hottest two races are two of the furthest possible points away from each other. Belgian Waffle Ride stormed into its seventh edition taking place just north of San Diego and just six days later Rasputitsa rolled out its sixth event in the northern woods of Vermont. Their starkly different locations — an entire country apart — are fitting since they both firmly slot into the gravel-slash-mixed-terrain category, yet they’re as polar opposite as one could ever imagine.


Ted finishing, salt covered, after more than 6 hours in the saddle. Photo: Wil Matthews

BWR, colloquially called the “Hell of the North County”, spanned 133 miles over an oppressively hot day, with more than one third of it off road. A formidable 46 miles distinctly off pavement, this includes an enormous delivery of sand, long stretches of small sharp stones, torn pavement, and as much pavé as a city founded just shy of the year 1800 could muster. 1,300 brave souls set out from Lost Abbey brewery contending with all of those features as well as long, sustained climbs, a series of punchy bergs, and blisteringly hot temperatures.


Ted mud covered from the just-above-freezing temps at Rasputitsa. Photo: Meg McMahon

I don’t speak a lick of Russian, but I’m told that rasputitsa is a word meaning the mud season in which roads become menacingly impassible. The Northeast Kingdom of Vermont spins a web of gravel roads in all directions, intertwined with well worn farm houses, centuries old stonewalls, and maple sugaring operations throughout. Advertised at just 40 miles in length, Rasputitsa — the race, not the mud season — keeps a few tricks up its sleeve that you only encounter in the height of the race. Cyberia, a lengthy running section through ankle to shin high snow, occurs every year but the length and snow conditions are generally unknown. An unforeseen final snow run that we didn’t know was even part of the course made for a fifteen to twenty minute run, or slog, through the snow just shy of the finish line. 

My former ProTour fitness is fleeting. While interval training previously occupied large portions of my day, that’s no longer part of the program. Hitting start and stop on my computer and staring at my powermeter was once part of the job, but that’s no longer the job. Riding my bike a lot and riding my bike hard remains fun, so that’s the direction I’ll happily keep pedaling.

 

Ted's Picks & Stats

Belgian Waffle Ride

Professional cycling lore says not to break out brand new kit in a race, as it’s unlucky and you’ll find yourself on the pavement with a hole in it. Mercifully, I'm officially retired from professional cycling and no longer subject to its whims, I also didn’t want to overheat so I found this to be the perfect venue to test out the new Ultralight Bibs. Matched with an Ultralight Link jersey and the Signature sock, which are optimal on hot days when your feet tend to expand, lady luck was on my side and after a brutally long hot day, I found myself on the second to top step of the podium — kit fully intact. 

Time: 6:33:09
Distance: 133 miles
Average Speed: 20.3 mph
Percent Off Road: 34%
Elevation Gain: 9754 feet
Average Power: 261 watts
Normalize Power: 317 watts
Work: 6151 kJ
Intensity Factor: 0.76
Minimum temperature: 52 F
Average temperature: 73 F

 

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Rasputitsa

With the thermometer still below freezing at the start line, another 1,300 riders huddled at the base of Burke Mountain, seeking the warmth from the rising sun as it cut through the trees. Knowing that we were about to contend with gravel, snow, slush, and a constant spray of mud from the freshly fallen snow the day before, the key is to stay warm, and not be weighed down with bulky clothes. My Powerwool thermal sleeveless baselayer was the perfect pair under the ES Jacket. The outer layer is breathable yet super warm, is very fitting and doesn’t billow in the wind. I went with the Signature Wool sock for some added warmth to keep the toes happy. Unlike BWR where one-third of the course is off road, it’s nearly 100% of Rasputitsa that takes place off road. A race of attrition with constantly sharp climbs and harrowing wet descents, I would have loved to step on the podium, alas, I  ended up in 4th place. (My hat goes off to a former collegiate racing buddy, Kevin Bouchard Hall, who races for Velocio Northeast, who took the win!)

Time: 2:32:25
Distance: 41.8 miles
Average Speed: 16.4 mph
Percent Off Road: 94%
Elevation Gain: 4521 feet
Average Power: 279 watts
Normalize Power: 374 watts
Work: 2553 kJ
Intensity Factor: 0.89
Minimum temperature: 30 F
Average temperature: 38 F

 

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