Every year, hundreds of riders prepare to tackle West Michigan’s “Spring Classic”, the Barry-Roubaix, for the first time. Many of these riders haven’t tackled their chosen distance on gravel before. Others are looking for a benchmark against their peers. Yet others are gunning for a win. But if you haven’t raced Barry (the local nom de guerre for the event) before, what should you expect? How do you make final preparations?
The Barry-Roubaix is an unsupported race. That is, there are no official refueling points along the route. Support vehicles are verboten (and would be wildly dangerous) and the routes don’t cross paths with gas stations or other stops. A school or church group might offer a tiny cup of Gatorade, but riders need to be prepared to bring as much as they will need to finish strong.
Hopefully you’ve been planning your food and liquid strategy, but if not, expect to bring at least two “big” bottles (24oz is the standard) for the 36mi or 62mi routes. One bottle per hour is the typical recommendation, but your needs might vary depending on what kind of shape you’re in. Consider putting a third bottle in an extra water bottle cage, or putting one in your jersey pocket. If the forecast is wrong and it’s cold, make sure there’s enough sodium or sugar in there to keep it from freezing.
What about food? Don’t switch up your typical ride food at this point. In general you should never introduce a new food during a race, since you might discover that it doesn’t sit well when you’re riding even if you’re familiar with it off the bike. This is especially true of sports drinks and food, since they are very processed and dense. Dropping out due to indigestion is the most embarrassing way to end your day. If you’ve been eating PB&J for the past year, bring PB&J on your Barry bid. Plan on eating 300 calories or so per hour. Try and eat something every 30 minutes, and package your food so it’s easy to grab and eat while you’re on the bike!
In the morning, the general rule is to eat a hearty breakfast 3 hours before your start time, and then another 100-200 calories or so an hour before the start. This will give your body time to process the food without it putting all that energy into long-term storage.
Plan your pre-race setup!
Barry starts early, and you should get there even earlier. You need to get your kit on, sort out your tools and spares, gather up your food and make the final adjustments to your bike. If you live in or you’re staying in Grand Rapids, there’s a Friday night packet pickup at Founder’s Brewing. This will save you a half an hour or more in the morning on Saturday. Consider getting to Hastings at 7:00AM, as you’re going to have a tough time finding parking near the start. Get familiar with the venue map and know where the parking areas are.
Even though there’s a strong temptation to warm up during the beginning of the race, once the whistle blow you’ll be sailing on adrenaline and trying to keep pace with the rest of the leaders in your field. Spend 30-45 minutes getting the blood in your legs with a light to moderate effort. If you have a stationary trainer, put it in the car. It’s easier to get warm and stay warm if you aren’t roaming the streets of Hastings. If you do plan on warming up in the streets, pay attention to where you ride so you aren’t late to line up for your field.
Think about your kit. DO consider using chamois cream if you haven’t before. DON’T consider using embrocation if you haven’t before (bring leg warmers instead). Temps will go up as the day goes on, so even though you’ll feel chilly, start just a bit cold so you’re not boiling in a hardshell jacket a few miles in when the hills begin.
Don’t forget to use the porta-potties! PROTIP: take your gloves off and put them in your pocket BEFORE going in. Trust me.
Double-check your bike!
You may have gotten your bike back from a tune-up at the shop a few days before, but go back through and make sure everything’s the way you want it. Check your tires for debris lodged in the rubber. Lube and dry your chain the night before. Resist the urge to change your set-up! Go with what you know.
While you’re setting up your bike, make sure your cycling computer is charged and load the routes. The course is well-marked with marshals at most of the turns, but a computer will help you keep track of your pace and let you know how far you have to go.
If all else fails, enjoy the camaraderie and share in the suffering of the riders around you. You’ll make new friends and have plenty to celebrate when you finally roll back into town! Chances are, you’ll finish the race and immediately be thinking to the next race! (such as the Hellkaat Hundie on April 22nd!)
I hope this helps you sort out the details for race day! Head to our Facebook page at http://www.facebook.com/algerbikes if you need any more tips for taking on this awesome challenge!
Chris is a 3-time Barry finisher, a 1-time DNF, and a 2-time spectator. He will be riding an absurd bicycle for the 2017 edition.