Race Report: Barry Roubaix

Race Report by By Jake Williams

The morning of April 13, 2019 is bright and crisp, as Nick and I load our bikes and leave our motel in Ionia, MI. A few months previous, in looking for a pre-P2A tune-up event, we stumbled upon this race in Barry County, Michigan, “Barry-Roubaix”. As it turns out, the event that takes over the town of Hastings, MI (pop. 7,350) is the largest gravel race in the world.

Along with 3,500 of our riding buddies, we finished registration, packed our jerseys full of pepperoni sticks (how about a nutrition sponsor) and took to the staging area - otherwise known as the entirety of downtown Hastings. Rolling up to our corral, the excited energy is silenced when the town’s Mayor welcomes everyone over loudspeakers. We’re asked to remove our helmets, followed by the Star Spangled Banner. It feels like a town holiday; there’s fire truck on display, a vendor area complete with stage, and the day’s food trucks setting up for a busy after-party.

Promptly at 10am, the 62, 36 & 22-mile racers start their rollout of town, a full three-hours after 100-mile “psycho-killer” masochists started their day. Nick and I had opted for the modestly-challenging 62 mile (or 100km) course, which features 1100m of climbing on its permanently marked, fully public course.

It’s been 5km and we’re already out of town, turning into our first section of gravel. We’re approaching what is called “The Three Sisters”, and the riders in our group begin jockeying for position. It’s at this moment I remind myself the day’s mission is survival. A mellow off-season matched with back-to-back McDonalds meals (help we need a nutrition sponsor) means my destiny is set: sit in, try to conserve, and just take in the ride. And wow, Barry County has a lot to take in.  

The race feels more like a road event than cyclocross. Compared to Paris-to-Ancaster, there are fewer technical sections (ie. no farmers fields or mud chutes) and no real excuse to be off your bike and running. The climbs are less severe but constantly rolling, along some of the most scenic gravel service roads I’ve ever ridden.

With the three-tiered opening climb behind us, I settle into a rhythm. Over the course of 4 hours and 100km, I lose track of how many times I should’ve pulled over for a photo. As we approach town, all I can think about is how envious I am with the locals who ride these roads every day.

Until next year.