by Richard Creaser
HOLLAND — There was very little warning of when the riders would make their first appearance, only a best guess and a couple of Labrador’s barking out a greeting at a photographer. The sound came first, the crunch of tires on gravel, the steady whir of gears and wheels and legs united in motion. Then a blur surged out from the trees shrouding the bend and the leaders emerged in tight formation, swelling like a wave of brilliant blues and yellows, reds and whites.
Smiling cyclists streamed by for perhaps 20 minutes, bodies bent forward to reduce drag, legs pumping as the riders hit yet another incline however slight. Over the next six hours, 200 cyclists would clock in, having completed the inaugural Dirty 40 race. Others would drop out along the way, and still more would finish their runs, proud about the accomplishment if not overly concerned about their time.
“That’s what’s really great about this race,” Todd Bowden of Glastonbury, Connecticut, said at the after race party at Tavern on the Hill in Derby. “It’s very laid back and not super serious. You race for the love of it and for the bragging rights, not the hardware.”
On this day, the bragging rights would belong to Mr. Bowden. He led all racers with a blistering time of 2:55:21.6 over the 60-mile course, 40 of which were on the gravel roads that give the race its name.
Not that Mr. Bowden completely blew the competition out of the water. Iain Radford of Chelsea, Quebec, and Matt Surch of Ottawa, Ontario, finished with times of 2:55:22.9 and 2:55:23.0. Five other racers also finished within 24 seconds of Mr. Bowden’s precedent setting time.
On the women’s side, Kathleen Lysakowski of Quincy, Massachusetts, led the field with a time of 3:12:17.3, followed by Heather Voisin of Montpelier with a time of 3:14:14.4 and Danielle Ruane of Bow, New Hampshire, with her time of 3:16:52.7.
Bev Gage of Orleans came in thirty-second overall, earning her the dubious distinction of being dead last with a time of 6:11:13. There was no hang-dog expression for Ms. Gage, however. As someone who only began riding in earnest in July and whose previous longest ride had been 32 miles, Ms. Gage was proud simply to have finished.
“My inspiration was raising money for the Halo Foundation,” she said. “Doing something to helps others is just so wonderful. Anthony (Moccia) and Heidi (Myers) should be so proud of what they accomplished.”
As the founders and organizing forces behind the Dirty 40, Mr. Moccia and Ms. Myers worked diligently to round up sponsors and work the social networks to attract racers to the event.
Behind it all, however, was the fact that all profits from the race would go to benefit the Mary E. Wright Halo Foundation, which provides financial support to Orleans County cancer survivors and the families of individuals fighting cancer. Ms. Myers said Monday morning that, although the numbers are preliminary, she expects the Dirty 40 race and raffle raised an estimated $4,000 for the Halo Foundation.
“We’re pretty happy about that,” she said. “We’d like to raise more next year. We could have raised more but it being the first year there was no registration fee for the first 100 riders.”
When the Dirty 40 was conceived the ideals behind the race included a celebration of what rural Vermont was all about — back roads, gorgeous countryside and a community that stands together to help its own.
The friendliness of the community was apparent to the cyclists participating in the race. Locals came out to wave at the riders as they passed by.
“I’m not really sure where it was, but there were some little girls serving lemonade,” Robert Schiesser of South Royalton recalled. “How great is that? I really couldn’t tell you how the organizers could have designed a better course.”
Even a local like Ms. Gage was impressed at the breadth of terrain the course encompassed. Whether as a cyclist or just someone enjoying the area, the beauty of the Northeast Kingdom was to be found everywhere along the route, she said.
“I had a chance to go on some dirt roads I never would have traveled before,” Ms. Gage said. “It really opens your eyes to how beautiful and how special a place we live in.”
While the beauty of the landscape was most often mentioned by participants, it was the challenge of the course that appealed to hardened cyclists like Mr. Bowden.
“It was a tough course, a real challenge,” he said. “Unlike your traditional road race the ending was not proscribed. It was a little bit crazier with a lot more variables thrown in there.”
Mr. Schiesser comes from a mountain bike racing background. While some elements translate from mountain bike racing to gravel road racing, it was a new kind of experience for him.
“Mountain bike racing is won in the turns,” he said. “In this kind of race you need to be in it the whole way, there is no last push to get through. You need to pace yourself.”
Gravel road races are growing in popularity but the amount of races available are still limited, Mr. Bowden said. That’s why he was more than willing to make the trek up from Connecticut to participate in the Dirty 40.
“It’s a really unique area,” Mr. Bowden said. “Something is changing all of the time. Those last 5 kilometers with the steep climb was hard, real hard.”
Mr. Bowden praised the work of the road crews responsible for maintaining the gravel roads that comprised the Dirty 40 course. In general, gravel road racing requires a thicker tire with an aggressive tread. Road conditions on Saturday were such that a rider could have gotten away with a narrower tread because of the excellent state of the roads. Narrower treads lead to less resistance and a corresponding increase in speed, he explained.
Voyaging through the back roads was more than a bike race, Mr. Schiesser said. It was akin to an adventure race where you need to be prepared for any and all sorts of conditions. He even likened the course to a ride through Alaska’s boreal forest.
“I thought it was really neat to be out there,” he said. “I think the course was just right.”
If there is one change to be recommended, it came from Ms. Gage. Her recommendation was that perhaps someone better prepared might be able to take her place in next year’s race.
“I’m proud that I did it and that I’m still standing after,” Ms. Gage said. “I still want to be involved but I think I might volunteer next year. It was a wonderful experience and a great cause. That’s why we do these things, to help people.”
contact Richard Creaser at firstname.lastname@example.org