copyright the Chronicle April 23, 2014
by Richard Creaser
NEWPORT — Mud season is typically a time of year that Vermont residents have come to dread. For the 350 riders in Saturday’s Rasputitsa cycling event, however, mud season represented a challenge that begged to be accepted.
The lure of the Rasputitsa is one that finds its roots in the European Spring Classic bicycle races, co-organizer Heidi Myers told the Chronicle on Friday. The growth of gravel road racing nationally, coupled with the success of Ms. Myers’ and fellow co-organizer Anthony Moccia’s Dirty 40 race last August, led them to attempt a second race in the Northeast Kingdom. The fact that so many cyclists braved a blustery April morning and 47 miles of often treacherous back roads appears to have confirmed their belief in the sport’s popularity.
“There’s a competitive element to this that appeals to racers, but we also wanted to create something for casual riders to test themselves,” Ms. Myers said. “We both ride a lot, but I’m not sure that this is something I would be ready to do. This is a tough course.”
The hallmark of the race is a 1.5-mile stretch dubbed “Cyberia.” The stretch runs along a Class Four highway that earlier this week resembled a stone-lined brook more than a road. Cyberia would test not only a cyclist’s endurance and balance but also the wisdom of proper bicycle selection.
There are three basic types of bicycles that Ms. Myers anticipated would compete in Saturday’s event — road bikes, mountain bikes and cyclocross bikes. Road bikes typically sport narrower tires designed to minimize friction and thus provide racers with a faster ride. Mountain bikes are designed to tackle rougher terrain. They have thicker tires with aggressive treads that create more friction. The cyclocross bike lies somewhere in between with a road bike’s lighter frame coupled with a fatter tire.
The Rasputitsa race drew several world class cycling athletes, including Ted King and Tim Johnson of Cannondale Pro Cycling and Lyne Bessette, a former Canadian Olympic cyclist from Knowlton, Quebec. Attracting high caliber athletes to a small, inaugural race in Vermont’s Northeast Kingdom is something Ms. Myers is proud of.
“I think it’s the challenge of the race that really sparked interest,” she said. “We didn’t really draw as many people from the Kingdom as I thought we would. It might be that people don’t see anything special about riding back roads in their own backyards.”
Ms. Myers believes that partnering with the Mary E. Wright Halo Foundation also helped attract attention. The Halo Foundation, established by Todd and Hilarie Wright, Matt Wright and Cassy Moulton, Chad and Amanda Wright, and Benji Wright in memory of their mother, raises and distributes funds to NEK families battling cancer.
“It was definitely a lot easier to attract sponsors when you have a great race and a great cause,” Ms. Myers said of the partnership. “There are no prizes beyond bragging rights so every bit of profit will go to the Halo Foundation.”
The Rasputitsa and the Dirty 40, to be held in August, both benefit the Halo Foundation, Ms. Myers said. She hopes to raise between $15,000 and $20,000 between the two races.
“Financially, this is obviously a great benefit for the foundation,” Ms. Moulton said. “But just as important is using the races to give our foundation more visibility. It helps us to get the name out and let people know we exist whether they require our help or whether they can help us with our mission.”
Ms. Myers and Mr. Moccia have a strong background in promotion and merchandising and they have put that expertise to use for the Halo Foundation. They have helped redesign the foundation’s logo and have gone to great lengths to promote their race and the foundation equally.
As the Newport area tries to reinforce its standing as a recreational paradise, races like the Dirty 40 and Rasputitsa help to bring people from all over the country and even Canada to the area. The family and friends who accompany the 350 riders provide a direct stimulus to the local economy.
“We are all about community,” Ms. Moulton said. “When the area has a healthy economy it helps us to raise donations to help other members of the community who need help.”
“It’s one big circle,” Ms. Myers agreed.
The course was also one big circle that had racers start on Seymour Lane in Newport, venture through the hinterlands of Coventry, up through Jay and back down to Newport’s Main Street where a full-fledged party awaited the mud spattered competitors. Three bands — Evansville Transit Authority, The Lynguistic Civilians and Lion Bastards — entertained the returning riders and a cohort of volunteers as they dug into a smorgasbord of food catered by the East Side Restaurant.
Riders were also treated to something relating the Rasputitsa’s etymology — which means mud season in Russian — with the race’s Vermont location. After the grueling struggle through Cyberia, riders were given shot glasses of Vermont maple syrup. The glasses were fashioned from ice.
“It’s a little boost of energy right when they need it most,” Ms. Myers said. “And since the shot glasses were ice, they could just toss them aside without littering.”
Catering to the needs of the riders was something that Ms. Myers and Mr. Moccia recognized in the wake of the inaugural Dirty 40 last year. They arranged to have neutral bike support with a licensed mechanic prepared to assist any and all riders requiring their services. They also had a medical tent prepared in the event of racing mishaps.
“The changes we made for this race came out of surveys and feedback we got from the Dirty 40,” Ms. Myers said. “The fact that almost 90 percent of the riders for the Rasputitsa were returning riders from the Dirty 40 shows that we weren’t too far off the mark.”
While the Dirty 40 attracted 250 riders in its first year, Ms. Myers anticipates that the number could well reach 500 this year. The interest in gravel road racing is growing exponentially. A key contributor to that growth is the widespread use of social media to inform potential riders of these events, Ms. Myers said.
“This has been a really grassroots kind of event,” she said. “Word of mouth and social media have helped us reach so many more people from all over.”
The top male finisher in Saturday’s event was Ansel Dickey of California Giant Cycle who completed the race with a time of 2:28:28. Ted King finished a mere five seconds back at 2:28:33, and Tim Johnson took third with a time of 2:29:29. Lyne Bessette led the female racers with her time of 2:48:38, while Stephanie Wetzel finished second at 2:2:49.03 and Ana Sirianna finished third in a time of 2:53:47.
In the single-speed division George Lowe came in at 2:54:05 while Kevin Church and Mark Budreski both finished at 2:54:48. In the men’s 40-plus division, John Funk took top honors with his time of 2:29:31, Michael Rowell took second in 2:29:55, and Jean Francois Blais finished third with a time of 2:31:35.
contact Richard Creaser at [email protected]
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