Book excerpt: A guide to Barry-Roubaix

In this book excerpt from "Gravel Cycling," Nick Legan explores Michigan's Barry-Roubaix, the largest gravel race in the United States.

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Hastings, Michigan | April

The 3,200 racers and 2,000 spectators who attended Barry-Roubaix in 2016 made it the largest gravel race in the United States. Always the third Saturday in April, this Michigan event offers three distances, all relatively short, making them great for first-time gravel racers. With good course marking and corner marshals, navigation is made easy, allowing racers to focus on their efforts. It is certainly a race, with strong road and cyclocross competitors toeing the line. But like most gravel events, the atmosphere is welcoming. Race organizer Rick Plite happily shares that he “promotes an event, not just a race. All of my events have a grassroots feel to them, with handmade awards and beer afterwards. People like to chat and party a bit after a big ride.”

Note that in his advice on page 39, Rick is aiming his comments at new riders. On the other hand, the 2015 women’s elite champion, Mackenzie Woodring, gives tips on trying to win the event. Pick out the information that suits you best.

Defining features

• Hastings is a small town of just over 7,000 residents. The race is named for Barry County, an area southeast of Grand Rapids and west of Lansing, of which Hastings is the county seat.
• 62-, 36-, and 22-mile race distances offered
• Excellent course marking, corner marshals, GPX file, and cue sheet available
• Largest gravel race in the United States

Essential gear

• Warm clothes; April weather in Michigan can be unpredictable
• Fast-rolling tires

Advice from the pros

Rick Plite
Barry-Roubaix promoter

“We tell people who are truly beginners to make sure to sign up for the proper distance. Don’t ride to win, ride to finish. Enjoy it. Stop and take a photo. Don’t go out and buy any special equipment. Ride what you have. At Barry-Roubaix, a road bike or 26-inch mountain bike will work.”

Mackenzie Woodring
2015 Barry-Roubaix women’s elite champion

Bike: “I recommend a cyclocross bike for Barry-Roubaix with 1×11 gearing. Barry-Roubaix has 5,000 feet of climbing, so you’re constantly changing gears, and I see dropped chains as a result of shifting between the big and small rings. My gearing of choice is a 36-tooth ring with an 11–28 cassette, which is perfect for a 20 mile per hour average.”

Tires: “I’m a fan of Clement file tread tubular tires, as they have an aggressive knob on the outside for cornering. I’ve had no issues with flats with this tire, but I do carry a Vittoria Pit Stop just in case.”

Preparation: “The best preparation is to actually ride the course. It’s hard to mimic the Barry-Roubaix terrain in training, as the course is truly unique.”

“The race selection happens within the first five minutes of the race. The race begins on pavement, where you jockey for position as you approach the first gravel section. As soon as the peloton hits the gravel, it rolls over ‘The Three Sisters,’ an affectionately known group of three climbs where the selection is made. You need a good warm-up and need to be ready to go anaerobic to stay with the lead group. Sager Road, approximately 30 minutes into the race, is another opportunity for selection to occur, as it is the only two-track section offered on the course. Staying in a group is key for a successful Barry-Roubaix!”

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