A peak of this season's New England gravel calendar happened on Sunday at the Vermont Overland in Ascutney. We were there to help at the second rest stop at the ever scenic South Woodstock General Store.
When Mike came up for FlowState a few weeks ago, he learned just how... deliberate the service at the General Store is. The breakfast sandwiches are quite tasty indeed, but don't go there in a hurry. Strictly island time. Hopefully Overland racers could get service a bit quicker. And voila!
There was maple water and maple snacks from Untapped and these awesome looking bacon sandwiches and it was all pretty great. The weather, of course, was NEAF (New England As F---), the event started in a ripping downpour and didn't dry up until hours later when Kerri and I went for a ride on the Pomfret loop, which was lovely.
I wound up spending the whole time marshaling a pretty complicated corner, at which we managed to prevent any mishaps. There were a few close calls. Coming downhill from the road in the background, if you wanted to blow off the rest stop you made a left at the little grass island. If you came to the rest stop, you made a right (tents are behind where the people are standing here). If you were my friend Colin, you inadvertently blew off the rest stop even if you really needed water and suffered for the next 20 something miles. He was doing really really well when he came through, too. Bummer.
From a product/equipment standpoint, there's not too much news from this. Modern gravel bikes have just taken over, there were maybe 3 people out of the several hundred riders on rim brakes. Normalization of bikes and tires and wheels and just gear in general is inevitable, and it's happened. There wasn't even the (previously inevitable) guy on the fat bike. If you had lugged a fat bike around this course, you probably wouldn't be alive to read this, though.
The striking thing was the speeds, and the divergence of them. I figured I'd get the tent set up 90 minutes after the race started, since this stop was at mile 33, and there was a bunch of pretty thick technical riding to be done between the start and here. Maybe the fast people would average 16 or so to here? Well I got the tent set up just in time to see the first people ripping through. Holy lawdabove they were going. As he's done at pretty much every gravel event this year, Ian Boswell destroyed everyone, and Magalie Rochette wasn't too far behind as the women's winner. Their speeds aren't too far off from your local 4 corner crit. It's impressive.
On the other hand, the rest stop got most of its customers after the winners were finishing. So who's the real winner, then? People spent a bunch of time hanging out, catching up, telling war stories of the first 2/3 of the race, etc. There was surprisingly little gear carnage to be undone, which was nice.
I wish we could send some of this summer's rain (and we got 8" in RI from Ida earlier this week) west to Tahoe. The weather mayhem is out of hand lately. But people love these gravel events and it's easy to see why. You want a race? Cool you got one. Want a relaxed, mapped out, supported ride with a few hundred close friends? That too. We're fans.