Vermont Overland Grand Prix
Last winter, not too long after my first season of offroad cycling (mountain biking and cyclocross) and becoming hooked on trail racing, I came across what looked like an interesting race called the Vermont Overland Grand Prix (VOGP), to be held in Woodstock VT on Sunday, August 24th, 2014. I had raced the Vermont 50 mountain bike race in September 2013, and loved the terrain and atmosphere. The VGOP looked pretty similar, but was biased toward cyclocross bikes, though you could (and more than few people did) use mountain bikes as well. I signed up as soon as registration opened, despite a bit of trepidation because this was an inaugural race; despite best intentions and the hard work of organizers, inaugural races are often poorly run in some way, e.g., poorly marked courses, poorly staffed aid stations, etc. There were several things that left me optimistic about this one, though: the organizers had put together other kinds of races before, and the race website was well organized and had a lot of good information about the race. As of my writing this, it’s all still there, including a video tour and a picture gallery that are worth looking at. (As an aside, the race website has some suggestions regarding bike types and gearing. Take them seriously, they are not exaggerations.)
I also mentioned the race to my fellow HRRT racers, and several of them joined me at the start.
The race itself is a 51 mile course that starts and ends in downtown Woodstock, is almost entirely on unpaved surfaces, climbs approximately 5400 ft., and winds through some of the most beautiful and challenging countryside in the northeast. Interspersed on the course are 7 sections of what the organizers call “Vermont pavé”, long sections of often steep, rocky, muddy, very challenging double track that will definitely challenge your fitness. The pictures don’t do those sections justice: especially on the “Koppenburg” and “Arenberg Forest” sections; they are very tough.
I had decided to drive out on the morning of the race, and carpooled out with fellow HRRT racer Mark Sumner (who ended up with a very solid race!). In retrospect, though, I’d suggest that anyone that does it consider getting out there on Saturday and taking the pre-race tour of some key spots. It would have helped me, and I may do that in 2015 myself; even knowing the course, conditions on some sections can change the character of the race dramatically.
This ended up being a race that I almost bailed out on. I’ll relate what happened as an example of what not to do the day before a race. I had gone back and forth with myself about gearing for this race for a while. I had 50 /36 tooth chainrings, an 11-26 cassette, and was considering going to an 11-28 given the length and difficulty of several of the climbs. On the other hand, how much difference would 2 cogs make? I was strong, my current cassette was fine, the 32 tooth large cog suggested was almost certainly a conservative recommendation (it wasn’t, trust me). But two days before the race I decided to swap out cassettes had a local shop order one in for me (Thanks, Tony Ferradino and Spa City Bikeworks), and was able to pick it up early Saturday afternoon. Long story short, nothing worked very well, and I was up until early Sunday morning just getting things into a somewhat usable state (as it ultimately turned out, it was a combination of a sticky cable, a worn chainring, and a fairly new chain that had been compromised by the chainring wear). Given that at most I’d get 2-3 hours sleep I seriously contemplated canceling, but figured that I’d at least go and ride for pleasure rather than racing. When Mark and I arrived in Woodstock I found that the local bike shop had a mechanic there who helped me get everything a bit better and I was able to start with confidence. Thanks, Woodstock Sports!
At the starting line (just outside Woodstock Sports) I was surprised at how many racers were lining up, and the pro celebrities the organizers had attracted to this inaugural event. There had to have been 20 pro call-ups, a number of whose names I recognized. The size of the starting field was 290 racers. As the gun went off all thoughts that I would tour this course went out the window. This was a race, after all. I may not be at my best, but I’m here to do my best for the day. So I was off, fast.
As for my race performance, I probably had a really good 40 mile race in me that day. What I ended up with was a pretty good 51 mile race; regardless of my lack of sleep the night before, this was a very challenging course overall, and perhaps the toughest race I’ve done this year.
As for my concerns regarding how smoothly the event would be run, I can say this: this was one of the best organized and run events I’ve participated in, right up there with those that have been at it for years. The logistics were handled very well, the course was great, the atmosphere was very friendly, and to top it off, the after-party was very nice (vegetarian-friendly, too). I’m already looking forward to racing it again in 2015. If you’re looking for a tough, fun off-road race you won’t regret giving this one a shot.