BIG RED 2019

There’s nothing quite like it! Leading up to the event, it monopolizes hall-talk around office to the point it gets annoying for some not attending. But, a lot of us at Opus take part in the event! If it’s not riding, it’s volunteering, if it’s not volunteering its cheering on our colleagues embarking on an adventure.

A 60 or 130k loop along the Rouge River, through forest trails and back for a generous feast and fresh beer. An event we love to support for its uniqueness, bringing hundreds of cyclists together for all the right reasons. Thanks BR.

Nikola Brassard-Dion (Opus Rouleurs) takes us there in the article below.

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“Don’t panic.”

Marty said it so casually as we struggled to bring down the party tent from hauling winds, rain slashing across our faces. I knew those two words would somehow follow me all weekend.

I’d just arrived in Harrington, Quebec, a small town nestled in the quaint countryside of the Laurentides along the Rouge river from which the ride gets its name. It’s the night before the Big Red Gravel Run and dark clouds hover over the surrounding hills. I understood at this point that I could seek shelter but there was no escaping the inevitable hurdles that lay ahead. 

We dried off inside over dry gins and Dunham beers in a makeshift speakeasy put together by Heidi and Sons from the Rasputitsa Spring Classic. The password to enter: Obama; a subtle protest to speakout against the orange-faced baron of Manhattan. Against the backdrop of roaring twenties jazz music began the usual self-effacing talk of one’s race prep and urban legends of riders expected to take the start. 

“Did you hear? Math Bélanger-Barrette everested Mont-Saint-Anne a month ago” revealed to me a fit looking Julien.

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Next morning I take the start and there he is, MSA everesting legend, standing just left of me, looking cool and collected in a loose fitting t-shirt. I’ve got the tightest fitting, most aero kit of my cycling wardrobe. Can I even stand here? Should I move back? Don’t panic, you belong there. 

Maybe this is part of the elusive qualities of the “gravel spirit”. There is no hierarchy. People self-assess, stand where they want and let the terrain create the natural selection. 

And to the sound of a blaring foghorn, we were off! 

The great thing about Big Red is that it covers all grades of gravel. Sandy stuff, sharp rocks, hard-packed dirt, wet mud… You name it; Big Red has it. 

The shitty part about Big Red is that it covers all grades of gravel. You can’t pick the right tire or tire pressure for that matter. You just have to throw yourself into the unknown and hope for the best. The Oasis is the section that really tests all common wisdom. 

We hit the first Oasis and it is total chaos. Bodies hitting the deck, bikes getting repaired line the right side of the trail, while raspberry bushes line the left side of the trail, cutting our exposed arms as we brush past them. Nowhere else to go, the middle is all rocks and mud. In short, it’s the Red version of the Trench of Arenberg. No cobbles, just heaps of stones. Red is the colour of pain after all. 

I ride through unscathed. Relieved, my focus lapses on the friendly dog suddenly running by my side as though cheering me on and then clink! I hit a hole and my chain pops off. I’ve now lost contact with the group and the dog ran away. Miserable, I put the chain back on and turn the corner only to discover my friend Nichols decided to wait for me. 

“Hey man, thanks for holding back, you didn’t have to do that” I say with gratitude. 

“All good, it’s not like it’s a race” Nichols responds. 

I realize this may also be part of the gravel spirit. Some choose to race, others just ride. So pick the one that brings you the most fun or fulfilment. Because in the end, you’re all going into the Red no matter what your approach is. 

We keep riding and comes along Nichols’ friend and fellow Marauder, Scott Fitzgerald. 

“Having a good time, old sport?” says to me a grinning Fitzgerald, his dancing black bottom riding away standing on his pedals as though lifted by the rhythm of a Muskrat Ramble

Seeing his effortless out-of-the-saddle climbing style made me realize how crushed I was. I reached down for my water bottle, but nothing’s there. Shit. I must have lost both bottles hitting a rough patch on one of the descents. We’re 70 kilometers into the ride with 60 to go on this one-way boulevard to dehydration. Nichols offers me a sip of his water. 

He did so for the rest of the ride. Each time he felt a thirst he handed over his bottle to me first. Nichols did not save me from dehydration. He decided to battle dehydration with me. He sacrificed half his water to be equally f**ked as I was. Apologies for the colourful language, I was seeing Red. 

This kind of solidarity is definitely part of the gravel spirit. I’ve witnessed it every time I took part in one of these gravel events. Things always fall apart for someone. Someone always reaches over and lends a hand.

6 hours after the foghorn, Nichols and I crossed the finish line together, now fully crushed but smiling from ear to ear. Big Red organizers Alain, Mark and Marty greet us with cheers and cold beers. 

I learn we’re not the only ones to have crossed the finish line in tandem. The two breakaway leaders chose to share the win. Quebec’s Mathieu Bélanger-Barrette arrived at the exact same time as Montreal’s Rémi Fagnan. 

“Who’s he?” I ask my buddy Fred. 

“He’s a former go-cart racer who commutes like 20,000 km per year” he replies. 

Awesome. More hyperbolic rumours and a renewal of the Montreal-Quebec rivalry. One is a car mechanic who smashes inner-city streets on his way to the shop, the other an engineer who everests on his spare time. A fitting end to Big Red and a salute to the gravel spirit.

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Words by: Nikola Brassard-Dion
Photos: Gophrette Power