Rouge Roubaix XV
Yours truly traveled with several of the Murray State Cycling group to the 15th Rouge Roubaix held in St. Francisville, LA. this past Sunday. Rouge Roubaix bills itself as one of the hardest one day races in the U.S. with a truly inhumane course in the tradition of the famed Paris-Roubaix in France. In the Louisiana version you race for 104 miles with four sectors of gravel road (25+ miles), miles of broken pavement and hills(4,000 ft.) with a small smattering of rough pavement (as opposed to smooth pavement which does not exist in either Mississippi or Louisiana. The event is very well run and has great support with neutral feed zones and plenty of wheel support. This is critical since flat tires are frequent and the weather is warm in the 70’s. I rode in a combined field of 40+ and 55+ masters. We had at least 60 starters when we rolled out onto the course. The first 4 miles are supposed to be neutral at 20 mph but we didn’t drop below 24 out of the chute. When we hit the first turn this immediately went to 30 mph for several miles before things settled down. The first strategic point is the first sector of gravel which comes at mile 17. This of course sets off a frenzy to get the hole shot and people were pretty crazy getting into the sector. Unfortunately the course hits the gravel and then makes an abrupt right hand uphill on very loose sandy gravel. Our pack hit this at full speed and the entire middle of the pack went into a slow speed pile-up. I was near the back of the field where I shouldn’t have been in the first place but did allow me the chance to use my cyclo-cross skills to maneuver around the bodies and others trying to get up the hill. I almost made the crest when a guy on the far right careened across the gravel and fell right in my path causing me to dismount momentarily. Once back on the bike I motored on the gravel as fast as possible to put time between me and those behind. At his point however I was separated from the front pack and had to chase most of the rest of the day.
The second sector of gravel comes fairly quickly after the first and that helped me stay ahead of those behind and I began to pick up stragglers which we formed into a nice seven man pack. Once out of the second sector came a long 20-30 miles stretch of hard winds and rough roads but the ability to ride a smooth pace line and hopefully to pick up places. We worked very well together but my partners began to show cracks as we were coming into sector 3 which features the famed Blockhouse Climb for the KOM prize at mile 68. We hit the gravel and then once on the climb the group totally shattered. This climb would have been tough on pavement but with loose sand and gravel becomes nearly impossible to ride. I know of no one that was able to ride all the way up with the exception of the winning pros. You would hit a patch of sand dismount and cyclo-cross a few yards until it firmed up and then remount. I worked this better than most as I dropped my companions once I crested the top. This third sector went on for miles and was tortuous with out of control descents on loose gravel and big sand pits. Once again out on pavement I was able to hook-up with more survivors to work together until the final sector of gravel at mile 82. In many ways this was the worst section as the gravel was large and loose with relentless hills. I was riding up one climb pretty steady when I caught the lip of a pot hole and was thrown to the ground just when a photographer was going to take my picture. Probably won’t be one I want to buy.
When I came into the final 20 miles to the finish I thought I was home free. Wrong, the road barely qualified as pavement and beat my back into spasms. I slowed considerably at this point and was even passed back by some of my competitors that I thought I had left for dead. As I came into the final three miles I saw a pack bearing down on me so I really had to dig deep to make it up the final climb into town. I successfully held them off to finish 5th in the masters 55+ group. Since I was not familiar with the course I felt this was a pretty good result. I rode my old titanium Merlin with 32 spoke Durace wheels with 25 mm tires which worked perfectly for this type of pavement. I passed at least 10 people with flat tires and others with broken equipment. If you want a truly tough challenge this is a race for you. Been there done that and have the T-shirt for me though.