|Pedal Play's Rouge-Roubaix IV Race
March 3, 2002, St. Francisville, LA
"A Neophyte's Reflections on an Eventful Rouge-Roubaix IV")
Rouge Roubaix on the Rocks
I just had to shudder as I looked over to see yet another rider relieving himself at 20 mph. It wasn't so much the act itself, or the prospect of riding another 80 miles with wet feet, as it was the thought of exposing such an important body part to the sub-freezing arctic wind.
With weather that seemed to have been imported straight from Northern Europe, this year's Rouge Roubaix was a real character-building experience. On hand from the NOBC were Mal Schuler, Ben Schuler, Kenny Cox, Susan Griesbach, Gina Voci, Mark Manson, Tim Regan, John Egan, Eddie Delgado and myself.
A record 78-rider field headed out from St. Francisville at 8 a.m. for 100 miles of exquisite suffering. The first hour or so was fairly slow, due in no small part to the 31-degree North wind. Even to the uninitiated, it was obvious that, between the icy weather and brutal course, little else would be needed to identify a deserving winner. Within the first 20 miles the water in my bottle was starting to freeze, not that I was particularly enthusiastic about sipping icewater anyway. Five hours later at the finish, the water would still be frozen. We had a few riders with radios tuned in to Malcolm Schuler who was driving our support car. When Mal Jr. flatted early in the race, the conversation between him and his father was priceless! Mal eventually got a lightning-fast wheel change and was back in the pack right away, but not before some anxious minutes as he waited for the wheel truck to work its way through the huge pack. I think it was around that time that about a dozen riders near the front decided to stop for a nature break. Ever notice how riding in cold weather makes you need to pee? Well, the lead riders must not have realized that these riders had stopped and the pace didn't slow, so there was a bit of a chase in store for those guys. Lucky for them the pace was pretty slow!
Pretty soon I heard Malcolm telling us that the turn onto the first dirt road was coming up, and I worked my way up near the front just in time to hit the dirt among the front dozen riders. This 7-mile stretch of dirt was mostly flat and the surface wasn't too bad, so the pace actually picked up a bit here. It took more than a bit of concentration to negotiate this stretch in a paceline at about 21 mph, and when we finally got back onto the paved road the pack had split in a few places. The pace slowed down as riders started to eat and shed clothes (which generally turned out to have been a mistake) and by the 50 mile point a couple of groups of riders had caught back up to the lead group. It was along this stretch that I decided to eat one of the Powerbars I had brought along. The thing was basically frozen solid so I had to bend it back and forth with my equally frozen hands until it snapped in half, and then stuff the whole half in my mouth until it warmed up enough to be edible again. Yum! Somewhere around here I heard that Ben Schuler had dropped out after "swallowing a rock." I'm sorry I didn't get he details on that!
The long Westward stretch at the top of the course might have been pretty fast, but the strong wind kept the speed down. Still, I was amazed by the dozen or so riders who were consistently at he front battling the wind and cold. By now, my hands and feet felt like blocks of ice and I was definitely not going to be showing my face at the front. The second dirt stretch was relatively short and uneventful, and I think most riders were already thinking ahead to the final, and most difficult piece of non-asphalt that was awaiting them at mile 80.
About an hour later, we were rapidly approaching the "Wall" at the start of that last dirt section, and I could clearly read the writing on it. My legs were already complaining on the climbs, and the chances of my getting up that sucker on two wheels were fading fast. I flipped the switch to "survival mode." Within about 20 yards of the start of that first hill my legs went from feeling "OK" to totally dysfunctional and when my front wheel slid in the gravel, sucking away the last shred of whatever momentum one has at 5 mph, I knew it was time to either unclip or eat rocks. I walked slowly up the hill, pushing my bike which suddenly weighed about 50 pounds, and watched the race disappear over the top. Surprisingly, that little hike actually made my legs feel better, and I was soon rolling again, picking up other riders along the way, accompanied by a right ear full of encouraging words from teammates in the following car.
By the time I was back on blessed asphalt, a little group was beginning to come together that included Kenny Cox, Jon Anderson, Frank Moak, Tim Regan, and myself. Although my legs felt pretty dead by now, those last 15 miles went by surprisingly fast and soon our little group was down to just Kenny, Jon and myself. At around the 1 km sign I was surprised to see a group of 6 or 7 riders only a minute or so up the road. Kenny and I finished together with Jon and Tim right behind us and Eddie Delgado coming across the line just a few minutes later. Also finishing were Sue Griesbach and John Egan.
This year's event was won by an awesome performance by New Orleans (NBO) rider Stephen Viquerie who soloed in two minutes clear of Mercy rider Eric Murphy and the other survivors of the lead group. I heard that some (most?) of the riders in the lead group didn't even know that Stephen was out there, thinking that they had caught everyone who had gotten off the front.
Rouge Roubaix is definitely evolving into an epic (aka sadistic, masochistic, insane) contest that all real roadies should experience. Sort of like childbirth.
It's certainly the only thing I've ever done that made me want to kiss asphalt.
A Neophyte's Reflections on an Eventful Rouge-Roubaix IV
The race lived up to its reputation for me.
OK, I am basically a triathlete who has been nursing an over-use knee injury, and couldn't do much running through the winter. So I spent most of my Saturdays and Sundays riding with the Giro. I have always liked the group rides, and after this winter, have grown even fonder of them. The bigger the better. Little mind that I am new to this town, let alone the cycling community, and don't know too many of the guys. Anyway, when in Rome..... So I register for the Rouge-Roubaix, my first ever road race, at the tender age of 45. After all, it will fit nicely in to my ironman training schedule, since it is time to start the 100 milers. Additionally, there will be a big group of 100 doing the race, so surely I will be able to find some riders to hang with.
The day before the race, I unclip my aero bars; ergo, a road bike! (Never mind the forward seat post.) Since I won't have any support, I get a seat-post water bottle holder so I can have two bottles there and two on the frame. It won't be too hot, so 4 big bottles should do it (ha!). I heed all of Jon's instructions, and I pack two tubes and CO2's. I think I am ready.
On the drive from N.O. to St. Francisville Sunday morning I watch in horror as the rear view mirror thermometer steadily plunges from 44 through the high 30's and finally settles at 31. The wind is practically blowing me off the road. Good thing I packed an extra tee shirt. I start my nutrition plan during the drive, and consume, among other things, a diet coke and a large bottle of my sports drink (huge mistake). For some reason I am still thinking about hydration! (Must not have been a good day, since my IQ did not make it to 3.5)
Finally at the race start, I register, and I pee. I get my bike out and load the 4 large bottles, and I pee. I lift the bike and it weighs a ton, and I pee. I pump my tires, and I pee. I get all of my clothes on, (including the extra tee shirt), and I pee. I pace around a little, and I pee. Must have gone a dozen times. I either sweat or I pee. This was not a day for sweating.
We finally roll out. I need to pee. I start considering my options. If I stop, I might not catch up. Maybe I can wait and see how the race will unfold. At about 15 miles, one guy is off peeing. The pack slows. A dozen to 15 riders are off now doing the same. Here is my chance, and I am grateful. Only problem is that by the time I fish it out and get started, some are back on their bikes and headed out. By the time I am finished, everyone is up the road. I make a mad dash to catch up, then we hit some steep hills, and lugging my gallon or so of drink, and my bag full of tubes and equipment, I realize that I am not gaining any ground. So much for hanging with a group. So I am about 20 miles into the ride, facing 20 mile-per-hour headwinds, no one to ride with, and no aero bars for consolation.
I settle into a comfortable pace and catch and pass several riders. They don't want to hang on my wheel, so I continue on solo. Just past the plank bridge, and before the start of the second dirt section, I stopped to pee (not joking). While I was standing there, a pick-up truck came zooming up and the driver yelled, "We got three running in these hills from Angola." Great. Here I am by myself, I would make a fine hostage.
I made it through the dirt, and finally, one guy grabs my wheel between the second and last dirt sections. While rolling through about mile 75, I notice two things. I can't see out of my right eye, and I think my front tire is going down. My riding companion looks at the tire and we discuss it. I try to wipe off my sunglasses with my glove, but still can't see out of my right eye. I consider my options for the tire. It is a slow leak, we have about 20 miles to go, do I use a CO2 and air it up, or do I change the tube? It goes almost flat. I decide to air it up. We get back on and ride a ways. ANGOLA!, which I knew meant we had missed a turn (Jon thought of everything) while we were preoccupied with the tire. I get out my directions (as stated, I took Jon at his word) and realized that we had missed the Old Tunica Road turn, so I head back looking for the "small blue arrow" and the road sign with my left eye. We find it, and my companion and I walk up the steep hi! ll at the beginning of the dirt road.
Getting back on the bike I notice that the front tire is almost flat again. I use the rest of the first CO2 and nurse some air into the tire. It ain't full, but it is rideable. For about a mile. Then I realize it won't make the trip, so I send my companion on his way and I stop to change the tube. With frozen fingers and one eye. Never a speedy flat fixer, I manage to get the old tube out and new one in, and proceed to use my last CO2 to air it up. Screwing in the valve stem, I hear the disgusting sound of air coming from somewhere. The stinkin tube ain't no good. I have close to 20 miles remaining, mostly dirt and bumpy paved roads, a new flat and no air. As advertised, there was no support in sight (and I didn't expect any being so far off the back). The thought of sitting by the side of the road in sub-freezing weather didn't have too much appeal, so I got on and rode (besides, not finishing was not an option). The air lasted a little while, but soon I was rid! ing on my rim. I continued on trying to navigate the course looking for the "tiny" blue arrows. I took off my sunglasses, and found that they were not the problem. I must have some crud on my contact. (Later I discovered that it was not even my contact, it was my eye!) I stopped and studied the directions. I found some more of the "microscopic" blue arrows with my good eye. My front rim and flat tire were beating out a consistent "whomp-whomp." The only good things were that I was close to the finish, my legs felt fine, and I had not become a hostage. Oh yea, one other good thing, I still had two and a half bottles of frozen drink that I had lugged through 100 miles of hills (plus the "detour"). I roll across the finish line in 6:50, a good time, I rationalize to myself, considering the events of the day.
Can't wait for Rouge-Roubaix V. Thanks to Jon and his group for putting on the race. Also, congrats to Stephen V. and the other 50 finishers.
- Chip Porter