Rouge Roubaix

by Bob Hodges

Bob HodgesHi All! Here's the race summary of the Rouge Roubaix III held in St. Francisville today. Salty Galvis and I made the trip to represent our respective teams Lakeshore Racing and NOBC and our northshore cycling community. My post is kinda long but it was a very challenging race so you might find the narrative interesting and informative.

The Race - Background
Promoter Jon Anderson of Cycle Louisiana dreamed up this race as a way to give regional racing cyclists a taste of what a classic European spring road race might be like. Most of the European classics like Het Volk, Tour of Flanders, and Paris-Roubaix not only race on the pavement but also have long stretches and climbs on narrow, bumpy, dirty, dusty, slippery cobblestones. Imagine over 100 hard charging pro cyclists going from black top pavement to these cobblestone surfaces, some which are not more than 6-8 feet wide. They don't call Paris-Roubaix the "Hell of the North" for nothing. Jon realized we don't have cobblestone sections to race on (thank God) but he did have alot of gravel and dirt roads interspersed among the beautiful rolling hills in the St. Francisville area. Thus, Rouge Roubaix was born. The race is about 60% smooth pavement, 20% dirt and gravel road, and 20% rough pavement. The total mileage is right at 100 miles. The course profile is always rolling and some of the climbs on the gravel roads are very steep (more later). This is the first year Rouge Roubaix was run as a race. The previous two years, it was a just ride (more to see if riders could actually do it).

Race Report
About 35-40 riders showed up to race this year's event. There was an A and B category and a womens category (only one female racer competed and finished (strongly!)) Unfortunately for me, none of my NOBC teammates could make the race so I had to come up with a little different race strategy than my last two road races. The first thing I noted was the large number of Red Stick Racing (Baton Rouge) team members present. I figured if a break got off with their riders, they would immediately try to shutdown the chasing pack. The three riders I thought were the ones to watch the closest were Stig Somme, Steve Aspey and Steve Seiden. I had heard about Stig about a year ago. He is from Norway and is doing his medical internship in New Orleans. I heard he had been putting a hurting on the southshore crew often and he rode very strongly at the large Red Bluff training ride about 6 weeks ago. Stig looks like the classic European road racer: about 5'6", 0% body fat, probably 125-130 lbs. soaking wet with very defined legs. Both Steves ride for Red Stick and had initiated a long break at the Jones Vaughn Creek road race a few weeks ago that got eventually caught by NOBC but our team had to work hard to catch them. Then of course there were alot of other very fit Red Stick riders and some riders from other teams (one from Arkansas with three riders). They all seemed to be about 10-20 years younger than me so I figured maybe if I just finish the damn thing, I can be happy.

The race started out mellow enough. For the first 10 miles the pack rolled along at 18-20 mph warming up their legs. When we turned onto Sligo Road, Jon Anderson and David Alexander of Red Stick jumped on a small hill. I waited for a response from Stig, Steve, and Steve but they were content to let it go. Seeing that we had 90 more miles to race, I decided to stay put. Sure enough, Red Stick started sending riders to the front and for the next 16-17 miles, they controlled the pace. Stig tried to go off a couple of times but was immediately chased down. I did one exploratory probe off the front with the same result. The two Steves stayed put not being the ones to chase down their teammates. At this point, I decided to stay near the front five riders at all times so I could respond if it looked like something might get away to chase. At mile 25, we turned onto Woodstock Road, our first dirt and gravel section. For the first 3-4 miles, it slowly climbed up so the group stayed pretty much in line. There was very loose gravel on the sides and in the middle so you had to stay in the foot wide grooves made by the truck and car tire tracks. It wasn't too bad near the front even though I was paranoid about flatting and rocks flying up in my face. The pace stayed at 17-20 mph, pretty quick for this surface going uphill. As we got to the last couple of miles on this section, the road started going down and the pace picked up. Now it got interesting as we were rolling about 24-26 mph. You definetly needed to avoid the loose gravel and the fast downhill sections made finding a line critical. At one point I moved across the middle and felt my front wheel start to wash out. I got to the smooth section before I lost it luckily. Right before we got to the end of this section going very fast, Steve Seiden moved a little too close to the middle and lost it. He was right in front of me so I had to quickly cross over the middle again but luckily I found a bare spot. Coming down this last section it got pretty dusty and I was reminded of videos I had seen of Paris-Roubaix with huge dust clouds on the "pave'" (cobblestones). I thought it was impressive up front where I was but Salty told me later he could barely see further back in the pack. At mile 32, we turned off this section and were on pavement for the next 34 miles. Shortly after we got on the pavement, I swore I felt my rear tire going soft but luckily this was not the case. The same thing happened to Salty except he thought it was definetly going flat and pulled off the road to make a change. Bad thing, the tire was fine and he had lost the pack. Fortunately, the wheel vehicle allowed him to draft behind it and he "motorpaced" back up to the group. Coming off the dirt road, the lead group had opened a small gap so I looked for something to happen. Well, something happened and the group slowed down! This allowed the riders that had dropped back to catch back on including Steve Seiden who recovered quickly from his crash (dirt and gravel is alot softer than pavement). Red Stick now started getting very aggressive at slowing the group down. At times, we were only rolling at 19 mph. I imagined Jon and David up ahead rolling along at a steady 21-22 mph pace stretching it out. Stig tried a couple of aggressive moves at the front and I did a couple of strong pulls but every time we had 4-5 Red Stick riders on our wheels. Steve Seiden and Steve Aspey though started positioning themselves in the front group so I told myself to be patient and not use too much energy.

At mile 50, we heard the lead duo were 6-1/2 minutes up the road. I began to wonder if I shouldn't had gone with them at mile 10. I knew the toughest climbs were coming but I didn't know how tough they would be. I was to find out soon. At mile 65, we turned off the pavement and crossed a very bad bridge. There were only two lanes about 2-3 feet wide across the bridge. Stig went across first and tried to break away. No luck, he got caught quick. One quarter mile later, we came around a corner and saw Block House Hill. I heard a collective "Oh sh_t" from the group. For those of you who have been to Red Bluff, imagine the first Red Bluff climb on a dirt road with loose gravel. Like the previous dirt section, there was loose gravel on the sides and middle and a new element, grooves carved out by rain running perpendicular to the road. You could only climb in the saddle. If you came out of the saddle, chances were the gravel and grooves would cause your rear wheel to loose traction which would then cause you to stop or fall. This one mile climb broke the race apart. I was about 10 riders back when we started up, bad spot! Immediately I saw Stig attack at the front followed by Steve Seiden and one of the riders from the Arkansas team. Unfortunately for me, I got stuck behind two slower riders and could not get around them. It was a bummer to watch the lead trio open up about a 50 yard gap. About halfway up, I finally found a lane around the two riders in front of me. At this point, I passed Jon Anderson who had finally been caught but David Alexander (the other early break rider) was still up the road. By the time I got to the front, I was in good company with Steve Aspey, Norm Nolan (another strong Red Stick rider), and Micah Thorning (a great mountain bike racer who rides for LSU's cycling team). We could see Steve Seiden and the AR rider about 100 yards in front of us but no sign of Stig. We immediately organized and started chasing for the next two miles on the rolling dirt and gravel. It was exhilirating and scary to be rolling at about 22-23 mph. Some of the curves were very tight and it felt like we were always exploring the limits of our skinny tire's traction. At mile 69, we got back onto to the pavement and had cut down the gap on Steve Seiden and the AR rider to about 50 yards. I felt like they knew we were coming and wanted us to join up to chase Stig who was gone! A couple of minutes later, we bridged the gap and now we had six riders working together. We soon started rolling at 27-29 mph with the strongest pulls being done by Norm. Suprisingly, Steve Aspey dropped off. We were now a group of five but in reality, Micah was having a hard time pulling through and just sat on so it was four of us doing the work. Norm, Steve Seiden, and the AR rider would pull through at 27-28 mph, I was struggling to pull through at 27 mph initially but after awhile was able to do it consistently. We had a bit of a tailwind and the road seemed to go down more than up so the pace stayed high. After about 10 minutes at this pace, there was still no sign of Stig, that little guy was some strong! We had one more long dirt and gravel section that started with a long climb at Old Tunica Road at mile 80. As we neared the turn off the pavement, I wondered if I could hold on. Shortly after the turn, we came around the first blind corner and saw the gradient of the climb. I heard a collective "Oh f_ck". This time, (again for you Red Bluff vets), imagine the White Bluff climb on dirt and gravel (probably a 10% - 12% grade). Steve and the AR rider immediately opened up a gap. I was in front of Norm and Micah. We then finally saw David Alexander who was walking his bike up the climb and looked pretty blown! As I went past him, I told him "Good job mate staying away" and he gave me a weak smile. Like Block House Climb, you could only do this monster in the saddle. At this point, I thought I felt my right quad start to seize up, hesitated, and lost it. Micah and Norm came around me and my feet were on the road. Now while this seemed bad at first, I quickly learned that I could walk fast and not lose too much ground (this sucker was steep). After about 200 feet, I found a short shallower spot and jumped back on my bike. I just barely got clipped back in without stopping and falling. Norm and Micah were about 20 yards in front of me. For the next 1.5 miles we went up and down some very short steep hills. On each hill I would close the gap only to lose them as they went over the top. Finally, on one of the last hills on this section, I bridged back up and we were a chase group of three. Our former chase group companions Steve and the AR rider were not to be seen. We now had a fairly long downhill section on the last of the dirt and gravel. Norm and Micah were on my wheel. Many of the curves were more like switchbacks. If you entered too fast, you could just feel your tires letting go and feel the bike start to drift, hairy stuff! We finally got off the dirt road onto a rough paved road. It quickly became apparent that Micah could not pull through at all and was just hanging on. The road was rolling with no steep hills at first. We were all really starting to get tired. Norm and I were only pulling through at 19-22 mph, that was it. We did come to one short steep climb and it was bye-bye Micah. He dropped off and I never saw him again (he bonked very badly and got caught by seven riders). Norm and I turned onto the start of the last five miles at Solitude Road. The pavement got alot smoother and we actually picked our pace up to about 21-23 mph. When my computer read mile 98, I figured we had about 4 miles left (because my computer is a little fast). I asked Norm what his computer read and he told me 90 miles. My heart sank as I really wanted to finish this thing and I was worried his computer might be right! When we turned onto Highway 66, Norm told me we had about 2.5 miles to go so his computer was slow (thank God!). At the 1 km to go mark, we turned onto to Old Highway 66 and had one more climb. We were really tired and I pulled Norm up the hill at about 12 mph. We made one last turn to the finish and with 200 km to go, Norm got out of the saddle and beat me to the line by 5 seconds. Stig and and Steve Seiden were waiting on us.

Stig had almost been caught by Steve and the AR rider. He looked pretty trashed and he later told me he was nearly delirious with fatigue the last couple of miles. To my surprise, I found out that the three of them had only finished about a minute in front of us. I was very happy with my race. I had hoped to finish and be competitive. Placing fifth was a nice surprise! I have to say this was probably the hardest road race I have ever done. Jon Anderson completely succeeded in creating an extremely challenging event. Salty also finished strongly. He was happy as he had two goals, don't crash and finish ( I think Salty was also the senior finisher at 49 years of age with alot of younger riders behind him).

Here's a few more tidbits. While there were feed zones in this race, I had no one to give me food or liquid so I had to carry everything I would need for nutrition on the bike. Thanks to Mike Lew at Playground Earth for helping me plan my feeding schedule and for turning me on to Extran Carbo Supplement. This stuff works having about 300 calories of complex carbo fuel per 200 ml. I had 600 ml in one bottle and I took the last swallow about 5 miles from the finish. In addition, I drank one 20 oz. bottle of diluted Cytomax, ate one Clif Bar, and drank about 50 oz. of water. Total caloric intake was about 1,300 calories on the bike which was probably about 100 calories short. Thanks to Paul Q. at Playground Earth for letting me use one of his repair stands to fine tune my shifting yesterday. My bike had to work perfectly today and I didn't miss one shift. Also thanks for letting me use your Camel Bak! And Paul, thanks for convincing me to buy the Spinergy R1 wheels last year. After over 6,000 miles of riding, my R1's got me through this race in relative comfort and were perfectly true after the race. Lastly, the Vittoria Corsa tires I bought from you earlier this year came through with no nicks at all!