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Rouge Roubaix Race Report
March 13, 2011
St. Francisville, LA

Triskaidekaphobia on the Rocks
Randall Legeai

The 13th annual Rouge-Roubaix started out a little too early for me. As happens every few years, this year's event coincided with the start of daylight savings time, so Saturday night I dutifully went around the house moving all of the clocks ahead by one hour. Modern technology, however, intervened when the fancy new bedside clock-radio I'd bought a couple of months ago moved itself ahead in the middle of the night too. I'd forgotten it could do that. Hence, the alarm went off at 3:30 am instead of 4:30 am. Naturally, I didn't notice. After shaving and brushing my teeth and wondering why I didn't smell coffee brewing (I'd set the coffee maker to start at 4:30) I finally glanced at my wristwatch. Crap! I reset the alarm and got another half hour of sleep before heading off at 4:45 for the Clearview parking lot to meet a few others for the early morning caravan up to St. Francisville. People were running late, of course, so we didn't really roll out until around 5:30. I spent the next hour and a half of what is normally an hour and forty-five minute drive scanning the road ahead for police cars as we barrelled down I-10 at speeds significantly in excess of the posted limit in order to make it there before packet pickup ended at 7:00. With over 300 pre-registrants, I was a little surprised to find a parking spot in the hotel lot when I arrived with plenty of time to spare before the Masters/Women field's departure at 8:30 am.

Roube-Roubaix #13, Masters/WomenThis year's race was just a tad under 106 miles with 25 or so on gravel roads that ranged from flat and fast to steep and unrideable. I long ago gave up trying to understand why I, not to mention 298 other people, keep doing this. The group rolled out right on time, and as usual there were riders going off the front within the first ten miles. I wished them luck, because I've done this before and I know there's no way I can be working a breakaway 10 miles into a 106 mile race without bringing along cab fare (which, BTW, Elizabeth had actually put in her jersey pocket before the start, just in case). My strategy, as usual, was to conserve, conserve, conserve until the second dirt section. Since I'd flatted before the first dirt section last year, this would be my first traverse with the two year old Masters/Women group. Compared with some of my earlier experiences with the Cat. 1/2/3 field, the pace along this stretch was relatively smooth and steady, despite the constant barrage of flying rocks and sound of gravel hitting carbon fiber, or in my case, aluminum. The road surface here was pretty decent, as gravel roads go. So we came out of the first long stretch of gravel having lost maybe half to a third of the riders who had started. Somewhere up the road, reportedly by about three minutes, was a break of eight to ten riders. Up at the front of our group a number of the stronger riders and teams took up the chase, pulling along the rest of us in their wake at a brisk but steady pace. Jerry S. had said earlier that his job for this race was going to end at the second gravel section, so I wasn't surprised to see him working hard at the front in support of his teammate. Donald Davis, as usual, was also up there during this stretch. Lurking near the front was Debbie Milne, often with Jenn Purcell hovering nearby. This chase continued steadily from the end of the first gravel section at 32 miles until a few miles before the start of the second at 67 when our group finally caught the break.

So it was gruppo compacto when we hit the second gravel road with its long slippery climb, aka Block House Hill, and its $100 prime at the top. I had been able to position myself pretty well coming into this section and was feeling quite good as the climb started. My big problem on these climbs is that, being small and usually on the drops, I can't see much of the road ahead. Suddenly the rider in front of me moved to the right and a moment later my front wheel sank deeply into a sand pit. The bike slid to the left, I bounced off of another rider, and we both went down. Crap. That felt kind of embarrassing in a Cat. 5 kind of way. I jumped back up and luckily was able to clip back in on the first try, but by now I was way at the back of a rapidly disintegrating field and the leaders were well on the other side of the hill. My legs were still feeling pretty good, so I dropped the hammer, threw caution to the wind, rolled the dice, and blasted up and down the steep hills as fast as my little legs could go, picking off lone riders one by one as I worked my way closer to the front group, which I still couldn't see. Near the end of the section I came up on Grant Dona and we immediately formed an unspoken alliance, coming off the gravel back onto the asphalt and regrouping with one or two others.

Rouge-Roubaix 13, Masters/WomenAbout 40 seconds up the road I could see the front group, now down to maybe fifteen riders, chasing a 2-rider break. We put our heads down and started chasing as my legs cried for mercy. Soon it was just Grant and me. The group ahead was itself in chase mode, so we weren't making much ground, but I knew that if they caught that break they would probably ease up. After four or five miles I finally saw them make the catch and spread out across the road, and a couple of minutes after that we were back in the relative comfort of the pack. It was recovery time. Again. The pace along this section of rolling hills was fairly steady as riders were trying to recover from the 2nd dirt section and prepare for the 3rd at mile 83. I think it was along here that I saw Debbie Milne attack, taking Jen with her. I smiled, impressed with her aggressiveness and timing. The pack didn't respond at all since most were racing for the Masters prizes, and the pair quickly disappeared over the horizon, never to be seen again.

As usual, my legs were starting to complain as we approached the final gravel section, but compared to some prior years I was feeling pretty good. I was still with the lead group, and although I was fully expecting a bout of debilitating leg cramps before the finish, all systems were still functioning with normal parameters. I slugged down a little more Hammergel and water. We hit the last gravel section together and started the first really steep climb on a road buried in big loose gravel. I think maybe one person made it to the top without dismounting, but there was so little traction to be had that everyone else was soon off the bike and walking up the hill. I was feeling pretty good that I was still in company, and when the road levelled out a bit and people started remounting, I did so as well, only to discover that my chain had somehow come completely off the chainring while I was pushing the bike up the hill, so when I clipped in and pushed on the pedal it just spun around and I went nowhere as everyone around me disappeared up the hill. Damn! I tried three times to get the chain back on, finally bending down and grabbing the thing with my hands and forcing the cranks around while holding the bike off the ground until everything sorted itself out. So once again I was alone and in full-on chase mode, riding the downhills like a Kamikaze on deadline. I knew I was burning one of my last matches, but was surprised to be passing riders along this stretch, and when I finally popped out onto what passes for pavement around there I soon found myself in a small group that included Grant. We'd had a number of riders from the Cat. 3/4 field (guys who had flatted, crashed, or suffered some other mishap) mixed in with our group for a long time, and we picked up a few more of them over the next few miles. Since they weren't really supposed to be with us, they kept to the back so they wouldn't affect the masters race. At this point I had no idea how many riders were up the road, but I was thinking at least ten. For the most part there were just three of us pulling for a long time. This last 18 or 20 miles is always torture, and this year was no exception. As I'd expected, I was starting to get some pretty severe cramping in my hamstrings (lack of climbing in training rides, of course), but after drinking some diluted sports drink and taking on another slug of Hammergel, the cramping subsided for a while and I was able to stay in the rotation. Somewhere in the last seven or eight miles we picked up another masters rider, among others, who'd been dropped out of the lead group and he started working with us too. Grant was starting to fade a bit toward the end, but then again so were we all. I don't think I ever looked back during the final ten miles, but apparently we had accumulated a number of riders who had been dropped out of the front group and although I didn't know it, we were actually racing for third place with just Donald Davis and Frank Jennings still up the road. I continuted to push the pace as best I could, mostly just to get the pain over with sooner rather than later, and when we made the final turn with 500 meters to go I stood up and gave it one last push up the hill, leading our pain-filled little group across the finish line in St. Francisville.

Masters 40+ PodiumOverall, I was very surprised that I was able to handle the distance and terrain as well as I did. Clearly, the Masters race was less intense than some of the others, and of course I sucked wheels as much as possible for the first eighty miles, but considering how many of the long winter training rides I missed in January and February, and the fact that I was able to regain the group after two mishaps, and didn't suffer any flats or serious crashes or broken handlebars, I can't complain. I think it will be a day or so until we get the complete results.

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