I have been wanting to write this race report from the moment the race was over, but it has been a crazy busy week at work. I am finally caught up enough that I can sit down to reflect on what for sure was the most epic Rouge Roubaix ever.
Rouge Roubaix is epic every year, but this year’s edition was off-the-charts epic. Let me set the scene. Tucked in the elbow of Louisiana wedged between the Mississippi River and the Mississippi state line is West Feliciana parish — with St Francisville nestled on the edge of the Tunica Hills on the eastern bank of the Mississippi.
The area is so rural that many of the roads, especially the ones through the hills, are unpaved. With this race taking place during the spring classics season on a number of dirt/gravel sectors and a start location only 30 minutes away from Baton Rouge, the name of the race “Rouge Roubaix” is perfect.
This year’s race featured four sectors. The first section was a new addition this year because one of the paved roads normally on the course was closed with a washed out bridge from the heavy rains that have been plaguing the south for most of January and February. So add an extra rugged dirt gravel road, combined with three other dirt/gravel sections that were in rougher than normal shape, along with a really stacked field with four previous winners, the Kona mountain bike / cyclocross team, and you have the makings of an epic race. How epic? By the end of the race, the wheel trucks were patching and replacing tubes on already flatted wheels so they would be ready to hand out to the next rider who flatted.
I also got a chance to race with my FGS Cycling teammate Kurt Page for the first time. He got caught up in a nasty early crash, but still managed to finish the 105 mile race — with blood streaming down from his leg and hip — in 17th place! He Jens Voigted the heck out of that race!!!
With the new dirt road coming early in the race, and a narrow rough road leading up to it, we flew through the neutral section at close to 25mph average. Once we made the left turn signaling the end of the neutral section, our speed skyrocketed to close to 40mph with a number of attacks. Shortly after making the next left, two guys rolled off the front and had a very small lead. But they didn’t get very far b/c our field was riding hard jockeying for position leading into the first gravel section. At the beginning of this video, I move up following a Giant rider on the outside but I was still a good 10-15 riders back by the time we hit the climb and sharp turn onto gravel. Things started out ok, but then I got stuck in some deep gravel going off to the side. This happened a couple more times, and I was really starting to lose positions when my friend Jesse Gaudet passed me. I hopped on his wheel, knowing that he knows these roads better than anyone else and just simply followed him whichever lines he took.
By the end of the gravel section we had picked up one more rider from ahead of us, and Christian Parrett (5 Hour Energy) had caught up to us. Almost immediately, Christian flatted so it was back down to three of us chasing the leaders. Just before entering the second gravel section, a small group of three or four guys caught up to us. Then our group kept swelling because we kept on picking up guys who had flatted out of the lead group. All of this is in the second video. The lead group had shrunk to just 4 by the end of the second gravel section. Meanwhile, our group kept swelling with people catching up from flatting. Just Mike Olheiser (Cashcall), Oscar Clark (Hincapie Devo), Ty Magner (Hincapie Devo), and one other rider were all that was left in the lead group. Our chase group worked really well together with me, three riders from the Kona team, Jason Sager (Jamis), Johnny Brizzard, and a few other riders working together. We were flying and caught up to the lead four about 10-15 miles later. This is the third video.
Almost immediately, I got into a break with one of the Kona riders and Corey Ray from Herring Gas. Then after a few minutes, Oscar Clark, and a Giant rider (Russ Walker?) bridged up to us. This got our group really moving and we extended our lead to maybe 45 seconds. Somebody was chasing behind us, though, because we got caught with about six miles to go until the third dirt section, Blockhouse Hill. This is the fourth video.
Oscar Clark attacked a few miles later (about a mile or so before the hill) and easily rode away to take the KOM. I was near the front, but unfortunately started drifting back through the mixed gravel, paved section. This was a big mistake b/c I needed to be much farther up at the base of Blockhouse. The riders in front of me were not going nearly as fast as the leaders, and it was difficult to pass. I passed a few people, but the leaders were gone. To make matters worse, I really goofed up the sand pit at the bottom of the first hill after the summit. Not only was I not able to ride it, I didn’t remount cleanly and had to stop one more time. By this point, the race for first was over for me. This is all on the fifth video.
Still, I knew we were doing well, and you never know how many people ahead might flat. A few of us merged together and chased all the way through the next long paved section, but it was kind of half-hearted. When we made the left onto the final dirt section (Tunica Hills), last year’s winner Adam Koble rode away from us. Jonathan Brown (Hot tubes) and I hit the next climb together – that lasted for about 30 seconds before the gradient was too steep and the gravel too loose to ride. We weren’t alone pushing our bikes – up ahead I could see Adam pushing his, Jason Waddell (Tulsa Tough) remarked on the irony of us being in the middle of a road race, walking our bikes up a hill. Jason Sager caught back up to us and made it the farthest of any of us, but eventually he too hit a loose spot of gravel and had to start walking. Across the top, we coalesced into one group again, but only for a couple minutes when Jason Waddell flatted. A few minutes later, I flatted.
I pulled out my tube and got the wheel off my bike and started to change the tire when Jason came by saying that the wheel truck was just behind. So I started stuffing everything back into my jersey just as the wheel truck caught up to me. About a minute after flatting, I was up and rolling again with a new wheel. Our exact same group merged together again. This section of the race goes from good pavement to mixed gravel, rough road several times so it was hard to get in a really good rotation rhythm. It seemed like people were really tired, and eventually a couple more riders joined our group. A few miles later, Jason Waddell and the Elbowz rider attacked our group. I was just coming off my pull at the front, but still I chased hard and almost caught up to them before blowing up. The rest of the group caught back up to me and I was pretty miserable that two more places just went up the road. By the end, four of us were sprinting for 10th place. The Kona rider led out the sprint with me on his wheel. I feel like I was boxed in a bit and could only come around the Kona rider after the other two riders had come around me. So I got third in that sprint to take 12th. But then there was a strange protest about motorpacing from early on in the race that led to two riders ahead of me being relegated to the back of our group. This bumped me up a couple spots to 10th.
This final video below shows us entering the final dirt section, all the way through my flat, subsequent chase, regrouping and working together on the pavement for a bit. But my battery died before the end.
Overall, it was an epic day, I had a blast, great training, fun times suffering with fellow bike racers, already looking forward to next year. Disappointed a bit at where I finished especially since I feel like if I had been a little bit farther up going into Blockhouse, I could have made it through that section with the leaders. Won’t make the same mistake again next year, and I’m already looking forward to it!
Here is all the data from my race.
Annotated heartrate zone summary
And lastly, here are some photos I took during the weekend.