18th last year, 9th this year, so does that mean I can aim for a top 5 finish next year? No matter what the result though, every person in every category who raced and finished yesterday raced 105 miles through some of the most grueling terrain and roads you can imagine – and all of it taking place under perfect weather conditions deep in the bayou of Louisiana. What an awesome way to kick start the road racing season! Team JuwiFirst-Solar took 1st and 2nd with Jonny Sundt (Kenda Pro Cycling) placing 3rd after crossing a gap of nearly 10 minutes and then suffering an untimely puncture late in the race.
Mike Olheiser was there with his new team, Team-JuwiFirst-Solar. Other strong teams included Kenda, Snapple, Metro-VW, Plano-PACC, Team La S’port, Herring Gas, and S3. Mike sent two of his riders up the road in the early suicide break as soon as we made it out of the neutral zone. One other rider (Plano-PACC) latched on making it a break of 3. With such a strong team having two riders up the road, there was much more racing at the front before the first dirt section than last year. No team wanted to commit to chasing, though. Instead, teams tried to launch riders off the front to bridge. Most of these moves came back, but eventually a chase group containing Jonny Sundt (Kenda Pro Cycling), Jacob Brewer (Herring Gas), and Scott Kuppersmith (La S’port Cycling) established itself. This was the situation leading into the first dirt section.
The first dirt section
With six riders now off the front in two separate groups, I was still in the pack of maybe 50 riders going into the first dirt section. I had worked (and fought) my way to the front of the group and entered the dirt in 3rd or 4th position. We hit the first dirt/gravel road hard even with a couple of loose sections, but we were able to plow right through and I stayed in the group but had slid back to about 20th position by the time we reached the logging truck. The truck was heavily loaded and moving slowly (2-3 mph), but the problem is that our lead car stopped on the side of the road. So to pass through there was only about a 4 or 5 foot wide space between the logging truck and the lead car. The first few riders made it through, but the richochet effect of slowing down meant that by the time I made it up to the narrow spot between the logging truck and the lead car, we were moving very slowly. During the process of accelerating back up to speed, I came off the back of the group and chased hard for the remaining portion of the dirt road (about 6 miles). The picture below was taken by Adam Falgout somewhere in the first dirt section when I was chasing by myself.
Chasing the chase group somewhere in the first dirt section. Photo credit:
Adam & Erin Falgout Photography www.adamanderinfalgoutphotography.com
I knew that I was expending a lot of energy, but I also wasn’t sure if the group was going to slow down after reaching the paved road. The entire time I was chasing, I was riding through the dust and could see the group whenever the road straightened out enough. I looked back periodically and didn’t see anyone, although I knew that there would be chase groups forming behind me. When I made it back to the road, I put my head down and drilled it bridging back up to the group with just a couple more minutes of chasing. A few miles later, one more group joined up with us. And I believe that was it as we started to race again with lots of attacks and counter attacks.
The battle of wills between the first dirt section and the second dirt section
The first dirt section ends at mile 35, and the second dirt section doesn’t begin until 32 miles later at about mile 67. Last year, this entire section was pretty much cruised at 22-23 mph. This year, we had some real racing earlier on starting from about mile 40 until mile 51 where there were a number of attacks. During this section of the race, our average speed was just under 25mph with lots of attacks and then slow-downs. Tim Henry (Pacesetter Steel) got into a number of solo moves, but nothing would stick. Cesar Grajales (Real Cyclist / On the Rivet) tried to get away, but everybody in the pack was watching him like a hawk. He couldn’t go anywhere without the entire field responding. I attacked a couple times, too, but couldn’t make a clean break from the field. When that didn’t work, I tried a couple roll offs hoping that the group would just let me roll away – not happening. Once it was clear that nothing was getting away, our pace dropped with only a few riders setting tempo. I still held out hope of catching some of the earlier riders, but not if we averaged 18mph so I went to the front and helped ramp up the pace a few times trying to conserve energy, but keep the group moving. Our average pace from mile 51 to mile 67 was 22.5mph.
The second dirt section
It became clear by the time that we approached the start of the second dirt section 67 miles into the race that the early suicide move was going to stick this year as they still had a gap of maybe 10 minutes? What I didn’t know at the time is that by the top of Blockhouse Hill, Jonny Sundt (Kenda) had finished bridging across and joined the lead JuwiFirst-Solar pair of riders who had dropped the other rider that was with them. I also didn’t know that somewhere during this stretch, both Scott Kuppersmith (Team La S’port) and Jake Brewer (Herring Gas) had come off of the chase group leaving Jonny to finish the bridge alone. Quite impressive!!
Meanwhile, back in our group, I was watching my Garmin as it ticked down the miles until the lefthand turn onto the second dirt section. I was able to move all the way to front with less than a half mile to the turn. Then when we hit the turn, I entered in about 3rd or 4th wheel. This second dirt section starts out with a mix of paved road, dirt road, gravel road, and potholes. So it is crazy fast leading into Blockhouse Hill, which is 0.6miles long @ 7.8% with really steep pitches in the middle. The entire climb is loose dirt and gravel. Last year, I had to walk it when a rider fell over in front of me, and it was too steep to remount. This year, I was near enough to the front that I was with all the riders who are capable of riding the climb, and we were able to fly right up it (11.4 mph average speed with heartrate of 187). During this crazy-fast ascent, Mike Olheiser and Cesar Grajales separated themselves with maybe a 20-30 second advantage. Immediately behind them, Christian Helmig (Metro-VW), another rider from Metro-VW, and a Bissell Pro Cycling rider coalesced into a chase group by the top. I was just barely off this group by about 5 seconds. I chased for about a mile on the dirt before I was able to catch them. We started working together even before we made it out of the dirt section to try to chase down Mike and Cesar. We could always see them just ahead, and it looked like we were gradually closing down the gap. I was at my limit pretty much the whole time with an average heart rate of 178 for that entire chase (almost 15 miles!). Then as we approached the third dirt section, the gap really started to came down. We got stuck behind about four cars that had lined up behind the follow-car. It was almost like the race caravan at a pro stage race.
The third dirt section
We were getting ready to go around the cars when we realized that we had made it to the start of the third dirt section. We had to wait to see if any of the cars were going to turn left, and that was just enough time for us to not make the bridge to Mike and Cesar, who had turned back on the gas for the dirt. We also lost Christian who was the fastest from our group on the steep initial climb. I struggled on the climb and panicked a bit because I could see Mike, Cesar, and Christian nearing the top of the climb when I was struggling at the bottom. I wanted to go faster, but I couldn’t. I was just struggling to stay upright so I hopped off the bike thinking that I could run up it faster than ride up it. As Mike, Cesar, and Christian disappeared out of sight, I thought for sure Christian had made the juncture to finish the race with Mike and Cesar since we were so close (50 meters?) – but it turns out that he never did catch them – which meant that he rode the last 25 miles by himself!
The long finishing section
Meanwhile, we were still pushing it and eventually caught three riders individually over the next 20 miles – Scott Kuppersmith (Team La S’port) and two Plano-PACC riders. Each rider latched onto our group, but all three were pretty cooked after a really long day in breakaways. At this point, I felt like I was pulling the hardest in our group, so I wasn’t sure if that was because the other riders were struggling – or if it was because they were saving up for the finish. When my Garmin said we had 3 miles to go, I attacked hard on one of the short steep hills. We lost one of the Plano riders and Scott, but unfortunately for me, it became apparent that the other Metro-VW rider and the Bissell rider were just saving up for the sprint because they had no problem closing the gap to me. So I stopped working hard and started to save energy for the finish. Unfortunately, I didn’t save enough energy because the Bissell rider and Metro-VW rider had no problem coming around me in the sprint. The remaining Plano-PACC rider was dropped.
It was during this finishing section that the most unusual thing of the race happened. We were flying around a corner shortly after crossing a cattle guard, when there was a big cow in the middle of the road. We didn’t slow down and just went flying right by it within a couple feet of it. I’m glad we didn’t spook it enough to charge us or kick!
The finish order (updated)
1. Greg Krause (Team JuwiFirst-Solar)
2. Ben Blaugrund (Team JuwiFirst-Solar)
3. Jonny Sundt (Kenda)
4. Cesar Grajales (Real Cyclist)
5. Mike Olheiser (Team JuwiFirst-Solar)
6. Christian Helmig (Metro-VW)
7. Andrew Dahlheim (Bissell Pro Cycling)
8. Stephan Hirsch (Metro-VW)
9. Brian Toone (Tria Cycling)
10. Adam Koble (Plano-PACC)
11. Scott Kupersmith (Team La S’port)
12. Michael Lalla (Plano-Pacc)
13. Tim Henry (Pacesetter Steel)
14. Robert Binkley (Krystal)
19. Andrew Reardon (Nashville Cyclist)
20. Matt Davis (Team La S’port)
This will probably be the longest race of the year with the most calories burned (4923 calories). The Strava stats indicate a 242 watt average, but that doesn’t take into account all the effort on the loose, rocky dirt sections. My heart rate average was 160, which is a couple beats higher than a typical road race. But my typical road races are 20-30 miles shorter than Rouge Roubaix!
Annotated heartrate data for Rouge Roubaix 2011 (click for full graph)
Strava segments with calculated power data (click for full graph)
Or you can also view the ride interactively on Strava here – http://app.strava.com/rides/346562
My day was made as soon as I showed up at registration and saw my TopoCreator map printed out on a 3 foot poster alongside the trophies to be awarded!
Close-up of my topocreator map with annotations added by the race organizers. I like the section labeled “Mo Fun”.
We drive nearly seven hours from Birmingham to arrive and end up parking right next to a car from Pennsylvania with the same MOPS sticker that is on our car!