Tag Archives: bayou

Adventure in the Bayou

913 mile loop from my house to the Mississippi River on day 1 (RED – 353 miles), from Vicksburg down to St Francisville and across to Columbia on day 2 (YELLOW – 247 miles), and the final leg home from Columbia to Hoover (BLUE -313 miles). Click map above to see a zoomed-in, higher resolution version.

Rouge Roubaix

My first ride in the bayous of Louisiana was this amazing race in 2010. Before the race, I had dreams of winning. By the end of the race, I was happy just to have finished. My best shot at winning the race came in 2012 where I won the $100 KOM (you physically grab the $100 bill) by being the first up Blockhouse Hill. But two flat tires later, I saw myself sprinting for second place against two teammates from another team. Instead of strategizing for third place, I tried (and failed) to beat them both finishing one spot off the podium in fourth place … somehow both my best AND most disappointing finish.

Let’s go back to Blockhouse Hill and fast forward a couple years to 2014. Even by this point, the lure of the early season race wasn’t just the race itself but also the chance to ride in such a uniquely beautiful and mysterious area. In 2014, I “American Flyered” my ride by finding and racing a barge on the Mississippi River on Cat Island. My pre-ride took longer than planned, so I ended up riding down Blockhouse Hill in almost pitch-black dark without a light.

Finally, let’s look at 2016, the last year that I was able to do the race. That race report has a selfie of me with an alligator (taxidermied at a gas station), and I was wanting to stop at that same gas station on this ride … but I couldn’t remember which one it was, and I ended up picking the wrong gas station. Still, I got to talk to this cool local who was hanging out at the gas station and recounted a story of having to walk from Natchez to Woodville (it’s about 50 miles) and sleeping on the side of the road. I would use this story as motivation later for when I was desperately sleepy outside of Maplesville … more on that later.


There are about 3,250 counties in the USA and its territories. One day, I’m pretty sure I would like to ride in them all. I’m not sure how realistic that is, but I’ve ridden in over 500 counties already … so maybe? While I still determine the feasibility of the larger task, I’m working on riding all the counties in Alabama, Mississippi, Tennessee, Georgia, and Florida. I noticed a nearby “hole” in Mississippi (see annotated map below) which I could reach on a 350 mile round-trip ride from home in Birmingham, and set out a couple Tuesday’s ago on said ride. Unfortunately, I got a flat tire fairly early in the ride, which I also realized would have me riding into the sunset on the way out AND into the sunrise on the way back in.

The four-county hole in Mississippi I tried to ride to a couple weeks ago and failed, which then morphed into a much longer adventure, traversing 20 new counties in Mississippi and 2 in Louisiana, plus riding all the way to the Rouge Roubaix course.

The flat tire was all I needed to cut short the ride and head home. This was a great decision as it led to this 913 mile adventure a couple weeks later that I wouldn’t have otherwise done! I had named the route I was following on the abandoned ride “mscounties”, but as I planned out this more extensive adventure I named the three routes (instead of 1) to “rouge1”, “rouge2”, and “rouge3” – which also indicates the change in motivation for the ride. Instead of just filling in some missing counties, I was now going to fulfill a long predicted dream of riding to St Francisville, the start of Rouge Roubaix. The longer adventure helped with the Mississippi counties, too. Instead of four new counties, I ended up riding in twenty new counties in Mississippi alone, two new counties in Louisiana and zero new counties in Alabama since I’ve already ridden in them all!

It was a dark and stormy night … and day … and another night

We’ve had rather unsettled weather in the South over the past couple weeks with round after round of storms. The most recent was a series of tornados in Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama on Saturday. I had a hard time figuring out the timing for this ride because of the storm systems and other obligations, but one of the plans was to leave Saturday night after the storms. That didn’t work out because of a work meeting I had on Tuesday, which I wouldn’t have made it back in time for.

This meant the earliest I could leave was Tuesday because of the meeting, but it was going to be close on the timing with the Bakers Dozen race coming up on Saturday. Also, the problem with Tuesday is that it marked the arrival of the next round of storms. It looked like if I left during the storms on Tuesday night, I could make it to Vicksburg right about the time the next storms arrived there, but I would need to leave early enough on Tuesday evening to make it, which made it tricky with the Birmingham / Tuscaloosa traffic on roads I had been planning to ride much later in the night.

So that’s what I did … left Tuesday night at about 8:30PM in dry weather for the climb up to the top of Vestavia Drive. It was quite foggy at the top, and by the time I made it the half-mile over to Highway 31 it had started to rain pretty hard and continued raining for about 20 miles into Bessemer. Then it stopped and didn’t rain again literally until I got my first flat tire just outside of Durant, Mississippi about 225 miles later, but more on that later. First, we need to talk about parties, chickens, and tornados.

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Rouge Roubaix 2016

Low water bridge ... under water! Flooding caused a few route changes this year.Low water bridge … under water! Flooding caused a few route changes this year.

I was prepared for the flooding, though, as I practiced fording a river on my Thursday ride back in Alabama. I found all the dirt roads and gravel roads I could find that I felt were good simulation for the Rouge Roubaix course. Also, there is a stretch of the Cahaba River I’ve always wanted to try to cross in the middle of the ride. See pic below.

Rouge Roubaix prep - fording the Cahaba River on Thursday.Rouge Roubaix prep – fording the Cahaba River on Thursday in the middle of a 103 mile ride with 5 flats. Video in the middle of the crossing here: https://youtu.be/vMqPOqUr2hE

This was my 7th roubaix having raced it every year now since 2010. This was the first time that flooding caused a major reroute. Every year it was always questionable whether we would need to bypass part of the first gravel section, but there has always been three (or four … 2013!!!) gravel sections and the low water bridge near the end of the race. But this year, the first and third gravel sections were unrideable, and the low water bridge was impassable. The second gravel section, including the Blockhouse Hill, was rideable and quite fast with the sandy bottom after the climb packed down from the rain. Did that lessen the “epicness” of the race? Not one bit! As I write this blog, I am pulling together data from previous years. I believe this will shake out as more difficult than most years. It’s a little hard to make a fair comparison personally because I raced this year’s race a few pounds heavier than previous years and also with close to 400 miles in my legs for the week even before the start of the race and over 500 by the end of the race.

How the race played out
We staged at a new park this year closer to the finish and downtown St Francisville. Rolling out from there, we eventually hit US-61 north and took it all the way to the left on LA-66 (the road to Angola). This marked the end of the neutral section, and as always our pace skyrocketed to 40+mph (42.1mph this year). With many strong teams in the race, nothing emerged with the right composition and the race saw a continuous stream of attacks that saw us averaging 29.4 mph from the turn onto LA-66 to the right turn onto Sligo.

The twists and turns and hills and hit-or-miss pavement of Sligo usually sees a small break emerge with the field maintaining a fast but easily manageable pace that leaves you cringing that the break is “getting away”. This year was quite different as our pace was insane through Sligo without anyone trying to conserve energy for the first gravel section. We averaged 27.3 mph for the entire 12 mile stretch of roads taking us back to LA-66. I really struggled through here because I found myself near the back, and there was quite the slinky effect — basically felt like tail-gunning a criterium which can be much more difficult than riding the front!

There was a lull in the pace after we made it back to LA-66, and I worked my way up to the very front and even put in one attack shortly after what is normally the turn onto the first gravel. This move didn’t work, but I was well-positioned at the front to see the real break emerge on the rolling hills before the feedzone. After the feedzone, I was also in a good position to see a chase group emerge. I was in good position to go with it as I saw Frank Travieso about to attack, but we were near the top of a hill and my legs were dying so I hesitated and just watched him go instead. At this point, the break quickly got a minute and a half on the field.

I also lost a full bottle of gatorade that popped out when I hit a pothole at full speed (no flat though, +1 for Martindale 25mm rims and brand new tires). Thankfully, the field was still flying as this meant I had to last the entire first 68 miles of the race on a single small bottle of gatorade. We averaged 27.4 mph from the end of the neutral section all the way to the bottom of the blockhouse meaning the first 68 miles took well under 2.5 hours. Our pace was so fast in the field that we had started to catch the break again and could see them make the turn onto the rough road at the bottom of Blockhouse. I attacked shortly before the turn and was near the front going into the turn. I was on the left, so I rode through the puddle lake hoping that it was smooth underneath (which it was).

Fearing a flat, I tried to leave enough room to see ahead but people just kept passing me until the start of the climb. I passed a bunch of people on the climb and eventually caught back up to the front of the field. By this point there were only a few of us left. As we established a rotation, several other people from the field caught up to us. As we continued pushing the pace, we eventually caught a few people who had come off the lead group. All told, there were about 15 of us in the group which was too big for any cohesive effort. I was hoping that there would be a bunch of attacks that would eventually lead to the establishment of a new smaller chase group so I hopped onto John Stowe’s wheel when he attacked a couple times. Unfortunately, there were enough people who wanted to see the group work that there was always somebody chasing to bring it back.

As we approached the end, I could tell that my legs were just completely spent. I could keep up with the group, but I didn’t have anything left for the sprint. So in a vain attempt to sneak away, I attacked a bunch of times. The first attack was probably the best as I quickly got a good gap on the field but when we passed the 10K to go sign, I was disheartened and eased up knowing that I couldn’t hold that pace for the next 6 miles. The group caught back up, and I expected a counter-attack. But when the counter-attack didn’t come, I attacked again. This time my legs were pretty much done and I didn’t get very far. Finally, going into the setup for the sprint on US-61N, there was a lull in the pace and I launched one final attack. Nothing was getting away, but Joey Bacala and Jacob White countered that one and got away cleanly. I was done attacking/chasing and spent the rest of the race just holding on. I figured I would pass a few people on the final hill from people who cramped, but as it turns out there was only a couple people who sat up so I finished third from the end of our group, which was sprinting for 16th place. Joey and Jacob held on just barely ahead of the sprint to take 16th and 17th. I ended up 27th.

All-in-all, it was another great race and a fun day on the bike. I would like to redo the race and make a couple different decisions, but that is what next year is for!!!

Up ahead, Mike Olheiser and Andrew Dalheim were battling the Hincapie team who managed to get all 5 of their riders into the break. The Hincapie guys are not just super strong, though, they are also very smart and worked it to perfection to take a podium sweep this year with Travis McCabe taking the win followed by two riders I’ve not met before – Andzs Flaksis (Latvia) and Mac Brennan from Greenville. Andrew and Mike took 4th and 5th followed by Oscar Clark in 6th.

Rouge Roubaix over the years
This was by far my fastest Rouge Roubaix ever mainly because riders rode much more aggressively knowing that there was only one gravel section. Here is a year-by-year comparison of some of the key data from the race:

Year/Place Spd/Dist/Time Avg/Max HR Avg/NP Pow Suffer Winner
2016/27th 25.5 mph/100.7 mi/3:56:38 156/185 bpm 252/299 watts 318 Travis McCabe/26.6 mph
2015/17th 23.8 mph/101.8 mi/4:16:43 152/185 bpm 208/254 watts 296 Winston David/24.4 mph
2014/9th 23.8mph/101.8 mi/4:15:53 148/188 bpm N/A 266 Heath Blackgrove/24.4 mph
2013/10th 22.4mph/105.1 mi/4:41:34 163/192 bpm 242/274 watts 430 Ty Magner/23.9 mph
2012/4th 23.4mph/105.1 mi/4:30:02 162/192 bpm 242/280 watts 227 Adam Koble/23.4 mph
2011/9th 22.0mph/105.1 mi/4:47:11 159/192 bpm N/A 245 Greg Krause/22.9 mph
2010/18th 21.7mph/101.8 mi/4:41:59 160/194 bpm N/A 224 Mat Davis/22.7 mph

My first time racing Rouge Roubaix was 2010. Here is what I could find for previous years. Distances aren’t recorded in the results, so I’m calculating average speed assuming they used the long course (105.1 mi) below:

2009 – 1st place – Christian Helming 4:26:30 – 105.1mi (?) @ 23.7mph
2008 – 1st place – Aaron Boyleston 4:25:53 – 105.1mi (?) @ 23.7mph
2007 – 1st place – Mike Olheiser 4:21:09 – 105.1mi (?) @ 24.1mph
2006 – 1st place – Mike Olheiser 4:31:25 – 105.1mi (?) @ 23.2mph
2005 – 1st place – Jason Snow 4:22:50 – 105.1mi (?) @ 24.0mph
2004 – 1st place – Brice Jones 4:23:56 – 105.1mi (?) @ 23.9mph
2003 – Results link broken
2002 – 1st place – Stephen Viquerie 5:02:00 – 105.1mi (?) @ 20.9mph
2001 – Results link broken
2000 – Results link broken
1999 – Results link broken

2016 Rouge Roubaix race data
One of the things I wanted to investigate this year was how much time was spent in my 53×11. Given how fast the first 2.5 hours of the race were, I thought it would be at least 30 minutes in the 53×11. It didn’t turn out to be that much, but I spent over 50% of the race in just four gears – 53×11, 53×12, 53×13, and 53×14 – and over 75% of the race total time if you tack on the 53×16 and 53×18. Click the pie chart below to see interactive data.

2016 Rouge Roubaix shifting data. Click for interactive version.2016 Rouge Roubaix shifting data. Click for interactive version. https://di2stats.com/rides/lapview/11560/3

Interesting w'bal data in Golden Cheetah. When my legs felt the most dead, which is what prompted me to attack, my w'bal indicates I should have been feeling fine! Click to enlarge and see detail.Interesting w’bal data in Golden Cheetah. When my legs felt the most dead, which is what prompted me to attack, my w’bal indicates I should have been feeling fine! Click to enlarge and see detail.

One final note – I was hoping the flooding would bring out the alligators earlier in the year than normal which might lead to my dream for this race – rounding the corner in the lead with the choice of whether or not to bunny hop an alligator in the middle of the road or even on the low-water bridge. What would you do in that situation??? In any case, I had promised Kristine a selfie with an alligator, but the closest I could get was a taxidermied one in a gas station on our way down to the race.

Selfie with an alligator for @ktoone.