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Rouge Roubaix 2014

2014 Rouge Roubaix Pro/1/2 podium - Stefan Rothe (Elbowz), Heath Blackgrove (Boneshaker), Logan Hutchings (Boneshaker), left to right.2014 Rouge Roubaix Pro/1/2 podium – Stefan Rothe (Elbowz), Heath Blackgrove (Boneshaker), Logan Hutchings (Boneshaker), left to right. Wow! Strong podium!

One of these years I’m going to make it onto that podium, but even though it wasn’t this year I’m certainly happy to have raced well against such a strong field. Boneshaker brought a strong team, and it showed with four out of the seven riders in the final selection from their team. Elbowz brought a large, strong team leading to Stefan Rothe’s podium finish. Incycle Predator had a small, but strong, team with powerhouse riders Mike Olheiser, Emile Abraham, Calixto Bello, and Jonathan Atkins. Mike and Calixto made the final break but were outnumbered four against two by Boneshaker. Finish Strong brought a large team and controlled the race all the way to the second gravel section.

The race – start to first gravel

Brian Arne from Finish Strong took off early on a solo move eventually extending his lead to four minutes by the start of the first gravel section at about Mile 25 of the race. The rest of the field entered the first gravel together at a brisk but not insane pace. The conditions for the first gravel section were different than any other year I’ve raced here. The washboard and deep gravel typical of Woodstock Rd were replaced by mostly hard-packed dirt, a bit of gravel, and lots of potholes. This meant that if you could avoid the potholes, you could go really fast. It also meant that if you didn’t see a pothole in time, you either jumped it or hit it. Jumping was an option in some places, but in other places that would just land you in one of several more potholes all in a line. I had wanted to be at the front before the gravel, but when that didn’t work out I drifted to the back and kept as much of a line of sight as possible in front of me.

Ahead of me was a bit of chaos. With the fast conditions interspersed with some massive potholes, the group would be flying along when all of a sudden the front of the group would slow down causing those behind to slam on their brakes. On a downhill leading into a rough section, one guy in front of me locked up his rear brake and slid his rear tire all the way down to the bottom of the hill but managed to keep the bike upright and not run into the people in front of him. A few minutes later one of the most epic wrecks I’ve ever seen happened on a corner leading to a massive mud puddle taking up half the road. We were warned about it ahead of time, but it wasn’t enough to prevent the large group from producing a large crash at this bottleneck. I was far enough back to have time to slow down but I arrived at the wreck maybe a few seconds after the wreck with the following visual image:

One rider’s bike is still up in the air (must have been the last person making his way into the crash). Many riders are on the ground, but some are already trying to untangle bikes. The giant mud puddle is on the left side but the path on the right is completely blocked with wreckage. Some riders are in the bushes on the right trying to get around. Others are riding through the mud puddle or trying (unsuccessfully to ride around it on the left). I end up riding through the puddle on the right-hand side close to the wreckage. I nearly didn’t make it which would not have been good for my speedplay cleats having to unclip and put a foot down in the mud. I squeezed through, though, and was actually one of the first few caught up in the wreck to make it through and start chasing.

The lead riders were not too far ahead, maybe 20 seconds, but their group was smaller and hammering the last section. I helped our small chase group of maybe three or four riders, but I was holding back a bit gambling that we were going to catch the group which traditionally slows way down after the first gravel section. I didn’t want to waste too much energy in the process of chasing back on. Still, when we made it to the road, they had extended their lead a bit but we could still see them. As we continued chasing more people joined our group from behind so that by the time we finally caught back onto the group of 30 or so riders that had made it through the wreck unscathed, our group had probably swelled to 15-20 riders.

The long road section between the first gravel and second gravel

About 50 riders or so had merged, and our pace was slow. Periodic attacks livened the pace briefly, but for the most part nobody was actively chasing because Finish Strong went to the front to cover any chase moves. I stayed mostly at the back trying to conserve energy. When we were a few miles out from the second gravel, I started a long, patient attempt to move up the lefthand side to the front. I made it to within three riders of the front with less than a mile to go. But then I got boxed in when more riders came up the left and right and the middle slowed down. By the time all was said and done, I made the turn at the Ft Adams store in about 20th position. I ended up riding through the giant puddle with no ill consequences but then hit some large potholes and lost a lot of positions.

By the top of Blockhouse Hill, Brian’s lead was down to 1 minute, but it was enough for him to stay away for the KOM at the top of the climb. Meanwhile down at the bottom of the climb people were taking all kinds of risks given the road conditions leading into Blockhouse. I was more conservative and continued to slide back. There was one rider I came on who had crashed and was laying on the ground. Knowing that the medical truck was just behind me, I continued on. I paid for my conservativeness as I had to pass tons of people on the climb itself and yet this still only got me into the first chase group. I helped drive this group and at first it looked like we would catch the lead group. They were only 30 seconds ahead of us! But the lead group was smaller and stronger than our chase group which spelled doom for our group which at first worked really well together, but then as more people caught onto our group people stopped working.

The third gravel section

By the time we turned onto LA-66 with about four miles to the next gravel section, there were only a few of us still working at the front including Mark Hyatt (UHC), Derek Wilkerson (Elbowz), Caleb Fuchs (ThinkFinance), John Stowe (Cherry St. Cycles), and maybe one or two other people. I continued working knowing that the chase was somewhat futile at this point, but wanting to make sure that I was at the very front heading into the third gravel section. I led the turn and wanted to lead into the gravel, but Mark came around me. I got on his wheel, though, and hit the gravel in second position. By the top, there was just three of us left – me, Mark, and Derek.

I knew that this was our chance to get away from the large group and form a cohesive, strong chase. I drilled it as hard as possible and led through most of the gravel. By the time we hit the road, we started to chase really well and entered a good rotation. Up ahead we could occasionally see riders coming off the lead group. This was motivating for the three of us chasing and I kept telling Derek and Mark and that the lead group might be playing games, and we might be able to capitalize on that to catch them. Unfortunately, the gap was just too large at this point and by the end of the race they had put six minutes into us!

By the time we approached the low-water bridge and Mahoney Hill, our chase group had solidified at 5 riders with us having picked up two more riders from the lead group that we were able to keep up with our pace. One of those riders, Colin Strickland (Elbowz), attacked and I went with him. Parker Kyzer (Finish Strong) was able to bring the two of us back. Mark (UHC) put in an attack at one point. Then, to start out the sprint for 8th place, Colin attacked again. Mark covered the move with me on his wheel. The two of us led side-by-side up the climbing to the finish line. When we reached about 150 meters to go, I gave it everything I had. I assumed that I would get passed by several people, but only Mark was able to come around right at the line to take 8th with me in 9th place. Great race, grand adventure (including the pre-ride which I will save for another post).

Annotated heartrate data
Annotated heartrate and power data - iBike plot (click to enlarge)Annotated heartrate and power data – iBike plot (click to enlarge)

Speed comparison
This was by far my fastest Rouge Roubaix ever. See the table below for a comparison to previous years:

Year Avg Speed Distance Time Place
2014 23.8mph 101.8 mi 4:15:53 9th
2013 22.4mph 105.1 mi 4:41:34 10th
2012 23.4mph 105.1 mi 4:30:02 4th
2011 22.0mph 105.1 mi 4:47:11 9th
2010 21.7mph 101.8 mi 4:41:59 18th

Update – based on Ed’s comment I wanted to check the 1st place finishing times. I don’t have the distances for years prior to 2010, so assuming they used the long course (105.1) I’ve calculated the average speeds in the list below:

2014 – 1st place – Heath Blackgrove 4:09:57 – 101.8mi @ 24.4mph
2013 – 1st place – Ty Magner 4:23:50 – 105.1mi @ 23.9mph
2012 – 1st place – Adam Koble 4:29:09 – 105.1mi @ 23.4mph
2011 – 1st place – Greg Krause 4:35:00 – 105.1mi @ 22.9mph
2010 – 1st place – Mat Davis 4:29:27 – 101.8mi @ 22.7mph
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

Rouge Roubaix 2010 Race Report

Epic. Yes, that word may be overused by me and many people. But, that’s the only word to sum up Rouge Roubaix. What an experience! My teammate Lennie and I drove down from Birmingham, Alabama to Zachary, Louisiana – the nearest town to the start in St Francisville with hotel rooms still available – but still about 25 minutes from the start. The Best Western we stayed at was awesome – with a great breakfast the next morning.

We ate a great breakfast and then drove over to St Francisville. My day was already made within 2 seconds of walking into the registration area as I immediately noticed a 3 foot tall printout of the TopoCreator map I had made for the race. I was surprised and elated to see the organizers had found and printed the map for everyone to see!!! Check out this picture I took of it after the race –

By the time we finished getting everything ready and rolled to the start line, the official was giving last minute instructions. Two minutes later we were off for a somewhat agonizing 23+ miles of “scrum” — fighting for position and to maintain position near the front of the pack before the first dirt road. An early break with three riders rolled off the front and established a 5 minute lead as the pack was content to roll along at a very leisurely pace. None of the big players (as far as I could tell) were up the road, and a couple big teams were not represented in the break — so I knew that it was doomed. Still, when you hear of a 5 minute lead, it’s hard to imagine bringing that back!

I had pre-programmed the entire route into my Garmin – so it was giving me turn-by-turn directions. I knew exactly how many miles we had left until the 1st dirt/gravel road. When we got within a couple miles of the turn onto the dirt road, the pace really picked up as did the scrum (battle for position). A small crowd was gathered at that first turn and we dove into it and blazed ahead. It was exactly what I expected for about the first 15 seconds. Then I realized that there were two definite “lines” that you needed to take either side of the center. It wasn’t what I was expecting, but I thought “ok, no problem” just get into the line and don’t lose the wheel in front of you.” Well, that lasted for about another 15 seconds before we hit the first really loose stretch of gravel/sand/rocks and my bike started to fish tail like crazy. It was hard to ride in a straight line as your wheel would slide out from under you and push you off of the two main “lines”. If you strayed too far then you got into really loose sand and could fall or scrub all kinds of speed. I made it about a mile holding on for dear life to the wheel in front of me with my heartrate pegged in the 190s when I moved a little too far left and hit a deep section of gravel. My wheel slid out and I had to stop pedaling and basically coast to a near-stop to keep from falling. I got started again, but I had gotten passed by a lot of people and lost not only my momentum but pretty much all of my nerve. I was much more tentative and riders continued to pass me and pull away.

Eventually a small group of riders caught up to me, and I decided that I was going to do everything I could do to stay with that group even if it meant falling and breaking something. I struggled to keep up mostly on the flatter sections as they tended to have pockets of sand/gravel, and I would fishtail losing momentum and have to push it really hard to either catch back up or keep from falling off the back of the group. My Garmin beeped at me two times to let me know that we were coming up on a turn. Each time I thought, “Surely, this must be the end of the first dirt section”. But instead, we simply turned from one dirt road onto another one. It was the most agonizing 8 miles I have ever ridden. Several times I thought I had reached the end of my limit and was going to get dropped, but each time I was able to either rest for just a couple seconds or push myself just that little bit harder to keep from losing the wheel. I also realized that I was pushing too small a gear and that you could make it through the sandy sections easier if you were pushing a big gear and reducing the number of pedal strokes which impart a sideways force. By the end of that section, I had ridden 25 minutes with an average heartrate of 186. Keep in mind that my LT heartrate is only 180, and my max is 197!!!

Finally, my Garmin beeped for a third time, and we could see a group of people gathered up ahead so I figured surely it was the feed zone at the end of the Louisiana “pavé” — and sure enough, it was! I grabbed a neutral water and drained it as we started to roll on the pavement. There really was no chance to recover as we drilled it to try to catch up with the main group. At this point, I thought for sure that there was no hope of catching the group, but I also thought there’s nothing to lose – so I pulled 100% as several riders also were just completely burying it with every pull. Within 10 minutes, we caught sight of the peloton at least a mile up the road. This motivated us even more and we pushed even harder. A few minutes later we could see that they were spread out across the road not going very fast so we knew that we were going to be able to catch them. We made it and still had about 20 miles to rest and recover before the next dirt section.

There were a few attacks early in this long stretch of the race, but they were brought back and the pace settled down into a fairly steady pace. It was still pretty slow, but faster than the long 23 mile rollout before the first gravel section with Hotel San Jose setting the pace. They weren’t happy that nobody else was helping them – so with less than 10 miles left to go to the second gravel section. They began attacking the group. This led to a number of accelerations that were fairly quick brought back, but eventually they got a rider away. I bridged across to a small chase group with two more Hotel San Jose riders and an Aerocat rider (I think it was Emile Abraham). Emile put in a hard pull, then I pulled through, and then the Hotel San Jose rider barely pulled through. Even though we had a good gap on the field at this point (maybe 10 seconds?), they didn’t want to do anything to help bring the small group of us up to their one rider. So with two of them not working, our chase was doomed and the pack caught up to us a couple minutes later.

Fortunately, I had a chance to rest as I was expecting a huge counter attack when we were caught – but it didn’t happen. We had closed the distance enough to the lone rider, and we were now only a few miles away from the next section of Louisiana pavé. The counter attack didn’t materialize, but our pace was noticeably quicker as we approached the dirt. My Garmin counted down the miles and beeped at me with 0.2 miles left to the turn. We made the sharp turn and flew up the road. This section was only three miles long, and the first half mile alternated between pavement, dirt, gravel, potholes, and even a few mud puddles. During this section, Mike Olheiser (Warp9/Moonstar) flatted and pulled off to the side. I found out later that his teammate, Travis Sherman, saw it happen and traded wheels to get Mike back into the race as quickly as possible. This all happened about a quarter mile before the base of the day’s longest climb – a 0.83 mile climb with an average grade of 6.4% and a maximum pitch of 10.5% for a quarter mile. The hill was sandy and rocky, but rideable at the bottom. Mike Olheiser caught up to me and passed me, and I decided that I was going to hang onto his wheel for as long as I could up the climb. Well, that lasted about a quarter mile when we made it to a deep sand pit and Mike was able to power right through but I got tangled up with another rider and had to stop. The road was too steep and the gravel too loose to get started again. So I ran and pushed the next tenth of a mile up the hill before there was a hard packed section where you could remount your bike and continue up the hill. By the top of the hill, the race was completely shattered with riders everywhere and small groups forming across the rest of the gravel section. This one wasn’t too long so by the end I was in a group of about 6-8 riders. We pushed the pace very hard and picked up riders coming off of groups ahead of us. Knowing the final outcome, I now realize that we must have been the fourth group on the road. In my head, though, I was thinking that we were either the second or third group. So I was very, very happy with my position after this gravel section compared to my position after the first gravel section.

We pushed really hard and got a good rotation going with a long gradual downhill section for the next 10 miles before the last section of pavé – but we never caught sight of any groups in front of us – only a few riders who had gotten dropped from the group(s) ahead. By the time we reached the last section, there was maybe 12-15 of us in our group. This last section of pavé was by far the most fun. It was basically a path through a national or state forest area with lots of banked corners that you could fly through even on the dirt/gravel. The road was constantly turning and a good chunk of it after the first couple miles was downhill. Midway through this section, Emile Abraham caught up to us by himself and started to blow right by our group – but that helped rally us and we notched it up a bit to keep up with Emile through the rest of the forest. Even after we made it back onto paved roads, the roads were still constantly turning with lots of sharp uphills and downhills. Emile continued to drive the pace along with a strong Warp 9 rider and two Myogenesis riders. I helped pull, but I was also starting to conserve energy thinking that we weren’t going to catch any other groups and that I needed to have something left for the sprint within our group. Also, my Garmin was faithfully ticking off the miles left in the race – 10 miles, 9 miles, 6 miles … and with about 6 miles to go as we rounded a corner, I see another Aerocat rider coming back to our group. It was Andy Crater. He and his teammate, Emile, who was in our group ratcheted up the pace again driving really hard. And for about 3 miles I couldn’t imagine why they were pushing the pace so hard. Then it dawned on me, that Andy’s group must have just been up the road – but out of sight because of all the turns! Sure enough, with about 2 miles left in the race, we caught their group of 6 riders (including 3 Hotel San Jose riders).

But shortly before we caught that group, the craziest, coolest, scariest thing of the race happened. We were approaching an intersection and I saw a car entering the intersection ahead of us. We were still about a quarter mile away so I thought “no big deal, the car will be long gone ahead of us by the time we get there”. Well, about a minute later we see the car stopped in the middle of our lane. I had no idea why so as I am sitting in third wheel in the rotation, I yell “go around”. So we fly around the car, around a corner and immediately see why the car was stopped. There was a 75meter long one-lane spillway bridge around the corner and a rather large pick-up truck already on it crossing the bridge. We had already committed to going onto the bridge, as we were going 25-30mph around the car. The two guys in front of me decided there was enough room so they motored ahead and so did I but at the last second I realized that with the truck’s mirror sticking out you had to pull your arm in to keep from hitting it! So right after I did that, I cringed waiting to hear the sound of one of the riders behind me plowing into the mirror, then over the side of the spillway into the river and eaten by alligators – but it didn’t happen. We all made it safely through and with that bit of adrenaline pumping through us we quickly closed the rest of the gap to the small group of riders in front of us.

At that point, the pace plummeted as the cat and mouse games immediately began. By this point our group had over 20 riders in it – and with one mile to go, Andy Crater rolled off the front of our group with a Myogenesis rider. There was no immediate chase, but we caught them with 1k to go and there was a bit of a lull before the pace went up again and we flew through the last series of 90 degree corners taking you into the 500 meter to go hill. I was sitting in fourth wheel, but got swarmed going into the final corner. I came out of the corner in 8th or 9th position going into the base of the hill. You could tell the 101 miles had worn on everyone though, as I started picking off riders all the way up the hill — even as I was cramping myself. We must have been the most awkward-looking group of riders sprinting. At the top, I came across the line in 5th place for our group which later turned out to be 18th overall. Pat Allison finished just ahead of me with Eric Murphy just behind me. Whew, what an awesome, fun, epic race. Tired, exhausted, but already looking forward to next year.

My teammates Mike and Lennie did well to finish the race – as there were many, many strong riders that weren’t able to do that. Both of them stayed upright, pushed it hard, and persevered to the finish. Good job, guys!

Lastly, here’s my annotated heartrate data.

2010 March 7 – Rouge Roubaix heartrate data

  1. Easy aerobically, but stressful fighting for position and or wondering if I would be able to move up to the front by the first pavé section
  2. The first turn, several short-lived attacks. Eventually a group of three gets away without key teams represented
  3. The first pavé – heartrate jumps from 155 to 194 in less than a quarter mile
  4. The end of the first pavé – average heartrate of 186 for the 8 mile section
  5. Chasing and working hard to catch back on
  6. Attacks in the middle of the long road between the 1st and 2nd pavé sections
  7. The start of the second pavé section
  8. The start of the third pavé section
  9. Responding to an attack on a hill
  10. The final sprint