Long before I started getting serious about cycling I had heard all kinds of crazy stories about the Rouge Roubaix. From the fact that it’s the bloodiest road race in the south to the stories of the year everyone’s water bottles froze to the legendary hazards, I had heard enough to know it was something I would never want to do.
And then something crazy happened, I started riding my bike almost daily and started getting really serious about cycling. I slowly started to realize that part of the reason I loved riding so much was because of the intense feeling of relief I would get after a long hard pull in the saddle. I knew sometime last year that I was working towards the inevitable reality of riding in this year’s Roubaix. Then in December I decided firmly that this race would be my first big cycling challenge.
I started my training schedule as planned in January of this year. Everything was fine that month. I stuck to the schedule, watched my intake and generally behaved as a person training for an intense physical challenge should. Then came Feburary and with it bachelor parties, parades, Carnival, weddings and about a hundred other ways to totally ignore my training. I drank and smoked like there was no tomorrow. What a fool I was.
After the haze of Carnival wore off I quickly realized just how bad it was. I read the race reports and looked at pictures of races gone by. I knew I was in trouble and nearly flaked out. But somehow (in)sanity prevailed and I decided just two days before the race that I would go ahead and ride.
So Saturday morning Chris, Rose, Sonny and Lara showed up to scoop me and my bike up and we made our merry way to St. Francisville. We stayed in these really cool “Bonny and Clyde”-style converted motor court bungalows from the 1920’s called the 3V. After we checked in we had a really great lunch at a little joint called the Magnolia Grill. Following lunch we took a light practice spin around St. Francisville and when I hit the hills I knew I was in for it. Each hill took a ton of energy out of me. By the time I would get to the top I was out of breath, struggling to find even a basic, low cadence.
Since it was Sonny’s birthday we decided to make a night of it and went to the haunted plantation tour at the Myrtles, which was amusing but not really scary. Then we headed over to the Cypress Grill, another little St. Francisville restaurant, where all of the riders in our group decided to indulge in giant 16oz. Ribeyes with loaded baked potatoes. When I went to bed I almost immediately passed out from the amount of fear I was feeling. I knew the next day would not be pretty.
I woke up Sunday morning at 5:45 and immediately started getting all of my assorted gear, feed bags and other accoutrements organized. We loaded everything up into Sonny and Lara’s Jeep, which served as support vehicle #1, and headed over to the Inn that Chris and Rose were staying at. We had a great southern breakfast of Grits, Bacon and Fruit. I felt like it could be my last so I savored every bite of it.
We made it to the start a few minutes early and there were hundreds of riders out warming up. I’ve never seen so many in one place, even at the Tour de Louisiane, a big regional event. The A Race left first then the B Race, which included Sonny, Chris and my friend Mike Rivault. Finally it was my time to take the line with all of the other riders in the Granfondo, the non-competitive, “personal challenge” crowd. I had a good conversation with a rider named Mike who had just returned from mountain climbing in Mexico and he kindly offered for me to hold his wheel all day if I got tired. This was a serendipitous meeting that would help me survive the day.
We departed promptly at 8:30 and immediately the main group was riding at a brisk 20mph pace. I had decided earlier that wanted to average around 17-18mph so I decided not to work to hold their pace. Lucky for me Mike had the same idea. We made our way onto Hwy 66 and things felt pretty good. We were making good time, the weather was beautiful, the scenery was gorgeous, and all seemed well with the world. Then we started hitting the big hills.
We turned off onto a side road that made an immediate, dramatic incline. Everything after that for almost 10 miles was uphill with only short false flats to soften the blow. It was at that point where both me and my new friend Mike started to feel The Pain. He bonked first but then rallied and we made our way.
We turned back onto Hwy 66 and had a nice long stretch of rolling hills, which again was fine. Then we turned onto the first gravel road and I thought I was going to die. I seriously have had nightmares like that part of the ride. It hadn’t rained for a while and so what would have normally been hard packed dirt & mud with gravel smooshed into it was now a fine grit of sand and loose gravel. Riding on that stuff on the flat at 15mph was tricky, riding uphill at 10mph was downright scary and descending at 17+ was terrifying. I kept asking myself over and over what I was doing there.
After 8 long miles of that hellishness we finally made our way back onto the Highway. By that time I was totally fried. I tucked in and gave it all I had but in my heart and legs it was all over. I knew that at mile 48 there was a feed zone and that one of our support vehicles would be there waiting for me. The last 10 miles before that almost killed me.
I struggled up every hill, nearly dying each time I reached the top. But my homeboy Mike waited for me every time. When we finally reached the feed zone I could see Rose waving her hands at me and I’ve never been as happy to see anyone in my whole life. Just then my chain got wrapped behind my cassette and at that point I knew for sure that the race was over. I carried my bike up the hill and promptly dumped it in the truck. Mike decided to do the same. We drove a long the route for quite a way and then found Chris, who jumped in with us on mile 65, after riding some of the hairiest and steepest gravel roads I’ve ever seen.
After that we made our way to the finish line and watched as Sonny, the only survivor in our group, rode across it. It was an impressive sight to behold. It made me wish I had stuck it out and then I remembered the way I totally crumbled and my training drive was immediately intensified.
The lesson of the day for me is that I have a lot of training to do before I can hope to ride seriously in a race of this magnitude. I gave it everything I had and finished half the course. I’m a long way from where I started and I’m proud of that. I also know that I’m a stronger rider because of this experience. But next year I really, really want to finish with pride and I'm going to work very hard to do so.
Thanks CHOMPS for the pics!