Sunday, March 19, 2017

Rouge Roubaix

Last weekend the Palmetto Medical Elite Cycling Team raced Rouge Roubaix. We fielded a strong squad of five riders with Parker Kyzer, Chris Meacham, Matt Moosa, Chris Uberti, and myself. Rouge Roubaix is an epic 105 mile race through the backroads of Louisiana and Mississippi. I won the 2015 edition back when I was racing for Lupus. Approximately 20 miles of the race takes place on three dirt roads. The first sector comes after about 25 miles of racing and is about 10 miles long but not too significant. The second sector comes after about 65 miles of racing and is 5 miles long and features a steep hill of about three minutes in duration. The final sector comes around 75 miles into the race and is also about 5 miles long. The final sector is narrow and has many uphill portions of one to two minutes in duration. Rouge Roubaix is about 12 hours away from Greenville, so I decided to leave early and arrive a couple days before the race started in order to preview the course and let my legs loosen up from the drive. On Friday we drove all the dirt sections and on Saturday we rode the final two dirt sections.

Tire selection is critical at Rouge. Many people would probably want to run the largest possible tire option, a 28. However, it rained during the week leading up to the race, and I thought a 25 would be better because the 28 has less clearance and may become clogged with mud. I chose to run my Boyd 60s with Continental Sprinter 25 tubulars at around 90-95 psi because I thought this was the best possible choice for not getting a flat. I have run below 90 psi in the past but flatted a lot back then. A flat would result in a greater time loss than taking a few turns a little less hot. It is important to think through all options when making this selection, but don't overthink it. Having raced Rouge Roubaix before, I had the advantage of my past experience.

We took off to overcast skies, chilling wind, and soaked roads. Temperatures were in the 40's at the start. Attacks started relatively early and a group of three rolled away without us represented, so I bridged. We were shortly dragged back by a motivated peloton, and we entered some twisty and narrow roads. A group of around 10 riders escaped. We had Moose and Meacham there, but this move looked like it would roll all day. I attacked over a rise and made the junction. No sooner had I arrived than Moose told me he had a flat. With Moose no longer in the group I did not think it was necessary that we work hard, so I would roll through easy or not work until the first dirt sector. I let other riders burn their matches. It seemed like something was loose on the front of my bike. During the first dirt sector I stayed near the front but never touch the wind. On the dirt I like to give some space in order to have an escape route in case someone in front of me crashes. By the end of the first dirt sector Michael Olheiser, Moosa, and Uberti had bridged up to us. The group was about 15 riders strong after the first dirt. After the first dirt sector I realized that something loose on the front of my bike was my front skewer. I stopped, tightened it, and Moose paced me back to the group. I would like to note that I ALWAYS check my skewers before the race to make sure they're tight. My skewer must have gotten loose somehow on some of the bumps early in the race.

A group of 15 is a strange dynamic that never works well together. Some riders would work, some would create gaps, but I knew I needed to save energy heading into the second dirt sector because it would be a decisive one. About 10 miles before the second dirt 2 riders escaped. Then a couple other riders escaped, but we were still pretty close to the front of the race. I started the second sector at the front. Mike Olheiser drilled it up the climb, and I decided to stay on his wheel. It was very hard behind him, and I knew he would take all of the right lines. Initially we finished the second dirt sector with about four riders, but roughly all the riders who started the sector made it back up to our group.

After the second sector we still did not work together well. Halfway between the second and third sector Moose attacked with a couple other riders. Right at the start of the third dirt sector gaps opened up. Mike Olheiser crashed into a ditch right at the start, so we rode hard. Racers are like sharks smelling blood. We attack when others are weak. I immediately had a gap with Thomas Brown and Cormac McGeough, Mike's teammate. However, being the hard man Mike is he came storming by me. I knew I needed to hold his wheel, so I did the best I could. However, Mike knows these roads very well and picked up a ~10 second gap on one of the descents. He held this gap on me coming out of the final dirt sector as I was with Thomas and Cormac. Mike ended up catching Moose and Kevin Girkins of Elbowz racing, and Thomas Cormac and I worked to reach the frontrunners. I didn't like the odds of Olheiser in that front group. He was looking strong, and I thought he could roll away. That is why I decided to work with Thomas and Cormac.

With about 15km to go I hit it over a roller and immediately had a gap. Since I got a gap without attacking I just pegged it with all I had. The roads were twisty, and I was not being chased. "I am going to win Rouge again." I thought. However, a few kilometers later I could see the pursuers charging hard behind me. I was battling a headwind, but I was going all in. "If I hold on for a little longer they will crack." I told myself. However, they did not crack and caught me with about five kilometers left to race. Immediately after they caught me, I attacked again just to see if that was all they had, but that did not shake them. Girkins also put in a dig, but we were on him like white on rice. The final few kilometers played out with Mike mainly setting the pace. Thomas jumped with about 500 meters to go with Girkins and they had a gap. Moose was closing hard but could not catch Thomas and Girkins and took third. I was empty and gave it all I had to roll across the line in fifth.

Rouge Podium

After the race I was livid that I did not come away with the win, and Moose was also angry that he did not win. We were not mad at each other, just unhappy to not come away with the win. I felt that I wasted little energy throughout the race and played it as smart as I possibly could have. Moose was sitting on while I was solo in the end, so that helped his odds too. However, at the end of the day we just didn't have the legs to win. It was a fun race, and the conditions were crazy. I am sure I will be back to Rouge again in the future and would love to win it again. The organization behind this race does a great job, and if you ever wondered about checking this race out you should do it.

My Bike after Rouge