105 miles, rowdy gravel sections, two cramp inducing climbs maxing out at over 15%, and the famed southern humidity. That's what I had to look forward to when I took to the line of the Rouge Roubaix road race in St. Francisville, Louisiana. Not only would this be one of the longest road race I had done, but also my first race of the season. Sounds like fun right? With out a doubt, it was one of most fun times I've had racing my bike, but before I get too far into the details of the race, let's back up a bit so I can tell you how I got there.
A couple months back I was urged to enter the Rouge Roubaix Builders Challenge (aka #RRBC2015) which was a side event where three frame builders, Mosaic, Argonaut, and Bread Winner, would each bring a team of riders to race the Rouge Roubaix. The big catch was that each team would also have an open contest for someone to win a spot on their team, including travel, race reg, and most importantly, a custom bike built just for them.
Oh shit, I guess I'd better start training.
I am always skeptical of such contests seeing as I never win anything, but figured why not? Well, a week or so after submitting my application to the contest I got a phone call from Aaron Barcheck, the builder at Mosaic Cycles, where he revealed to me that I had one the spot on their team! It goes without saying that I was ecstatic. Sweet! I won something! This is awesome! Oh shit, I guess I'd better start training.
About a month later the time had come to pack my bags and make my way to the south... the dirty south. Sitting on the plane I could not be more excited, not only would I be greeted on the other end with a brand new custom Mosaic RT-1, but as a predominantly cyclocross and mountain bike racer, the Rouge Roubaix is exactly the kind of road race I get excited about. After a layover in Houston, I finally made it into Baron Rouge. Aaron pulled up right as I walked out of baggage claim and we headed off to grab a bite to eat, headed to our hotel, and oh yeah... I got to unpack my new bike!
The next day we got up to head to the house that would be home base for the RRBC crew to build up bikes, meet the other teams (and the rest of our team) and prepare for some course recon and photo shoots. The first few hours of the day did very little to motivate anyone to ride as it was pouring rain but the house was surrounded by covered porches so we still went ahead with getting bikes ready to roll. Come noon time the skies actually cleared and things started looking up. One by one, teams started showing up, bikes got dialed in, and after a big group lunch, it was time to kit up and head out on our ride.
What I think most of us expected to be a casual spin to open up the legs and get a shake down on bikes for Sunday race turned into anything but. Combine four teams of bike racers, open roads, and John Prolly shooting photos out the back of a minivan and you've got anything but a casual ride. Off the bat, team Argonaut went straight to the front and threw attack after attack for the camera while Bread Winner was right there to counter each one. Before anyone knew it, several hours and 50 miles had flown by, the sun was setting, and we had another 15 miles to get home... Seeing as none of us had lights we began to TT it back home, trying to chase the setting sun. Of course, as luck would have it, road debris would take victim after victim, and we found ourselves on the side of the road fixing about five flats just in time for the sun to disappear. Luckily, we were able to call in reinforcements at home base and get picked up rather ride home on the highway shoulder in pitch black.
Saturday saw anther day of recon and photo shooting, albeit in a much more reasonable and casual manner. This time we drove to some select locations and operated quite casually. We got a chance to get out there into some rural areas and found some gems of backroad Louisiana culture, like this gas station that also had an extensive skull collection. At the end of the day we headed back to the party house to get some dinner before the bid day. Did I mention how clutch our eating arrangements were? We had the very amazing Chris Diminno on hand, preparing lavish dinners each night of the trip and just generally being awesome. After stuffing our faces it was time for finalize our prep and get to bed.
Finally, it was time to put our game faces on. Breakfast, coffee, kit up, show up. Having zero experience with the local racing demographic and very little knowledge of what laid ahead, I was certainly not sure what to expect from this race. Regardless, the whistle blew and it was time to take off. The group took off to a brisk but comfortable pace for the initial early miles of smooth and flat pavement. Things remained pretty smooth, together, and relaxed but as we neared the the first section of gravel you could feel the tension build across the field. And then it hit, immediately people tried to make a jump towards the front as being in trapped in the pack made it near impossible to navigate the unpredictable terrain. Few things are as comical as seeing pure bred roadies completely loose it the moment their tires leave the pavement. Swerving, loosing bottles, plowing potholes, loosing chains; it was absolutely hilarious. Team Mosaic managed to make it through the first section with the ease with one exception. Our fearless leader, Arron, suffered not one but two cases of his handlebars slipping, both requiring him to pull off to fix. This was probably the most ill timed place for this to happen as the pace had dramatically picked up and things really broke up.
Without fail, as we made the 180 corner that transitioned from pavement to gravel, someone took it a little too hot and ran out of talent, finding themselves upside down, taking other riders with them.
With Spencer, Brandon, and myself intact in the lead group, we settled in for the next stretch of flat pavement before things got crazy again. Just as before, things stayed pretty relaxed until we neared the next gravel section at mile 60, which included the first 16% grade climb we had to muscle over. Without fail, as we made the 180 corner that transitioned from pavement to gravel, someone took it a little too hot and ran out of talent, finding themselves upside down, taking other riders with them. Luckily I was unaffected and stayed at the front to navigate the potholes on the approach to the climb. Okay, this climb sucked. I did what I could to hold onto Spencer's wheel (who bike and body probably weigh no more than 150lbs) as he floated up the the ascent but I admittedly fell off and lost contact with the split. A few more miles of rollers on the dirt before we hit the next paved section where we formed an impressively effective chase group. It took a while, but we eventually made contact and joined the lead group. We settled in once again before the final and longest section of dirt.
Once again we hit back to the gravel, this time in the form of a wide and rolling fire road through the woods. This was awesome. My RT-1d was flowing across the trail, railing the loose corners, and as far as I could tell felt just like being on a cross bike. Things were awesome until we hit the next ridiculous climb. Similarly to the previous climb, I did all I could to hang on started losing contact as the pitch went steeper. Ahead, a small lead group broke off, followed by a chase, followed me, dangling off the back. As things mellowed out I continued to rally the dirt roads, gaining back ground but eventually we hit back to pavement and the group ahead got organized.
From here it was just rolling pavement into a head wind for the final 20ish miles to the finish. I knew it was now or never so I put my head down, dug deep, and did all I could to catch onto the group ahead. For the next fifteen minutes I went into full on TT mode but just couldn't bring it in. That was it, all I had left, gutted. Crushed, I rolled it back in solo for the final stretch of the race. Fighting off cramps and caked in dirt, I finally crossed the line. Bummed to have fallen out of the mix, but stoked to have made it to the finish with no mishaps, a flawless performance from my bike, and to have completed an amazing ride, on an amazing course, with a great team.
Up the road, Spencer stayed at the front to finish in the top 10, I rolled in a few minutes later in in 24th, and Brandon crawled in just a bit behind me. Due to the mechanical mishaps, Aaron heroically rode the majority of the race solo, but still brought himself all the way to the finish line, despite being stuck with just his big ring for 50 miles.
With the team safely across the line, it was time to crack some beers and celebrate. We hung out at the post race party for a bit before getting back to clean up, nap, recoup, and get ready for our final group dinner with the rest of the RRBC teams.
After a final night's sleep in Louisiana it was time for us all to pack up and make our way home. It never disappoints when you bring people together through bikes and this trip was no exception. Not only was the riding and racing phenomenal, but getting to meet so many new people and establish new friendships was by far the biggest highlight of the trip. If you ever have a chance to make it out to the Rouge Roubaix, I could not think of a single reason not to do it.
Stay tuned for a bike of the week feature on my new Mosaic RT-1 disc in the very near future.
Many thanks to John Watson of The Radavist for providing such awesome imagery of the event.