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Rouge Roubaix - Cycle

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St. Francisville, Louisiana
United States
80F / 27C
Total Time = 5h 39m 33s
Overall Rank = 29/58
Age Group = CAT 5
Age Group Rank = 18/38
Pre-race routine:

Stayed the night before in a hotel about 25 minutes away. Ate breakfast there, which consisted of two of those awesome hotel waffles along with some eggs and sausage. After that I headed to the event.
Event warmup:

They say that the longer the race the shorter the warmup. The most I did was ride around to make sure everything was working.
  • 5h 39m 33s
  • 102.1 miles
  • 18.04 mile/hr
*Note - I wore my powercal for this race, so the power is a bit high, but it was better than not having anything at all. My PT wheel is laced to a carbon rim that I didn't want banged up from this course. Although 223W average probably isn't far from true given the terrain and wind.

I'll start off by saying that the course itself was everything I thought it would be. Due to the length of the race, I'll describe it by sections, which are of course separated by the world famous gravel sections this course is known for.

The Start
The first 4 miles was a neutral rolling start while we were on the main highway. The pace was pretty chill, and everyone was just enjoying the peace while it lasted. After we turned off people started charging to the front, so I joined them.

The pace was pretty hot from this point on to the first gravel. Averaging 22.2 in this block, which doesn't seem fast for a group of 58, but with these roads were bumpy and twisty, making it seem really fast for the uninitiated. I think about 5 bottles were lost in this section, and that's just the guys in front of me.

Eventually we find our way to the real fun.

Gravel 1
At mile 25 the first gravel section begins. Gravel at this point isn't the word I would use for the beginning. It was more like sandy dirt with some pebbles. The rocks eventually picked up, but everything was manageable. I had practiced riding on gravel roads like this, so I was ready. Around mile 28 there was a muddy part that the guys in front of me just couldn't handle. A couple went down, and the others all but slammed on their brakes. At this point about half the field was heading up the road.

I realized that if I let them go, then I was out of the race, so I charged with what I had. I kept feeling like I was gaining on them, and then they would surge. After about 2 miles of this I realized I wasn't going to catch them. I looked behind me, and saw no one. Only 30 miles into the race and I was already alone between what I assumed was two groups.

No Man's Land
I made it out of the first gravel section when I caught up to 3 other guys that must have gotten spat out the back of the lead group. I tried to get them to work with me, which happened for all of 5 minutes before they let me go.

The road here was decent as far as pavement. There were some holes here and there, but the cool part about being by yourself is that you can see them and navigate around them. The only issue that I had with this stretch is that it was open to wind. I felt like I had headwind the entire race, which seems like that shouldn't be possible.

I eventually caught up to a rider at around mile 45 that could at least ride my wheel. He admitted to being too toasted to do meaningful pulls, but told him that giving me a break from the wind was enough. Besides, it was nice having company at the time. We also picked up one of my teammates from the Women's field. We all rode our merry away until...

Gravel 2
Mile 63. Hooray! Only 40 miles to go. Except for the fact that the remaining 40 is way, way harder than the first 63. This section actually starts out with a road that is so bad that it's included as part of the gravel section. The condition of it truly was horrible. Apparently they tried to do some construction on this road to fix it, but the process ended up making it worse. I'm sure it has something to do with laying asphalt on sand, but I'm no civil engineer.

We reach the usual gravel with "Oh Crap!"
All I heard about heading into this race was Blockhouse and Big Bertha. The two climbs that make Rouge what it is. Blockhouse looked doable, but it was quite large and steep. The added challenge of the climb was that it was on gravel. Within the first bit my rear wheel spun on some loose dirt annnnd I proceeded to do what I never thought I would do. I pushed my bike up the rest of the way.

About 4-5 riders from my field passed me as I was walking the hill, but I have a feeling that I made the right choice as I passed them pretty easily after I got back on the bike. I think that climbing the hill burnt some pretty big matches.

After Blockhouse there was a quick downhill into sand that I navigated successfully, which was followed by a short uphill into another quick downhill into thicker sand that grabbed my rear wheel. Had I not unclipped I would have gone down. After getting out of the sand trap I navigated my way out of the 2nd gravel section.

No Man's Land pt 2
Nothing like being only 12 miles away from what will likely be the biggest climb you've seen. I was getting pretty tired at this point. It looks like this section of the race is mostly downhill with one punchy climb, but it definitely didn't feel that way. I averaged 18mph during this section averaging 175bpm, which is a solid TT effort normally. The wind was definitely a factor here. As I headed into this section I lost everyone that was riding with me. I spent this section as well as the rest of the race on my own.

Gravel 3
This section was 4 miles long, and it was just hard. It starts out with what they call Big Bertha, and the hill didn't disappoint. I was pretty fatigued at this point, so I didn't even bother trying to climb it after failing Blockhouse 20 miles ago. Even pushing my bike up the thing was hard. Half way up the hill I looked down to see how far I had gone and looked up to see the it made a slight bank left and kept going. It was hot. I was pretty tired at that point that I laid my bike and myself down and rested for a minute or two. I don't know if this was the hardest thing I ever done, but it was making a strong case at this point. I made it to the top and refilled bottles at the last feed zone to get ready for the rest of it.

Lots of winding downhills into loose gravel follows that challenges my handling as well as my attention span. Man it's tough keeping focus after 80ish miles of difficult riding. Of course why have a downhill into gravel without another gravel uphill. I felt like most of this section was straight climbing, and sure enough I look at the elevation on Strava to see an upward trend.

I learned after the race that a few of the CAT 5 guys in my field were CAT 1 mountain bikers. They probably handled the downhills and gravel in general like a pro. I was beginning to think in Blockhouse that I wouldn't have won even if I didn't get separated in gravel 1, but Big Bertha sealed the deal. Anyone capable of getting up that hill without walking it absolutely deserves to win this field. Doubly so if they could take the downhills with any speed. I make it out of the gravel and catch a guy shelled from the Masters field.

Are we sure this isn't gravel?
The guy is riding along side of me for about a mile and asks me when the gravel section ends? According to my que sheet, we had been out of gravel for since I caught him. The road here was just that bad. As a matter of fact after I passed him I actually rode the dirt outside of the broken up pavement for the rest of this section, because it was a better terrain choice.

At this point I was tired. Very tired. I could have stopped right here and had the toughest training ride of my life, but there was still a long way to go. I was counting down the miles until mile 90. At that point I could then countdown from 13 (It was somewhere between 12 or 13 left, so I shot for worst case scenario). At that point I reached a distance that I could imagine running within reason, which made it sound not as bad. Only bad part of reaching the anticipated mile 90 was that it was mostly uphill for the next 4 miles.

I was at the point where I got irritated every time I saw an incline after a turn. "Why? You've made your point! The race is hard. I get it!" Oh look, another gravel section. Yay....

Gravel 4?!
I forgot that they added a gravel section for "safety reasons". Apparently the road the race used to use at this point had something going on that was not conducive to a road race, so more gravel it is!

Thankfully this section was mostly flat with nothing unusual. Ride, dodge pothole, ride, try to bunny hop pothole, fail because you're too tired and take it like a champ, ride some more. Repeat this for two miles before I turn out of it.

The Finish
I can't remember the last time I saw a downhill, but there was one here that I was very happy to meet. After that was a stretch of false flat. I set myself to 90 cadence at about 160bpm HR. This would normally be high Z2/Low Z3 riding for me. I look down at the Garmin's speed: 16 mph. Yep. I'm toast.

Nice steep uphill just to make sure that I don't think about doing this ish again, which is followed by a downhill and eventually I see it. "1km" the sign said. I could have cried right then. Keep riding until I see "500m" The finish was after a left turn, but first you had to go up one last punchy climb that was at least paved this time. Then I proceed to soft pedal to reach the end. Man that was hard!

What would you do differently?:

Not be caught in the middle of the field ever. One mistake by someone ahead of you takes you out. It's tough when everyone wants to be in the front, but I can't negotiate ever if I want to win.

In this race it probably didn't matter as much, as I think me getting dropped was a matter of time. 102.1 miles is a long way to go without something happening that would take me out of the race. Luck is every bit of a factor as skill and power for winning this race.
Post race
Warm down:

Ha! You still got to ride 2 miles back to the hotel! Sucks to suck!

I straight averaged 13.5 mph for that bit, and I wouldn't have ridden it any other way.

What limited your ability to perform faster:

Positioning in the field, handling, energy capacity, caring too much about my well being

Event comments:

Great race with a damn hard course. I feel like it's a right of passage for road racing in this area. Everyone should do it once.

Last updated: 2015-03-18 12:00 AM
05:39:33 | 102.1 miles | 18.04 mile/hr
Age Group: 18/38
Overall: 38/58
Performance: Average
Wind: Headwind
Course: Two big loops it appears though all over the wilderness of Louisiana and the southwest corner of Mississippi
Road: Potholes Dry Cadence: 87
Turns: Average Cornering: Average
Gear changes: Good Hills: Bad
Race pace: Comfortable Drinks: Just right
Post race
Weight change: %
Overall: Average
Mental exertion [1-5] 4
Physical exertion [1-5] 4
Good race? Ok
Course challenge Too hard
Organized? Yes
Events on-time? Yes
Lots of volunteers? Yes
Plenty of drinks? Yes
Post race activities: Average
Race evaluation [1-5] 5

2015-03-18 10:47 AM

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Extreme Veteran
Ridgeland, Mississippi
Subject: Rouge Roubaix

2015-03-18 11:02 AM
in reply to: #5101757

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Katy, Texas
Subject: RE: Rouge Roubaix
Great write up!!! Man that sounds like one hell of an experience! You should be proud, sounds like you gave it your best but just had an unlucky break so early in the race. Thanks for taking us along!
2015-03-18 11:06 AM
in reply to: #5101757

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Rio Rancho, NM
Subject: RE: Rouge Roubaix

Wow. Awesome race and awesome report!!!

Congrats on an amazaing accomplishment.  Your "Why? You've made your point! The race is hard. I get it!" comment reminded me of my metric century from Albuquerque to Santa Fe. Mostly uphill with a few downs sprinkled in for good measure. Toward the end the hills made me think that exact thing. However, I didn't have the rough roads and gravel you did. Again, congrats. That's quite an accomplishment!

2015-03-18 11:41 AM
in reply to: rrrunner

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Denver, CO
Subject: RE: Rouge Roubaix

Matt, your race report confirms that the race was just as epic as I expected.  Holy buckets, that's a lot of physical and mental challenge!!  Great report and good job on surviving without getting banged up too much.  So....gonna do it next year?

2015-03-18 1:21 PM
in reply to: #5101757

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Englewood, Florida
Subject: RE: Rouge Roubaix

Wow, what a race. It sounds brutal tough. It also sounds like you had a great time! Recovery time, you've earned it.

2015-03-18 1:52 PM
in reply to: #5101757

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The Woodlands, TX
Subject: RE: Rouge Roubaix
Great Race, especially for your first attempt! Sunday was my second time at Rouge Roubaix, and your experience was almost identical to mine from two years ago, only you were a lot faster. I got caught behind some wrecks in the first gravel section, rode most of the rest of the race alone, had to walk up all three of the big gravel hills and ended up completely gassed by the end of the race.

It's tough, because EVERYONE has the same strategy....move to the front for the first gravel section and don't get caught behind any wrecks or flat tires! Great plan, but only half the racers can be in the front half of the pack!

I lucked out and managed to be far enough ahead to stay with the front pack through the first gravel section. Pace was pushed pretty hard for the last few miles of that section, and we had a small group off the front when we hit the first feed zone. I expected things to really pick up there, but the guys at the front of the break sat up, and the main group reformed and we rode at a pretty mild pace until gravel #2. The main field was shreaded on the hill here. I think about half of us managed to ride this hill, but there was a definate lead group that dropped the rest of us here. A few miles after the end of gravel #2, I formed up with a group of 8 or 10. We rode together til gravel #3, but everyone blew apart on this section. I didn't see anyone ride the last two hills and ended up alone for the last part of the race. I passed one guy who was too shelled to ride my wheel, and one guy passed me (and I was too shelled to ride his wheel). I also caught a bunch of guys from the 40+ race who were looking pretty tired.

I do remember looking down at right around the 90-mile point wondering if it was ever going to end! It's tough to remeber another time it felt so tough to go so slow! I ended up 12th, but I think two years ago I was around 60th!

All in all it sounded you had a great day! Congratulations on the effort and finish!

2015-03-18 5:40 PM
in reply to: g_shotts

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Subject: RE: Rouge Roubaix

This sounds awesome!!!! 

Great Job Matt and waita do something (what I assume to be) way out of your comfort zone.


2015-03-19 4:46 PM
in reply to: Asalzwed

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Subject: RE: Rouge Roubaix

Whew, I'm tired just from reading about your race!  The hills, mud, gravel and heat sound so challenging, not to mention the distance.  Great job finishing, and being far from last!

2015-04-15 11:13 AM
in reply to: melbo55

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Brooklyn, New York
Subject: RE: Rouge Roubaix
This report read like a fantastic story. The experience of reading it was enough for me, let alone that survival of the fittest you went through.....Awesome!
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