Sunday, June 22, 2014

Hilly Billy Roubaix

2014 Summary

Executive Summary

Rain. And searing back pain

We kept hoping that the forecasted rain would hold off. Indeed, it seemed as if it might,  but a half hour before  the start we retreated to the Rob Campbell's van as the rain poured down. 

But the rain stopped in time to assemble for the rider meeting and rollout to the actual start line. 

Instead of a whistle or a cap-gun shot, the promoter signaled the race start with the squeal of an actual live  pig. After a "controlled" rollout to the the highway, where I was nearly crashed out for the second time in a week, we started with a mile-long steep road descent before hitting the first sector of single-lane gravel about 2 miles into the race. Interestingly I saw two chains unfurled in the first three miles. What is it with these single speed guys?

 In 2012 and 2013 I went too deep on the chaotic first gravel section,  trying to stay in the front group, and paid for it at the end of the race. This year I kept my heart rate in the 160s even though it seemed like way too many people were passing me. 

I went into the second sector of dirt, the infamous mud bog sector on Little Indian Creek Rd,  with all but one of the contenders in the women's race, including one  who made a disturbing continuous symphony of grunts and bellows. Monica Seles seems demure in comparison. After that sector I was basically alone for the next 60 miles, rolling up single-speeders on the pavement sections.

Miles 20 to 40 flew by as I picked off more riders. Although I have raced the course before, I was still astounded at how much I remembered. I would be descending some single-lane gravel road and remember, "ooh, back off, this is the decreasing radius turn coming up."  In general,  I rode much more conservatively than usual on the downhills. Perhaps I was afraid of flatting, or perhaps I was thinking too much about crashing out of Hagerstown last week.

I spent the minimal amount of time at the aid stations. Just enough to refill my bottles.  OK, maybe I spent 20 seconds too long at the second aid station while the woman in with the multi-colored mohawk,  tattoos, and bikini top helped me out, but dammit---she didn't have any chain lube, which is what I really needed! Note to self: spare gloves are much less important than extra chain lube in this event.

After aid station two,  rain came back with a fury. I wear glasses with prescription inserts, and even with antifog, they are useless in heavy rain. A hard choice faced me: 20:20 vision obscured 80%, or 20:100 vision at 100% clarity. I shoved my glasses into my jersey and rode the brakes hard on the downhills. A couple more sectors of gravel flew by, and then I was at the most surreal sector. After a long road section the course turns off onto the entrance into a combination strip mine and power plant. In the middle of nowhere is a giant steam-belching fog-shrouded industrial facility. At the turnoff into the gravel section where I crashed in 2011, I stopped for a pee, and a kindly spectator ( where did he come from!?!?) cleaned my glasses on his shirt. This act of kindness was easily worth five minutes to me. 

The Garmin showed that I only had 12 miles left, but that distance included a mudbog-filled sector on Smokey Drain Rd, an impossibly steep road climb, and finally the grim climb back to the finish. By this point my lower back was on fire. My friend Glenn refers to this situation as "the full set of steak knives in the back," and I felt like I might have a set from one of the other competitors  as well. When I made the turn into Mylan Park, a quick look over my shoulder showed that I had 20 seconds to the next group behind me. Apparently the had donated their steak knife collection to me, because the first one passed me on the grassy cyclocross section two minutes later.  And then another, and then two more. I waved several more through on the downhill, since my back was so locked up that I could barely steer. Unfortunately, I waved through another 50+ guy. No matter. I could not have gone any harder.

I ground up to the finish, passed under the finish arch,  collected my mug, and rolled over to Rob Campbell's van, where I collapsed into a rain water - filled puddle for the next 10 minutes.  I ended up second, 25 seconds behind the winner. First time I've been on the podium in eight years. 

Race notes

  • Bring chain lube with you. 
  • The top three 50+ guys  all finished  within a minute after 5 hours.
  • Setup:  Carbon Crux with mechanical disk brakes, Conti Cyclocross speed tires. Even with mechanical disk brakes, the Crux was much better than the Fuji with cantilever brakes. I will never go back. The front end started to beat me up toward the end, though.  Possibly some more aggressive tires would have been an advantage in the muddy sections. 
  • Drove up with Rob Campbell and Tom Snyder
  • Link to  GPS Trace (strava)


Year Field Time Place Overall Winning Time Notes
2014 50+ 5:00:15 2 37th 4:19:35 Epic rain
2013 40+ DNF Two flats, sheared rear derailleur off
2012 40+ 5:01:21 8 30th 4:18:48
2011 40+ 5:17:29 13 ~32nd 4:19:25 Two front flats, one crash




Year-by-year highlights


What even prompted us to do this race?  I can't remember.We drove up with a full crew,  including Rob Campbell, Pete Lindeman, and Chris Clarke.  What I do remember is that I rode all out, with disastrous results. I flatted after the descent after the "Secret Aid Station," where Peter caught me. Then just after the power plant, while descending recklessly, hit a brick-sized rock, explosively decompressed the front wheel,  and launched over the bars. I was really fortunate to not have broken anything.


Drove up alone. Missed out on a podium finish after dawdling at the final aid station, but that cold towel was awesome.


Disaster year. After missing the podium in 2012 by only a few minutes, I vowed to let it rip in 2013. My aggressive descending produced a flat before mile 20. I thought I had just pinch flatted, so I just stuck a new tube in. But I had cut the sidewall, and so I flatted again on the next gravel section. This time I changed the tube, stood up too quickly and had a complete whiteout. I staggered back and stepped on the rear derailleur. Five miles later I shifted into the big cog in the back near the secret aid station and ripped the dérailleur completely off. I had failed to replace it after damaging it on my spring gravel road tour.