Roubaix Story by John Bartle

Rouge Roubaix is a Louisiana road race that starts and ends in St. Francisville and traverses some of the primitive roads of West Felicana Parish and Montgomery County, Mississippi, not too far from the Angola Prison.

Rouge Roubaix is a Louisiana road race that starts and ends in St. Francisville and traverses some of the primitive roads of West Felicana Parish and Montgomery County, Mississippi, not too far from the Angola Prison. This year’s version was 104 miles with about 17 miles of gravel road in 4 sections, but it seems like half the race is on gravel; at least time-wise. Conditions were dry, warm (70’s) and windy. There had been no rain for a week so the gravel was loose without many fines since La. has had about 30” of rain this year – a bit like riding a bed of uneven marbles.

The Masters field of 62 riders started out at a quick pace. About 20 riders were from Louisiana, 10 from Texas, the same number from Florida and the rest from 4 or 5 other states. I was in the red zone a couple of times within 15 miles so I was shuffled towards the back when we hit a hairpin turn at the first gravel section. (I noticed in the results later that ¼ of the field were Category 1 or 2.) Being near the back I was able to avoid the flailing and falling at the beginning of the gravel, but saw the pack leave. At least I had a clear line of sight. I could see the decisions of the 150 riders preceeding us left in the road by the tire tracks and was beginning to gain some confidence in the loose stuff when the front wheel washed out in a corner and I completed a slow arcing descent to the ground. So now I was in chase mode. Managed to hook up with two others as we left the gravel at mile 22. We worked pretty well together then took advantage of three Cat 3/4 teammates who had wheel trouble and were catching up to us from their start a half hour before the Masters. Got a good tow from them to the second gravel at mile 24.

The second section began with a steep loose hill which had almost everyone that I saw dismounting, including me, but I had the advantage of mountain bike shoes and a ‘cross bike so I was able to remount before others, so I moved up in position. But the strong guys were long gone, after 6 miles of gravel. The next segment was 34 miles of smooth road, so a group of almost 20 coalesced, then split into two, re-grouped and approached the third gravel section about 12 strong. Here began the biggest climb – about 280 feet in 0.6 miles – lost traction and was walking again. On the backside we encountered a “beach”. When I got off the bike the sand was 2” deep over the rim – with no weight on the bike. As much as I like the challenge of riding unpaved roads, I am always relieved when it is over – this time I picked up a bottle of water from neutral support after the gravel.

I had got ahead of the majority in my group but emerged solo and was now encountering a headwind, so was happy to see a rider in read come up to me; Jason was another Master who had been set back with a flat and he was moving but I helped him as best I could and he was generous to let me stay for several miles. Working with Jason was the hardest effort of the race, but it paid off. We encountered a set of short steep hills which looked like it had fractured a group of 6. Jason ploughed on and I hung with the group – of mostly dropped 3/ 4’s.

The last gravel began at mile 82 and was approached with caution by the group. I was able to pull away on the uphills and tiptoe on the downhills and after a while I was alone – just the crunching of gravel under tire and wind in the trees what seemed like 100 feet overhead. I began to wonder if I was still on course but then came across a woman rider with cleat problems asking for help. I had just happened to hit a rut wrongly and was off the bike so I was obliged to aid. By the time I determined that I did not have the right tool, three riders had passed me so I was in chase mode again. I caught one of the three but never saw the other two in the last 20 miles of some very rough asphalt – I was glad to have 27c tires with 80/85 psi. Took my last GU and felt like I was still racing. Passed several Gran Fondo riders and finally encountered an Austin Bikes rider, Charles Dixon with two miles to go. We worked together; it was good to ride with someone after a long stint alone. At the 500 meter to go hill he was not interested so I finished ahead – one place and six minutes down on Jason, it turned out, who was 19th. I finished 2nd. in my 55+ age group!