Monday, March 11, 2013

l'enfer du sud - Rouge Roubaix 2013

We Kona riders are a versatile crew.  We may be known best for our antics on knobby tires and rooty, muddy trails from Washington to Mongolia to Belgium, but we’re also no strangers to the pavement and skinny(er) tires.  Having rested up from the 2012/13 cyclocross season and some off-season adventures, it was time to get the band back together and get in shape for the 2013 season.  Putting in winter road miles is typical practice to build fitness, as is doing so under the sun of the desert Southwest.  In keeping with the practice, but adjusting the geography, Barry, Kris, Cory and myself traveled to St. Francisville, Louisiana for a team training camp off the beaten path, and to test our new Red Zone road bikes (and legs) on the pave of the Bayou State.  We would cap off the week by racing in the fifteenth edition of the Rouge Roubaix, a wicked 104 mile road race through the gravel roads, hacked pavement, and surprisingly brutal terrain of the Tunica Hills in West Feliciana Parish.

The Rouge Roubaix is one of the premier “spring classics” of the Southeast, and if the Paris-Roubaix is known as the “Hell of the North,” then the Rouge could rightly be called “l’enfer du sud”.  That isn’t to say that the St. Francisville area is a bad place to ride.  It’s an excellent place to ride!  Just off the porch step, there are hundreds of miles of quiet, rolling pavement and gravel roads through subtropical prairies and woodlands, with ample sun and temperatures in the 70s…and friendly locals and great Cajun cuisine.

Our newly designed bikes were perfectly suited for the terrain of Louisiana, and any rough road we could find.  Barry and I were chatting about how some of the latest trends in cycling are a return to the past; not digression, but revitalization.  The vogue in off-road racing is enduro racing, pushing (or riding, if you like) up the hill with your friends on versatile “all-mountain” bikes, then racing only the fun downhill sections. (think back to old school “clunkering”).  On the road side, epic grand-fondo events cater to the greater cycling enthusiast (the community that makes it possible for us racers to exist in the first place!), where gravel and fatter tires are cool on your light but brawny road bike. (there was a time when 28c was narrow and tire clearance was totally legit).  On the diet side, Barry has even taken up eating baby food to fuel his rides.  He’s really taken “the future is the past” concept to a whole other level.  Regardless, we’re doing a lot of what we used to do in the old days, we’re just doing it on highly perfected equipment.  (though I can’t speak for the baby food).   

After a rad week of pedaling and alligator bits, we lined up with a strong field of 55+ for Sunday’s race.  Luckily we all made it despite Kris “Canadian Leadfoot” getting us detained by the entire Baton Rouge Sherriff’s Department (four cars total!) the night before the race.  They must have been on the hunt for somebody else – after realizing it was four nerdy bike racers in the minivan, they let us off, and just told Kris to turn his headlights on. 

Apparently the policeman’s “headlights” warning had an unforeseen metaphorical twist, when in the first gravel section of the race, Kris didn’t see a giant rut in front of him and plowed into it so hard he folded his cockpit in half and flipped off into the ditch.  Rattled, but in one piece, he was forced to stop, while I chased back up to Barry and Cory.  We rode aggressively at or near the front all day, through three more gnarly gravel sections and hot Louisiana sun.  Barry crushed all of the steep gravel and finished an impressive 5th, and Cory and I rolled in 11th and 12th, satisfied (and exhausted) with a good week of “training camp” fully burned into our legs.    

Thanks to the fun crew at Pedal Play Bicycles in Baton Rouge for providing us with pre-race supplies and jambalaya, and Kyle Boudreaux and the entire Rouge Roubaix team who worked so hard to put on this great race.  It’s the hardest kickoff to any season that I’ve ever had, and it’s great to have a new cycling destination in the repertoire.    

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