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Sunday, March 11, 2018

2018 Rocheport Roubaix

Long, long ago (like 2009), when I realized that it was possible to ride a bike more than 20 miles at a time, I did a lot of organized road rides, the kinds with marked routes and SAG and regular food stops. My main riding partners were my brother Jim and his friend Scott, but on occasion neither of them was available and I'd have to decide between staying home and going alone. Maybe for some people that would be an easy decision, but I'm a lot shyer than most people assume, and going by myself was really intimidating.

Still, I'd spent a lot of time during my first marriage unhappily sitting home because no one would go with me, and one of the most valuable lessons I left with was to take responsibility for my own happiness. This time around, if it was a choice between missing out and social discomfort, I usually went,  and I never regretted the decision.

I'm pretty spoiled as far as riding partners now, but I was reminded of this Saturday afternoon when my Sunday plans imploded. I try to save at least one weekend day for family, so I'd skipped riding with Mickey that morning in favor of mountain biking in the nicer weather predicted for Sunday. Now I had no Sunday plan or riding partner, so I pulled up my big girl pants and made a new plan.

I opted to drive 2.5 hours to the Rocheport Roubaix, a 67-mile gravel/pavement hybrid race. While I wasn't stoked about going alone I knew I'd get a challenging ride and a good objective look at my bike fitness compared to my three other trips to this race. The fact that the race also offers SAG support didn't hurt, either.

I had enough time to get myself ready without too much wandering around like a lost lamb. I saw lots of familiar faces, and I got to meet Carrie in person, say some quick hellos, and catch up a little with Joe and Jenny before the National Anthem and the start. The temperature was in the mid-thirties but with it predicted to rise into the 50's I'd opted to start in knee warmers and a jersey over my base layer. I had a just-in-case jacket tucked in my back pocket, but I prefer to be a little chilly over hot. My rule of thumb is that if I'm comfortable before I start riding I'm probably overdressed, and I was definitely not comfortable.

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Rolling out from the start, blissfully ignorant of the slight mechanical issue I was about to discover.
The race begins in downtown Rocheport with about a quarter mile of flat pavement before you hit the first hill. Apparently some people have this little voice that reminds them of things they need to take care of; if that's the case, mine woke up right around the time I downshifted on the climb. Uhhhh, my bad...remember how the bike wouldn't shift into the smaller chainring last weekend? We maybe should have done something about that, huh? This was a slightly bigger issue on the hilly Rocheport course than the flat Katy trail ride of the previous weekend.

I saw my Team Noah teammates Adam and Chuck (not to be confused with my Team Virtus teammates Adam and Chuck) as they -- and basically the entire race -- passed me as I crept up the hill.  Other than the social time it was a pretty demoralizing beginning.

The first turn onto the gravel revealed roads that were rather more wet than advertised, making me more cautious on the downhill, but I soon calmed down and rode normally. Before long I began picking off people here and there, drafting behind others when possible, but usually that didn't last long before I was passing them and back on my own.

My nutrition was thrown together as hastily as my race, so I had one bottle of weak Perpetuem (not out of date but definitely not fresh) and one mixed with a baggie of Roctane I'd found left over from another event. I had a bladder full of water in my frame bag and an assortment of candy and chews to supplement the drinks. The Perpetuem, which I usually like, tasted kind of gross and upset my stomach, so whether or not the it was actually to blame I only drank about half of the bottle before switching to the Roctane.

The day was sunny and cool with a steady 8-10 mph SSW wind. I recognized a lot of spots from previous races, and as the route began to parallel the Katy Trail I realized I was about to turn onto the flat, open section around the big tree, which is always better with company. I chased down two guys who were ahead of me in the distance, thinking "Close the gap"... just like on Zwift and then laughing at myself, and stuck like glue to their back wheels through the crosswind and into a brief tailwind.

We closed in on two other riders, who turned out to be Josh and Carrie, as we left the open area and began climbing a slight incline. My new buddies started talking about the Epic with Josh. At first, determined to take advantage of drafting, I stayed behind them, but I got impatient and struck out on my own again.

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Flat roads along the river on that final outbound loop.
It was kind of fun to head out on the final outbound loop of the course for the first time (after always doing the 50-mile race in the past) but less fun to encounter the gigantic hill along the way. I'd passed a couple with a girl who looked like she could be around my age when they'd stopped to eat, and I kept expecting her to pass me back as I walked uphill. I didn't feel too bad about it, though, because almost everyone around me was walking it as well.

My sole navigational bobble was at the end of the loop. I confidently passed the aid station at the intersection leading back towards the finish line and then got nervous. Was I right to turn there? Not sure, I stopped and pulled out my cue sheet, ascertaining that I was, indeed, in the right place just as the couple passed me back. Damn.

I didn't lose too much ground to them and caught up again as we all turned onto the downhill leading to the timed KOM climb. "I'll probably be walking it," she told me. Having walked a chunk of it last year -- with all of my gears at my disposal -- I fully expected to be doing the same this time as well, but instead I made it, barely outpacing another girl who was pushing her bike ahead of me.

The return trip should have been fun -- ticking off landmarks, counting down miles -- but my legs started cramping badly with around 20 miles to go; I hadn't brought my usual ibuprofen and electrolyte baggie, so my only recourse was to keep drinking and keep my gearing low and spin. The couple I'd been leapfrogging caught me again as we hit Mt. Celestial Road. She mentioned coveting my fender, while I silently envied her company.

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OK, this is basically the same picture as the one above, but I'm smiling, plus you can see from my spotted shirt and glasses that a front fender might have been nice, too.
Making the turn back towards the McBaine flats and the big tree, I clung to her wheel as she drafted behind her husband. My cramping legs were killing me, but I refused to get dropped in the open flats. We added Ron in that section, and he and I rode on when the couple stopped just past the aid station to eat something. "She'd be 30 minutes ahead of me if they'd start eating on the bike," I told him.

Ron's company helped the miles pass more quickly, and I cruised up one hill only to recognize, at the top, that it was the former KOM segment. That seemed way easier than I remembered. Not easier were all the rollers in the last 10 miles. No matter how many times I do this race I always forget that part. Thankfully most of the downhills gave a good enough lead-in that the subsequent climbs were manageable, but I did miss one downshift and end up walking the top of one hill.

The hills exacerbated my cramps, and Ron pulled ahead as I pedaled miserably behind him, reminding myself you'll feel fine once you get to the end, you've only got a few more miles. My self-encouragement eventually failed, and I stopped in a flat section hoping to find a packet of Motrin tucked into my frame bag. Thankfully I did, and while the medicine wouldn't kick in until after the race, I still felt renewed and ready to tackle the last miles. My late-race meltdown is obvious in my strava results, though, where the last 7 miles are completely lacking in PRs.

If the final paved miles are a gift, the last couple small uphills before that long-awaited downhill finish are the overly-taped wrapping paper, but eventually I was cruising back down into Rocheport, catching Ron along the way: "Come on, the torture is almost over!" Rounding the last corner and rolling to a stop was sweet relief, and my buddy Craig's finish-line commentary made me feel like a star even if the first woman had finished something like 40 minutes before me.

I was 6th woman overall (out of 12) and first in my age group. Of course, I was also the only one in my age group, so I'll just assume that everyone my age would have been slower if they'd showed up. It's hard to treasure a medal you "win" by default, but I didn't turn it down, either.

One one level I'm pretty stoked that I was able to ride almost everything in my big ring, but since that's technically a self-inflicted mechanical I think it needs to go on the "things to work on" side. Also there would be avoiding leg cramps and building some mental toughness. Stopping for medicine with less than 10 miles to go? Lame. Wallowing in misery instead of pushing through and getting finished sooner? Needs improvement.
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Overall I was happy with the race. I stayed focused and didn't make any silly stops (well, other than medicine with something like 5 miles to go). I rode alone but made use of drafting when it was available. Best of all, other than there at the end of the race when my legs were exploding, my day was filled with best times on segments. It was an encouraging report on how my bike fitness compares to previous years, and as such definitely worth the drive.

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Team Noah Foundation representing
 

3 comments:

  1. Bill was wondering if the bottoms of all the gravel hills were as mushy as they were a couple years ago. We were out of town for volleyball so couldn't go to rocheport this year...not to mention I probably would've suffered even doing the thirty with my current fitness level.

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    1. They weren't bad! A few soft spots but overall very rideable.

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  2. An AG win is an AG win! Congratulations!

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