2017 Rocheport Roubaix

The Rocheport Roubaix is a pavement/gravel hybrid starting from the little town of Rocheport, MO. This was my third year participating in the 50-mile race. Ultramax does a great job with this event; it's a bit more expensive than a typical gravel race, but roving support vehicles in January are a perk I don't mind paying for.

I was only able to go after the race was rescheduled due to icy conditions and, being low-grade sick all that week, didn't commit to going until Friday night -- and only then because I had a ride.  It wouldn't have broken my heart had Eric messaged race morning to bail, but instead we made the 2-hour drive to Rocheport, grumbling about the cold, wind, and occasional snow flurries.

My nutritional plan for the day (anticipating ~4 hours of riding) consisted of a 500 calorie bottle of Perpetuem, two Reese's PB Christmas trees (170 cal each), and a mini Clif bar...basically whatever I could grab from the bottom of my dwindling race food tub. Unfortunately, I left the Perpetuem bottle in my refrigerator at home but was saved by Eric's donated (and just as bad as he advertised) tub of Lemon-Lime Gu Roctane (250 cal/bottle) and extra bike bottle, Between that and a quick text to Renee for one more bottle, crisis was averted.

Eric and I were the only Momentum people and no one else from Virtus made the trip, but lots of familiar faces were at the start. I'd thought Eric, Renee, and I had a loose plan to ride together, so I had to laugh when she immediately shot away...yet another episode in our history of repeatedly planning and failing to ride together. Most of the field quickly pulled ahead, and while I'm no stranger to the back of the pack I was a little surprised by how few bikes I could even see ahead of me.

Rocheport Roubaix 2017
Sinking Creek Rd, outer gloves already off
Photo credit: Donovan Evans
Despite my previous weather dread, riding conditions were great: smooth gravel, cold but comfortable temps. It was windy, but not ridiculous. My double-gloved hands quickly overheated, and I cautiously removed the outer pair and stuffed it in my jacket. In the process I slowed enough to lose Eric but caught up when he stopped to make some adjustments.  Worrying that my pace was too slow, I told him, "It won't hurt my feelings if you want to go ahead." We stuck together for a while, and Eric attacked the next paved section like the former roadie he is. I was comfortable hanging in on the flats, but once the road started to climb he disappeared.

I wasn't alone for long. The fast pace over the early part of the course had clearly taken its toll, and I gradually began seeing and catching other riders.  One of these was Jim, who'd set a new standard of efficiency in intentional self-destruction. I commiserated with him and then, doing my best to apply the momentum lessons I'm learning on my new singlespeed, said goodbye and attacked the downhill to get a good boost into the upcoming climb.

The wind was a non-factor until I turned onto Burr Oak Rd. where the open landscape provided no shelter.  I made my way up behind a couple Columbia guys with cool old bikes and a lot of hair, and together we bridged up to a lone rider who turned out to be Renee. We rode together as the road's turn provided a glorious tailwind, and then we caught John after turning onto Mt. Celestial Rd.

Overall I felt pretty good, not particularly fast, but steady. Being accustomed to self-supported races, I skipped the aid stations and didn't need any bathroom breaks, though I made one quick stop for electrolytes when my legs started warning about impending cramps. When we reached the loop at the far end of the course, my Garmin directed me straight ahead. Clearly remembering riding in the opposite direction last year, I had a bad feeling about what was coming. In the other direction this loop has featured a screaming downhill into a tough climb; I was not excited about discovering how that felt in reverse.

While the hill situation was bad news, riding Smith Hatchery Rd in the opposite direction was a great change. Absent last year's awful crosswind and trending downhill, it allowed a speedy pace. All too soon, though, the turn onto Dothage Rd confirmed my fears. There was the barn that signaled the normal end of the climb and, further ahead loomed the hill we normally ride down, looking practically vertical.

It looks too scary to even ride down, I thought to myself...but maybe it's one of those hills that looks worse from a distance.

Yeah, it wasn't.

About 3/4 of the way to the top I gave in; even Donovan's waiting camera wasn't enough to keep me on the bike. I might have made it to the top, but I was afraid my legs would be toast for the rest of the day. I mean, they've never actually exploded on a tough hill, but there's a first time for everything. I swallowed my pride and did the walk of shame as a crowd of 70-mile racers and Renee rode past.

Rocheport Roubaix 2017
Back on the bike near the top of Dothage. You know the photographer is a nice guy when he waits until you're pedaling again to take the picture.
Photo credit: Donovan Evans
From there, I closed the Old Plank loop and headed back the way I'd come, distracted by my Garmin's track, which kept pointing me in the opposite direction. Did I miss a turn? I don't remember any of this. Oh, wait...the track shows that I rode this way earlier. I guess this is right.  

Thankfully the more familiar Mt. Celestial Rd. finally put my routing questions to rest. Turning from there back onto the pavement, I finished off one of my Roctane bottles and took advantage of the smooth road to switch my full one to the front cage. I was just congratulating myself on completing this task without stopping or crashing when John and Renee swept by. "Hop on!"


We fought the wind in a tight three-person paceline, John leading until Renee pulled ahead of him. Then John rode back to the front spot while I hung back, confused. In my minimal experience riding in a group, the front person has always pulled off and dropped to the back, but after another such switch in positions, I figured that was just how this particular paceline was going to work and offered to take my turn in the lead.

The wind was awful, but the sort of awful that makes you laugh at how stupid hard it is rather than the kind that makes you want to curl up and die on the side of the road, We inched ahead until finally reaching the relative shelter of the Columbia guys we'd ridden behind earlier. Once I'd caught my breath I told them they'd acquired a three-person tail, offered to share the work, and was not sad at all when they declined.

We lost our windbreak when they dropped off at the aid station, but we were out of the flats and missing the worst of the wind. I celebrated that we had just a little bit more and then it was all downhill to the finish, getting a little snarly when Renee brought up the small fact of the hills between us and that downhill finish: "I only want to think about the happy part!"

I'd been looking forward to the timed hill climb, having won it the previous year, and attacked it with quickly waning enthusiasm, slowing to what felt like a crawl. Somehow I still took 6 seconds off last year's time, but it wasn't enough to repeat my victory.

Around mile 40 I started looking at my Garmin for mileage. Typically I leave the map screen up and just enjoy the ride, trying not to think about how far, how fast, or how many miles are left; once I start to suffer I start peeking. I did a lot of peeking (and suffering) in that last 10 miles. Though I'd glossed over them in my memories of the downhill into Rocheport, numerous hills lay in wait before that point, and each one was a nasty surprise.

At long last I reached the approach to town, and the sight of a bike ahead of me was good incentive to pick up the pace. I gradually closed on him, only to see that he was riding a mountain bike with chunky tires, and then sped past on the long-anticipated downhill finish, crossing the line in 3:54:08, 22 minutes faster than last year.

Rocheport Roubaix 2017
Photo credit; Donovan Evans, who was basically everywhere all day long.

I ended up taking 2nd in my AG to Renee, which is only impressive if you don't know we were the only two in our age group.

Rocheport Roubaix 2017
More gigantic Rocheport bling!
The good: 
  • Faster overall time
  • No navigational issues - Garmin was on point (it had the weird arrow pointing me in the wrong direction, but the actual track was right) and the course was very well marked.
  • No saddle discomfort
  • Good job on clothing/gear choices
  • Post ride hard cider
Areas for improvement:
  • I don't actually think I rode much faster, but I did a lot less stopping: two quick electrolyte stops and a walk up the hill on Dothage. Improving my bike handling or figuring out a no-stop system for grabbing those pills would eliminate the need for those stops.  
  • As far as nutrition, I usually have a timer set to remind me to eat or drink ever 15 minutes, but that's not set up on the "race" profile I selected on my Garmin. I did pretty well with eating in the first half and then tapered off as I got tired. In total, I drank 1.5 bottles of Roctane (~325 cal) and ate 2 Reeses peanut butter trees (340 cal total) and about 1/4 Payday bar (~60 calories). That makes about 725 calories. I shoot for about 250/hour, so the deficit probably helps explain my sluggish final 10 miles.
  • Post-ride tortilla soup was gone. :(


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