The Chainlink

Race Report: The Dirty South Roubaix 100K+

Jeremy and Geoffrey share their experiences racing Dirty South Roubaix for the first time.

Photo by Matt Gholson

 

By Jeremy Bloyd-Peshkin

Really, this is all winter’s fault. The roads were icy, the days short, I hadn’t been riding much, and was deep in the throes of cyclocross withdrawals when a friend sent me a link to the race. At the time, nothing sounded better than 100k of gravel with an unknown amount of climbing in Southern Illinois. I signed up the day registration opened. Over the next few months, details began to emerge and finalize. The route was set mostly in and around the Shawnee National Forest (a good thing), the elevation profile showed 4,500ft of climbing (not such a good thing), and the roster started to fill. My bike was still a bare frame in my shop, and true to form I finished building it two days before the race. So armed with a single-speed ‘cross bike, plenty of snacks, and a teammate, I hit the road and headed south.

 

We rolled into Alto Pass bright and early, and any worries of getting lost instantly evaporated - the block-long downtown was full of bikes and bike racks. This was definitely the place. We unloaded, registered, and ate bagels while more riders filtered into town. It was a perfect morning - a little chilly still, but completely clear and warming up fast. I watched as everything from road bikes with 28c tires jammed between the fork blades to plus-tire tandems came off the racks, and couldn’t help but notice that there were only five other single-speeds. Granted, the race was only a hundred riders in total, but I surely I wasn’t that crazy. Or maybe I was. There was no more time to dwell. The race organizer called everyone over and gave us instructions. The race would be 64 miles. The final section into town would be closed to traffic. The GPS route ends two miles early for some reason, just keep going. All corners will be marked and there will be volunteers at any confusing intersections. There’s a lot of good gravel and much of it is downhill, so be careful. The neutral roll-out will take us out of town behind his truck. Got it? Good. Let’s go.

 

As the truck rolled out, I watched for groups to form and latched onto the back of the front group, expecting to get a feel for the riders on the easy roll-out. But it wasn’t to be. The truck kept speeding up, and before long we were doing 25 on the way out of town. The truck disappeared, we branched left onto a gravel descent, and the group exploded. A mile in, I was redlined trying to keep up. So much for that, time to find a rhythm.

 

The thing I’ve learned riding and racing on single-speed and fixed-gear bikes is that finding a rhythm to your ride is the key to finishing it. You can only pedal so fast on the downhills, and I find that my legs burn out if I maintain the wrong cadence on the flats for a long time. So I had to find a rhythm that worked for me and that worked strategically for the race. I’m a mediocre descender - I can’t pedal and I don’t weigh enough to go all that fast, but I don’t brake either. I can keep pace on the flats, and fly up the climbs. So that became my strategy. Bridge up on the climbs, get dropped on descents, and hang on for dear life on the flats. And it worked quite well until I hit the first rest stop, where I dropped off the group I was in to refill my bottles. The next section looked long and unsheltered on the map, and was directly into a headwind. So I stood around at the rest stop waiting for a group to come by I could jump onto. And I waited. And waited. And eventually I just got on my bike and rode off, only to be caught by a group a few minutes later, because of course. I jumped into the rotation and we blasted off down a levee.

 

A million curses upon that levee.

 

It was perhaps eight feet wide with two ruts, each filled with loose coarse gravel. We were in a quartering headwind, but the shape and texture of the road meant we couldn’t spread out into the right shape of draft, and were stuck in what basically amounted to a straight paceline, so we all suffered in the crosswind. But there was really nothing to do about it so we continued to pull each other mile after mile after never-ending mile on top of that levee with no shelter. But the pace was just right to make for a good cadence, and so I was feeling good and when the group started to slow I got into the drops and left them. Mercifully, there was only another mile of levee left, and then I turned and started to head back North. Which was great because I had a tailwind. Not that it mattered, because the course took a turn back into the forest and onto a rough jeep road. The gravel increased in size from peas to golf balls, and got deep, loose, and steep, like riding up a wall. I got off and walked. Even walking was hard work, and so it was a relief to get back on and ride. But the road was getting even worse. It had gone from gravel to chunks of rock, and was all but a rock garden on the descents. I was all nerves, but my bike carried me through and so I would return the favor by carrying it up each following hill. And then as suddenly as that nightmare began, it ended and I was winding back along smooth gravel and broken pavement with the wind at my back. I wasn’t quite sure if it had happened at all.

 

The road stretched on and on, and I didn’t see another rider in any direction. I knew I was on route, but didn’t know where in the field I was. I’d been group-hopping all day and now I was alone pushing my own air. But it was back to a cross-wind, and I was on pavement and feeling pretty good (if a bit hungry) so there was nothing for it but to keep pedaling. I saw a rider in way out in front of me as we entered the Trail of Tears forest, and caught up to him as we passed a volunteer waving us off the road and into the campground.We suffered the steep climbs together, and it was a relief to know I wasn’t the only one walking on the steep parts. I often find that riding with someone else makes it easier for me to come out of my head and enjoy where I am, and I needed it at the time. It was gorgeous. We were on a trail maybe four feet wide winding through bare state forest, light filtering through the trees. The temperature was perfect. The trees blocked the wind. I was on my bike, and life couldn’t have been better. Until I realized I was out of water, at which point the appropriate thing to do was retreat back into that dark place in my head and hammer until I got to the rest stop and could refill again. It was only a few more miles, and shouldn’t be a problem, but I’m terrified of running out of water so I stood up and hammered out of the woods, along a bit of highway, and back along the smooth gravel until I hit the rest stop. Alone again. The mechanic told me he hadn’t seen anyone come through in a while, and asked how I was doing. I told him Trail of Tears seemed like a pretty accurate name, and he laughed. He gave me my bottles back and I took off. There were only ten miles to go, and I had no idea when another rider would be along for me to work with so I couldn’t waste time by waiting again.

 

Back on the gravel, I counted down the miles on my GPS until the finish and tried to pace myself. Ten miles to go, I feel good, I want to finish with nothing left. Get in the drops and hammer. Get in the drops and hammer. Jump this hole in the road and hammer. Drink water. Hammer. Eat. Hammer. I got off the gravel and onto the state highway. Two miles to go. Hammer. One mile to go, you’re on a climb. Zero miles to go, and you’re nowhere near town.

 

Uh, what?

 

In my exhausted state, I had forgotten that the GP track cut off two miles early. So I slowed down, and climbed the rest of the hill looking for any kind of sign that I was still on the route. There was none, so I kept going. And then I saw a volunteer waving me off the road. And cones. This was it! Town! The final stretch! Hammer!

 

And so I rode across the line, collected my high-five, and promptly collapsed.

 

What a race.

 

At the end of the day, I’d done 16th overall, 4th in my category, and 2nd of the single-speeds. A solid way to start the season, but I definitely made mistakes and have lessons to learn. First and foremost, wasted time adds up. Stopping and refilling bottles is necessary, but I brought food and didn’t need to be distracted by the stacks of snacks at the rest stops. I also didn’t need to wait for a group, I could have ridden at a lower effort level and one would have caught me. That way I could have been moving, even if I was moving at a slower pace. The time I spent at the first rest stop was the time I was off the podium by. Pacing is also critical. There were long stretches of road in the middle of the race where I caught myself taking it easier than I should have. It’s fun to just be out riding on a beautiful day, but it’s also a race and should be treated as such.

Photo by Matt Gholson

 

By Geoffrey Harding 

The Dirty South Roubaix 100K + was the first race that I have ever competed in. Over the last few years I have done many organized long distance road rides but none of them were competitive or as challenging as this race was. I was definitely nervous before the start and I made several mistakes that certainly changed the outcome of my day. First of all, I was so worried about getting my clothing right and making sure my bike was ready to go that I completely forgot to drink any water before the start of the race. The only liquid I had all morning was 1.5 cups of coffee.

The second mistake I made was deciding to leave my 2.0L CamelBak behind in favor of a third water bottle in my jersey pocket. Now this might not have been a bad idea, but given my lack of hydration and my third mistake of the day later on in the race, it would have been really nice to have. 

The race had a neutral start with one of the organizers leading the group out of town in a pickup truck. I was feeling pretty good for the first quarter of the race, I had not found a group to ride with but I felt I was maintaining a good strong pace. The dominant feature of the first third of the course was an imposing climb up an escarpment that was accomplished by traversing a series of switchbacks. It was halfway up this climb that I first realized that I had forgotten to properly hydrate in the morning. After the climb the course took us along a ridge and eventually a descent onto a paved main road for the first respite of the day. Unfortunately it was very windy so the whole paved section felt like a climb. Two hundred yards ahead I could see a group of five working together and they were slowly pulling away. All I could do was get into the drops and start hammering.

Photo by Marcus Janzow

Nearing mile 20 I could see the only rest stop, which was utilized twice during the race, and inexplicably I rode right past it still operating under the delusion that I had enough water.  I thought that what I had left would get me to mile 44 where I could refill them all. I would find out later that not only was my current reserve insufficient for 24 more miles, the next rest stop wasn't at mile 44, it was at mile 55. 

After passing the rest stop there was a short section of gravel and then another short paved section. It was here that a group came from behind me and I latched on to them to get a break from the cross wind. We were in an echelon and I got one turn pulling before we hit one of the worst sections of gravel. For the next few miles the course took us over a levee that was composed of medium sized loose gravel and elevated with no cover from the wind. Our group formed a pace line but after my third turn pulling I drifted toward the back and could not grab the last wheel. 

The next big section of the course took us back into the woods and contained most of the hardest climbs of the day, very steep with loose mixed size gravel. I am not ashamed to say that my 36/28 was not going to do it for me and I walked several of them. It was also in this section where I got my first cramp and knew I was in trouble. During one of the climbs my right leg started to seize up and I dismounted to try to work it out. At this point I had to change my goal to just finishing the race. I took all of the remaining climbs easy, slow and smooth pedal strokes, and tried not to bring on another cramp.

At mile 40 I ran out of water and I didn't know it at the time but I had 15 miles to go before I could get more. Thankfully there was quite a bit of pavement and by mile 52, just as the paved section was ending, a course volunteer informed me that the rest stop was 3 miles away through a gravel section that passed through the Trail of Tears State Forest. At the end of the race I heard some say how challenging this section was, but honestly it was all a blur to me because all I could think about was that rest stop. 

After drinking and stretching for a while I set off to tackle the last 9 miles, which contained one final 3 mile section of gravel in the middle of it. I felt pretty good until the last final climb into town greeted me. Halfway up my right leg started to cramp again but I just kept pedaling, I wasn't going to stop. Luckily the final 100 yards was a slight downhill to the finish so I was able to accelerate and cross the line strong and high five Jeremy, who was patiently waiting for me.

Photo by Jeremy Bloyd-Peshkin

All in all I didn't do too badly but I was disappointed that I could have done better. However, I'll learn from this and do better on the next race and learn from the mistakes I'm sure to make during it. I was able to ride a beautiful and challenging course with a great group of riders on a gorgeous day so in the end it was a success!

Jeremy Bloyd-Peshkin is an engineer, machinist, and racecar driver from Chicago who really doesn't care how many wheels a vehicle has as long as he can race it. He credits Flint's leaded water for his trust issues with freewheels, and can often be found riding brevets fixed-gear, attempting to unicycle down stairwells, or inventing new and strange forms of profanity. He's probably drinking coffee right now.

Geoffrey Harding is a husband, father, engineer, and year round cyclist from Chicago. He races for The Chainlink and loves traveling around the city with his family by bicycle. His preferred time to start a ride is 5am but that’s negotiable if it means riding with friends.

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Comment by Jim Reho on Wednesday

Excellent accounts of your adventure!

Comment by Joel on March 17, 2017 at 1:35pm

nice job fellas! sounds like you had a good time

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