Bicycling Blog - Hillsboro Roubaix

Cycling Blog – Hillsboro/Roubaix 4/2/11

Spring is here and now is the time that bicycle racing is in full swing. In Europe, Spring is the season for the Cobbled Classics, races that are 100 years old or more and are known for the cobble stone stretches of roads that they are raced over. The Queen of these classics is Paris – Roubaix, which originates on the outskirts of Paris and ends in the Roubaix Velodrome near the border with Belgium. The rough roads and spring weather make this a particularly grueling race. Winning this race assures a rider a place in history.

Hillsboro, Ill. is home to a local race that is inspired by these European spring classics. The race is called Hillsboro – Roubaix and it not only feature many miles of rough, narrow, rural roads but also sections of brick paved street through the town of Hillsboro itself. This race is longer than most amateur races and has much larger fields that the typical races. This race draws riders from a much wider area than most races around here and it fills up early. There were even some top developmental teams that that feature young riders who are the stars of tomorrow.

My decision to do this race came at the last minute. I thought the field was full and I had considered doing the Masters 50+ but had decided not to. When some spaces became available in the Cat 4 field I went ahead and entered. At 58 miles, this race would be twice as long as any race I did last year and with more than 120 participants it would also be by far the biggest field I'd raced in so I wasn't really sure what to expect.

I arrived at 10 am for an 11:40 start time not knowing that registration was scheduled to close at 10. It was a pretty day, sunny but cool, and the atmosphere was festival like. I checked in and got my numbers and timing chip. Then I went back to the car to get ready.

Instead of suiting up I started eating. I downed a sandwich, bowl of pasta, yogurt, and a banana and was drinking so much water that I had to pee three times between 10 and 11. Other than frequent trips to the port-o-let I was surprisingly relaxed.  That may be because my expectations weren't very high. I was wishing this race had come after my training trip to Georgia because I really didn't have any long training rides in my legs yet. But I was well rested and well fed.

With sunny skies and temps in the mid 50s I decided to go with arm warmer and bare legs but I applied a little Quoleum Warm to keep the chill off. I also decided to carry my tire kit because I don't have spare wheels and if I did get a flat I wanted to be able to make it back to the car. I was racing on Conti GP Super Sonics that I had just put on the night before and they are not exactly known for their puncture resistance but they are light and they are a great handling tire. I packed some gels in my pockets and filled 2 - 24 oz. bottles with straight Gatorade.

My teammate, Eric, and I made our way over to the start and got there early enough to have a fairly good start position. I didn't do any warm-up and I didn't pre-ride the pave. When we were in the final count down a tire blew and I was instantly panicked because I was sure it was mine but it wasn't. The whistle blew and we were off.  Once again I struggled get clipped in and by the first turn Eric was 30 or so riders in front of me. I wanted to get back up to where he was but in this pack moving up was difficult. I've seen one of my more experienced teammates, Skip, weave his way through the pack on our training rides and this skill would have been wonderful for a race like this. 

With the first mile or so being neutralized the pace was pretty slow but everyone was constantly on the brakes. I saw a guy in front of me leave an 8-foot-long skid mark.  Even when we were out of the neutral zone the pace was still slow and we were riding the brakes. A few miles in there was a crash on the right that put a few guys on the deck and stack some other guys up behind it. I was able to get around without any problem and the distance between Eric and I was cut in half. I was just staying relaxed at this point and moving up whenever there was an opening. I chatted a bit with Aaron Koch, who I had raced against four times last year.

This first big change in the race came when we hit the first downwind leg. The speed immediately went through the roof. Since I was pretty far back some gaps started to open in front of me. I kept my speed up and was able to reach a small group that included Eric. We turned back into the wind and the group tried to work together until we were back in the group. Then once again we were on and off the brakes.

The second tail wind section came on a very narrow stretch of road and once again the gaps started opening up again. This was a hard section to deal with because the road was narrow and riders were coming back 2 and 3 at a time. The marshal was behind us honking his horn to keep us from going around to the left so I keep getting delayed trying to get through on the right. Finally I had a clear road between me and the back of the bunch but I had a lot of ground to make up.

At this point I went into time trial mode. The main bunch was so close I could practically reach out and grab them but I just couldn't close the gap. I picked up several riders on my wheel but I didn't even think about rotating out. Then we picked up some wind and I needed some recovery. I rotated with a few guys over the next several miles abut the gap was now growing instead of closing down and I pretty much accepted the fact that we wouldn't be getting back in the front but we didn't let up. We hit a wider road with a gradual up hill and one other rider and I rode away from the rest of the bunch.

It wasn't too long after that we hit the climb back into Hillsboro. Boy, were those paving bricks hard to ride on. It was much harder and slower that I thought it would be. We made it through that section and picked up another rider form our race.

Now I mentioned before that I had filled both bottles with Gatorade. I did this because I thought I would need the carbs and electrolytes for the long race. But I never do that in training. If I'm going on a long ride I will have one bottle of water and one bottle of diluted Gatorade. I took a good long drink at this point and the Gatorade was too sweet and too sticky to really quench my thirst. I regretted that I didn't have any water with me. 

After leaving Hillsboro we began passing riders along the way. Most of them were from the Masters race that had started ahead of ours. But we did pick up a few more Cat 4s and one of the guys tried to organize us into a rotating pace line. We were headed into the wind and this worked ok for awhile but it was clear some guys were stronger than others and I was beginning to think the group was actually slowing me down. The guy I had come into town with and I ended up riding away from the others on a short climb and we never looked back.

He and I were well matched and keeping a good strong pace while sharing the work evenly. We hit stretches of road where we couldn't see anyone either in front or behind us but we never eased back on the pace. As we were getting back near town we did overtake three riders but they were from the masters race. 

As we approached town, the lead car for the 1/2/3 Women came by us. This group had started 10 minutes after us. I keep expecting the group to come by but they didn't and their car was staying fairly far in front of us. Finally we started the climb back up to Hillsboro. When I stood to climb I could tell that my legs just weren't there. The guy I spent the lap with opened up a gap on me and the two leaders of the women's race came by. We hit the bricks for the last time and I couldn’t make up the ground and ended up finishing about 6 seconds back of the guy I had been with.  We hadn't seen another Cat 4 for miles but as it turns out he passed a guy just before the finish that I didn't catch so he was 2 spots in front of me. I finished 46th out of 120.

It was a grueling race but, I was pleased that I was able to race the whole thing. My excuse for getting dropped from the group would be that I got a bad start and never could make my way to the front of the pack. But this excuse doesn't hold water because Aaron Koch who I was chatting with at the back of the bunch went on to finish sixth. Bottom line is I need more aggression and I need to learn to read the race better so I’m ready when the race is really on. I'll plan on doing this race again next year hopefully with a little more speed work in the legs ahead of time.