It's been over a year since I raced the Boulder/Mead Roubaix in Colorado and I am once again planning on heading back. As many of you know, we have moved blogs so it thought I would repost this blog for you to enjoy. Wish me luck!
Nearly 2.5 hours into one of the hardest races of my cycling ‘career’, having nearly avoided the second most frightening crash I have ever witnessed, and doing more work in a pace line and solo than the last 2 years of riding combined, my last-ditched effort to win the Boulder/Mead Roubaix race came with a guy stuck to my wheel 5 kilometers from the finish….
Many of you have undoubtedly been watching the Spring Classics over the past few weeks. The races have been nothing but exciting to the very end. Inspired by these races, I decided to visit some friends in Colorado and race the infamous Boulder Roubaix. This year, the race organizers moved the venue from Boulder to Mead, CO, a small farm town northeast of Boulder in the rolling hills of the Colorado Plains.
The conditions for this race were perfect for a Roubaix-style race, if not extremely challenging. A stiff, 20+ mile/hour wind out of the west and a course with nearly 34% dirt roads over the length of 58 miles and about a 1400’ per lap for 3 laps. Our particular group was big, nearly 100 riders from two categories, open and masters. The start was fairly mellow with a stiff headwind for 2-3 kilometers before turning north where teamwork truly came into play. The echelons were setting up nicely but I quickly found myself in the gutter trying ever so hard to stay in contact with the obvious lead group of riders. As we turned again, the headwind hit us straight on and I found plenty of cover and decided to move to the front as a few teams looked to make a move on the next turn. As we headed east, however, the entire peloton began to swarm me with a strong wind at our backs. I know well enough to not let this happen as it puts me in a dangerous position for the next big turn. This time, however, it saved my bike and perhaps my collarbone.
Without warning, we made a hard right turn south and quickly left the pavement for the softest dirt section of the race. The front row of riders and a few in between fell like soldiers shot down by the opposing troops. The field blew up. Bikes and riders were in the air. As more riders panicked, more riders hit the deck. It was carnage. I luckily was far enough back that I stayed clear of the crash but at a major price.
The lead group of open racers drilled it. I knew this was the race unfolding. I picked my way through the fallen riders and tried desperately to bridge up to about 20 – 25 riders who were on the gas. As we turned east again onto the pavement, it was game over. The tail wind and an unforgiving bunch of riders created an uncrossable gap for me. I looked around and decided to wait for a few riders to work together. About 4, then quickly, 6 of us began the chase. As we hit the steep section about 6 kms or so from the start/finish, I realized my group was not strong enough on the dirt climb to help me bridge the gap so I put my head down and (perhaps foolishly) tried to go it alone, hoping the lead group would ease up as they came through the neutral feed zone. I turned the hard right to the start/finish, picked up a solo rider from my category who must have been dropped on the climb with the lead group and began a good two-man train. I honestly, if not mistakenly, believe we could bridge up to the leading group.
We made it about 3/4 the way around the 2nd lap when a group of 4 joined us from behind. We clearly made a mistake trying to do it ourselves. In this newly formed chase group was a 200lb Aussie with big legs and an even bigger heart. I knew he wanted to make it back to the lead group and had the legs to do it. He and I began to share pulls, getting a few more guys to do some of the work along the way. Little by little, we noticed riders from the lead group falling off. They were getting dropped. By the time we reach the start/finish again, we were down to 4 guys. By this time, it became apparent Scott (the Aussie rider) and I were going to do all the work. I asked the other guys to pull through, but no one was willing to come around. Every few minutes or so, I would sit up, just like you see on TV, throw up a hand, and ask the guys to do their part. There was one guy in particular who had not pulled through the entire lap, sitting sheepishly on the back. I knew he was positioning himself for a big attack closer to the finish. I decided to ask Scott if he was willing to attack the group before we towed the other guys to the finish line, but he declined. I knew well enough how this might end.
As we approached the final, most difficult climb --the one I had to run up on lap 2 due to the softness of the dirt and the fatigue in my legs-- I knew my best shot at a podium finish was at that moment. (I actually did not know if a podium spot was even viable, as I couldn’t tell how many guys from the lead group were still in front of us.) I hit the two small hills before the dirt with all I had in the tank. I reluctantly dropped by ‘friend’ Scott along with the other 3 riders, but as I crested the top the dirt hill, I hit a soft spot and once again came off my bike. I hit the dirt running like a cycle cross race, but in road shoes it was ugly. As I remounted my bike, one of the four riders, the guy who surfed off the back the entire third lap, reach my rear wheel. I was totally bummed. I knew my chances of winning the sprint were good, as that is probably my biggest strength in bike races, but I needed to get him off my tail.
We hit the 5km to-go marker and I waved the guy to come around to share the work to the finish. He boldly said no. I slowed down, looked over my shoulder to assess the proximity of the riders coming over hill, and I began to panic. I knew there was no time for cat and mouse as they were coming quickly so I decided to attack. I put a huge effort into dropped this guy. I put a good gap on him, but I knew with 2kms to go I probably could not hold him off and then win the sprint. I decided to ease off the gas yet again. I waived him to come around again and he cowardly said “you can’t goat me to pull through… not going to happen” I was pissed. I knew he was going to attack me in the final meters but outside of brake checking him I had no option but to continue on.
My only hope was the hard, right hand turn to the finish line. It was an odd and frankly unsafe finish but one that might favor me. The turn before the finish line was an abrupt right and the distance to the line was barely 50 meters. It was clear whoever rounded the corner first was the winner.
As I peered nervously over my right shoulder awaiting his move, I began to think whether I should have attacked him again earlier. I was second quessing myself. For the first time ever in a road race, I knew one false move, one hesitation, and I’d lose the race. Granted, I didn’t know if I was racing for 1st or 10th, but in my mind, the race for victory was right in front of me (actually, he was still behind me). With 150 meters to go, he predictably attacked. I had done one thing right, however. I knew the ‘yellow line’ rules were in effect so I positioned myself just left of center of the road. When he attacked, he’d have to go on my right. If his attack was not strong enough or too late in the final meters, I would have one more chance to come around him wide in the final turn before the finish, taking the wider line versus the shorter inside line. Normally the inside line is the best, but because the right-hand turn was sharp and the road narrow, I knew I could get more momentum in the outside line and possibly get him in the turn and at the finish.
Well I did get around him and while it was not for 1st, it was indeed for 2nd place. Evidently, one rider who was in the lead group stayed away. I honestly don’t know how he did it by himself, but nonetheless he did. There was some talk around the podium that he must have worked with riders from another category before our start group which was illegal, but I really didn’t care. I rode the best race of my life and I was proud to be second.
From watching Paris-Roubaix later that evening, it seemed that 2nd wasn’t half bad after all. As one of our clients said in a congratulatory email, “it must be something about second place today for the hard men.” I did indeed feel like a hard man on the bike today, for the first time ever.
PS: If you have the stomach for more crash photos, check out some of the shots here