Those who live on the mighty Mississippi are kissin' cousins to plagues and flood, miracles and mud. The river gives, the river taketh away. Ain't no thing - just deal with it and move on. Happens all the time they say.
Even before the 14th running of the 105 mile Rouge Roubaix bike race began, the host town of Saint Francisville had a problem. Four miles from the finish, a 100' long bridge flooded over, leaving a huge tree across the middle and a knee deep, gooey brown mud-slide at both ends. No earthly way to run a bike race across it.
Three members of Cycle Logic bike race team and one frenemy from another team came upon this scene of devastation on a reconnaissance drive the night before. While a half dozen anxious and unaccountably rude young racers milled about in panic and disbelief - Irish Ed Dunne calmly scouted out an alternate route involving a high sandy ridge and floating across on an oak stump Noah's Ark style. "Easy as Mississippi Mud pie." he implied.
While pretending to consider this dubious solution we were distracted by the god-awful thundering of a giant diesel engine approaching from upon high. It was Saint Purcell and his almighty bull dozer of justice. Raising his 10 cubit wide bucket he quickly smate the evil mud from both sides and cast the stubborn tree back whenst it came. There was rejoicing amongst the lycra clad chosen. The race was saved! Laisser les bon temps rouler! Let the good times roll.
Race day morning and we lined up in mixed category race waves. Ninty-three of us were promptly escorted out of town by the High Sheriff of West Feliciana Parish with motorized Race Bible Angels beseeching us to "be not tempted to cross the yellow line at any time or be cast down unto the hell at the back."
Without incident our sweaty little tribe flew over 25 miles of smooth and sinuous roads with no great change of race position-until the 9 mile long rocky road to hell began. Immediately the slippery gravel, potholes and hills thinned the pack to about 25. Two miles later a dangerous single file snake of 15 guys were opening up a dangerous gap. Shaking off my stupor I moved to the front then put the hammer down. A few guys, including Frank Jennings (1st last year) Randy (2nd last year), my teammate Lambert Vaes and Jayson O'Mahoney jumped on my wheel as I dove from slippery corner to slippery corner to shrink the gap. Thirty seconds later I latched on to what would become the winning break.
Sit in. Recover. Go again. Sit in. Recover a little less. Go again. Think about famous Greg Lemond quote "...It never gets easier-you just go faster."
A mile or two later I notice Jayson, who is a much better time trialist than I, inexplicably vanish off the back. He had one of his few bad days apparently and later broke a spoke. At least it wasn't his chain again. Belgian teammate Lambert Vaes was on the verge of catching back on but flatted. He went on to finish 4th and in the money even so.
Emerging back onto blessed pavement I counted nine 40+ men and three of us 55+ men. No women at all were left, unlike the two previous years, the pace was apparently too high this year. But it was time to make sure we stayed away from the other 80 riders so I encouraged a big rotation long and loud enough (emphasizing that we were 55+ and no threat to their prize list) that we held the chasers off.
An hour or so later we left the big rolling paved hills of Mississippi and headed back towards Louisiana onto dirt on Blockhouse Hill. Blockhouse is about 1 mile of 15% packed gravel road with a fat guy at the top waving a crisp $100 bill for the first up. Three or four guys went after it hard leaving the rest hoping they would blow up and come back to us when the pavement returns 2 miles later (which all but one did). Once you reach the top you plunge down and up two more short but steep hills with deep, wheel sucking sand at the bottom - which you hit at 40 mph trying to hold momentum up the other side. You realize this watching guys suddenly fishtailing and face - planting all around you.
Being a mediocre cross biker I too was soon fishtailing and looking for a soft spot to land when a sort of miracle occured. I say sort of miracle because a string of obscenities, including the lord's name in vain, erupted violently behind me as a 180 lb blasphemer rammed my rear wheel and "bumper-biked" me back upright and through the sand pit unscathed and rolling back up the hill. At the top I was amazed there was no damage to my tire or wheel. I love my Kryseriums. After 5 years of racing and 3 Rouge Roubaix's they are truly bullet proof.
Soon, 4 of us were back on pavement then quickly chased down two more. More importantly, only Gus Ferrar and I were left in the 55+ with Randy still fighting the sand pit. Sweet! lots of horsepower and little obligation to chase hard.
Eventually we entered the last of the dirt sections. The first hill was almost impossible to ride up without falling over on the steep, slippery gravel and 17% gradient. I was determined to finally ride up it unlike last year when Frank Jennings (who went on to win anyway) popped a wheelie right in front of me and stopped everybody cold.
This year Gus and I were side by side torqing out 20 rev's and rocking back and forth when he also popped a wheelie and stopped everybody cold. I must confess, I blasphemed him as he thrashed on the ground trying to unclip. Seeing an opportunity to sneak away with 1st place I ran my bike hard up the rest of the hill, jumped on and bombed the next few scary dirt rollers like a bat out of hell.
It was to no avail. The dude is very strong, he chased me down and kept me on the rivet every uphill. Luckily I have been taking descending lessons from Jayson and gained it all back while I put my brain on hold, just as I was taught.
Back on "pavement"
For the next 20 miles Gus and I rode in the company of 3-5 40+ riders who came and went (backwards) fighting fatigue and leg cramps. For some reason Gus either felt really good or didn't realize I was his only competition left and took almost as many pulls as the youngsters who wanted to rein in the last guy off the front. I pulled a fair amount of time but leg cramps dictated a slower speed than most of the others. Ya got what ya got.
For a while I considered telling Gus I wouldn't fight him for first since he was stronger but stopped short. Who knows what he really had left. It could be a bluff. Let him prove he is stronger. My team wants me to win.
Well, he was stronger - quite a bit stronger as it turned out. The final sprint is up a nasty two-step hill. Whatever cramp you silenced talks loudly now.
"Shut up legs!" I said.
At the top of the first hill I surged ahead a bike length. "He's fading! He's fading!" I thought. "Please stop! Please stop!" said my legs.
"Shut up legs!" I said again.
I hear a gear click and two youngsters with Gus in tow were suddenly 2 bikes in front of me. "Sit down! Sit down you moron!" yelled my legs. I sat down.
I am not Jens Voigt. I listen to my legs.
My legs won the argument. I got second in the race. We both felt blessed by Saint Francaisville and will be back next year.
Laissez les bon temps rouler!