Perry Roubaix: The Path Less Taken...On a Road Bike
April 7, 2013--When imagining a cycling road race, what comes to mind? If you are an avid cyclist, beginner or haven't been on a bicycle in years...or...ever for that matter, you probably at least picture the getup--a sea of spandex, helmets and sport sunglasses--and the very expensive bicycles lining up on the mark to get ready, get set and go! If you are new to the sport of cycling, what may surprise you about the Perry Roubaix Road Race course is that it includes a 3 mile dirt road section! Someone might ask why a person would risk hurting himself and his expensive bike to ride on a bumpy, muddy one-lane dirt road. Well, one could say it is tradition. In 1896, Theodore Vienne and Maurice Perez created the Paris-Roubaix, a course that started in Paris, France and ended in Roubaix, France. (Since 1977, the Paris-Roubaix has started in Compiègne.) Racing to Roubaix means riding the last 50K, which is a little over thirty miles, on the rough cobblestone that leads to Roubaix, France. The cobblestone makes for a bumpy ride that is known for causing tire punctures, and sometimes, even falls and crashes. Despite the rough terrain to endure, the Paris-Roubaix still remains one of the most prestigious races of the season. So, the simple answer to why people like to race their road bikes on a track more suitable for a mountain bike? Cyclists like to suffer. Just kidding…well, at least a little. Competitive cyclists like to challenge themselves...and most importantly, it is fun!
This is why every year hundreds of cyclists of all different ages and ability appear from all over the Southeast to race the Perry Roubaix that Spincycle Sports organizes in Perry, Georgia. The youngest racers this year were 12 year old twins: Leon and Troy Waine. No one wanted to admit to being the oldest, and cyclists look so young anyways that it doesn’t matter. The Perry Roubaix welcomed all who wanted to race. This race’s reputation instilled a little healthy fear in the heart of some of the racers, as many racers claimed it is the hardest of the races Spincycle Sports organizes. The road race course is a 12.13 mile loop. It consists of four roads: Elko Road, Gilbert Road, Firetower Road (the dirt road and favorite part of the race for most riders), and General Courtney Hodge Boulevard. Your eyebrows may be scrunched up and your forehead might even be quite wrinkled, thinking, "Oh, a road race is only 12.13 miles? I could do that. Sign me up." Wait a minute and get all the details before you get too ahead of yourself.
Although the route is 12.13 miles, each racer is assigned a category, and each category is required to finish a specified number of laps. Even the category 5 racers, the most inexperienced of all the racers—have finished less than 10 races (everyone has to start somewhere)—have 3 laps to complete: 36.39 miles; this is the shortest race of the day. You may see thirty-six miles as a breeze if you are used to cycling, but don't forget to practice on some dirt roads before racing. It requires a certain amount of skill to keep your balance. As the racer competes and completes more races, he gains points and upgrades to a more advanced category, and hopefully, the racer makes fitness strides because the road races get harder...or at least longer. (For more information on the details of how to cat up go to usacycling.org). The category 4 racers have to complete 4 laps: 48.52 miles, and the category 3 racers have to complete 5 laps: 60.65 miles. In this race, category 1 and 2 competes against each other and have 6 laps to complete the race: a whopping 72. 78 miles. One lap of this course may allow you to establish a good pace and get warmed up, but it takes a sustained effort and the required number of laps for your category for a racer to be able to say "I raced and finished the Perry Roubaix."
Speaking with a many racers throughout the day, most seemed to take cycling seriously and were fully aware of the effort it takes to make it to the finish line on race day. Every cyclist spoke about training during the winter and could name the group ride he attended frequently. Jeff Warncke, a category 3 racer p/b Home Smart, even named off the top of his head two coaching books that he claimed really helped him with his training: Training for the Time Trial Cyclist by Chris CarMichael and Cycling Bible by Joe Friel. Listening to the racers, one quickly learns that there is more to cycling than just going really, really fast and crossing a line on the ground before another racer. Sure, a championship jersey or even a spot on the podium inspires many, but there is more to racing than earning bragging rights. A lot of training, sweat, tears, suffering and even broken bones go along with cycling. Cyclists get back on the bike. Why? The sport offers a way to push yourself to what you think is your breaking point...only to find...once in a while you can push yourself harder than you ever even imagined.
Competitive cycling is also filled with complex dynamics. Steve Riley, a category 4 racer on Team Mission-Source states, "Although cycling is a team sport, as a racer you go out with your own desires to win, but sometimes you are not in a position to win. Someone else on your team has a better shot, so sometimes the individual sacrifices personal goals on behalf of what is best for the team." Steve speaks from personal experience and is not happy with his 10th place, but he says, "For Team Mission-Source, it was a great day." When the breakaway occurred Steve was not in the right position to join, but his fellow teammate, Brian Coll, fortunately, was in the right place at the right time. Brian managed to join and stay in the 6 strong breakaway, which eventually got a 1 minute gap from the peloton. In this breakaway, all three major teams—Village Volkswagen Elite Cycling Team, Big Ring Racing, and Team Mission-Source—were represented and had a person in the running to win. Brian Coll placed 5th, finishing the race with the breakaway, but for those left behind in the peloton, Steve Riley said, "It [the race] became little more than a Sunday stroll, at least until the last sprint to the finish line.” Steve admitted the team could have planned better, and he looks forward to the next race.
Planning is key in competitive cycling, and as demonstrated earlier, personal dreams sometimes take a backseat to the team. In fact, sometimes it is planned that way in cycling. After asking Chris Lessing from Round Here Racing if he would be pulling, Chris chuckled and uttered, "No, I have two other teammates that will help pull most of the time." His friend and teammate chimed in, "I am his food and water guy. It is my job to make sure he has what he needs." It seemed that Chris’s teammates were all there racing with him to get him to the finish line, really admirable if you stop and think about it. However, sometimes even well-thought-out plans fail, as Chris placed 13th in the Category 1 & 2 race, only finishing with one instead of three teammates due to mechanical problems. (Better luck next time to Chris and Round Here Racing.) Although if you think about Round Here Racing’s strategy, it makes perfect sense. Why wouldn't you give your strongest teammate the shot at the winning, helping to protect that teammate at all cost? In the meantime, the supporting team members are becoming stronger cyclists, and one day, hopefully, each will have his own team giving him support, assisting him in reaching the finish line in 1st place.
Although a well-thought-out plan is always very important, it appears, based off the Category 3 race, that sometimes winning is a combination of being very strong, improvising quickly, and having a little bit of luck. Mark Fisher, p/b Village Volkswagen Elite Cycling Team, managed to get the right concoction together and won 1st place in the Category 3 race. After getting in a breakaway with Robert Loomis (p/b SkyBlue Racing) only after the 1st lap, they both continued to take turns pulling until the very last lap. Mark attacked on the hill near the feeding zone on Elko Road, and he managed to stay in the lead all the way to the finish line! Mark is only twenty-two years old, and he has only been racing for 2 years. He ran competitively in high school and has already ran in several marathons. Also, Mark has even completed the Ironman Louisville. Now, you can add to his personal victories a 1st place win at Perry Roubaix. When asked why he picked up the bike, he responded "I wanted to try something different while in college." With any chance to be like Mark, try his pre-race ritual and "drink lots and lots of coffee!"
Beginner cyclists, if you lack the natural talent that Mark has and know that coffee probably won't cut it and make you kill it next time you hit the road, follow the advice of the 1st place winner of the Category 1 & 2 race, Oleg Tanovitchi. Oleg says to newbie cyclists interested in racing one day to "put the miles in, go ride...and have fun." When asked if a newbie cyclists should worry about speed or distance first, without hesitation he answered, "Don't worry about speed just starting out. Just go as long as you can go on the bike. Later, the speed will come." To all the beginner cyclists, you have almost a year to train. To all the experienced cyclists who didn’t reach the mark you set for yourself or your team, you had fun…and the calling to conquer Firetower Road and all other cyclists on the face of the earth still lives within you, see you next year at the Perry Roubaix!