It's right there in the name, but putting a Billy on back of that word suddenly makes it sound charming and hospitable. While the people involved in organizing and running this event are certainly that, this course has no intent of being civilized.
The morning was wet in the way that leaves zero chance of staying dry, regardless of the gear. My new found adventure buddy, Imelda, and I sat in the car, trying to focus on everything but the rain. The time came to make peace with it, so we stepped out of the car to prep our bikes.
In no time we were soaked, but we're now committed to whatever's ahead, so fuck you, rain.
We roll over to the staging area and fold into the scene of other dedicated Roubaix'ers. A real cool crowd. No posturing, just a classic "band of brothers" waiting to march into the trenches. A lot fewer ladies than I expected, but not uncommon to gravel.
A pre-launch fireside chat by the organizer, JR, to lighten the mood and establish race etiquette. A good round of banter and we're ready to hit the gas. But then we wait...and wait...and wait some more...for what seems like an eternity. Maybe it was the rain, but I'm almost certain we sat there for a good ten minutes. A pig squealed (or I just imagined it) and we're off!
There's so much to this day that I could wax poetic about. Some of the memories are already foggy (race amnesia) or tucked away in that recess of the brain saved for things that shape you from the inside out. But I'll bullet the highlights to keep this flowing:
~Up, up and more up
~All kinds of gravel -sharp, loose, slippery, round, big
~A very memorable section of ginormous "potholes" - with the heavy rains, these were mini lakes, crankset deep
~An incidental downhill creek we had to ride up
~Muddy rutted out hilly section, so schloggy, you surely came out with 3 lbs of additional mud weight -full disclosure, I may have cursed into the breeze at this point ...a lot
I'd be remiss to not mention the paved road sections, but even the relief of smooth was sometimes obliterated by a steep turn upwards.
There were some mentionable moments of mercy along the way that helped reset ones will - 1) three well stocked checkpoints 2) random locals out cheering 3) a few fast and liberating stretches of asphalt.
In hindsight, I think I was technically set up pretty well. Surly Cross Check cx rig, 1 x 10 (38t, 11-26), 40mm Clement X'plor MSO's on Mavic Ksyrium rims, Revelate frame bag with bladder and 2 bottle cages (this hydration config was actually very cramped on my tiny frame - next time, no bladder, if temps allow). Zero flats or mechanicals, although an alarmingly gritty sounding BB had me worried for a bit. I sidled up to a couple veterans for the 'ol tire pressure chat before the race: "better to go high than low". 60psi did me right. I could've used a couple more gears on the steep uphills, as I had to walk a few toppers, but getting off the bike actually stretched out the legs.
The one major fear I had going in was how well, or not well marked, the course would be, especially with a relatively small group of wheels to follow. Neither knowing, my racer pal and I took a "buddy system" oath prior to the start. That said, it was terrifically well marked. So much, that I was ultimately able to negotiate a "go ahead" policy with my gal pal around mile 60, as the hills were getting the best of her. My legs were anxious to keep momentum and bury this thing.
All in all, it was a remarkable day. 72 miles and 8k feet of elevation. The rain was actually a saving grace, as the sun briefly peaked out in the late afternoon and instantly put sweat into my eyes. Compadres were made along the way...suffering begets kinships. Mad props were given to a couple fellas who decided single speed was their recipe for adventure that day. Race line beers and cheers made for a welcome return, not to mention an ex-Chicagoan friend in the mix, full of smiles and high fives. As I reflected back on the day, later that night and since, I've come to realize this is one of those events that needs experiencing to fully understand the magic and glory it possesses. Like parenting, I imagine. You can't fathom the pride you'll feel until you're in the moment. Hope to see you there next year....