If I could only make one ride or race each year--it would be the Rouge-Roubaix. Lumps, bumps, dirt, gravel, and dust combined with silky smooth fast asphalt and all the suffering you can bear--now, that's bike racing! See you next year.-Jon
In the early eighties while working in the Engine-Room, onboard a nuclear submarine, we cut Zinc plugs from bar stock and installed the Zinc in the salt-water side of the heat exchangers. The corrosive seawater, used for cooling, would viciously attack and consume the inexpensive Zinc instead of the complex, high-dollar, hard to replace heat exchanger components. The Zinc was graciously offered as a Sacrificial Anode. Well, in Sunday's Rouge-Roubaix III road race--David Alexander and I rode like a couple of Zinc plugs shamelessly displaying our collective IQ which, for anyone interested, totaled seven and one-half points.
Thirty-four riders embarked on Sunday's Rouge-Roubaix III. The group rolled up Highway 61, through the neutral zone, toward the official race start north of town. Riders were immersed in excitement and casual conversion. Dozens of Red Necks heading north in rickety 1968 pickup trucks--while enjoying the solace of a quick 20 oz. Budweiser before breakfast--were forced to yield to the procession of pretty boys (and the Goddess) parading though town in their skin tight, butt-ugly, multi-colored Spandex.
As we exited the neutral area, I felt good, the air was clear, and my legs were warm. My plan for the day was to sit in, rest, and go hard at the Pond Store climb. I reached back and checked my jersey pocket--"Shit! I left the four energy bars I staged for this epic 100 mile race back at the hotel!" I envisioned 100 miles without food; it was a gruesome notion. Fortunately, just before the turn onto Sligo Road, I saw the course marshal Josie Babin who just happens to be a Red Stick Racer. I took a breath, composed myself, and calmly shrieked at the top of my lungs, "Josie, I didn't bring no food, no damn food, not any, out of food, I'm serious I have nothing to eat, no food…." I was pretty sure she heard me (as it would be hard ignore a 6' 5" panicky rider yelling, gesturing wildly, and trying to run you over). However, I fully understand how a finely tuned race hand-up system works. Your chance of actually getting a hand-up are only slightly better than the likely hood of surviving a rear end collision while driving a Ford Pinto. I prepared myself for the worst.
Prior to Sligo Road I rolled to the front. I knew about the short steep climb immediately after the corner and I didn't want to be hanging on the back if someone attacked. I cruised up the climb and looked back to see a small gap. I presented no danger and the group just let me sit. Another minute went by and I was joined by my Red Stick teammate David Alexander. We were just cruising and chatting. No one had any interest in running us down. After all, it was only nine miles into a 100-mile race. Right about then we decided to put in some effort. You would think two intelligent guys, a computer analyst and a nuclear engineer, would know better. However, at that point, if you counted every IQ point we could muster between us--you would not have used up all of your fingers. Since we had no better judgment we started rolling.Sligo Road was smooth and fast and there was a crowd of Red Stick Racers in the bunch. We got out of sight quick. So, we pushed it up a notch or two. On Irondale road, I realized my secret weapon the indestructible Specialized Armadillos I installed on my bike just yesterday were, in fact, a rather large liability. These tires have a couple layers of re-enforced rubber and they are 1/4-inch thick. You can't make them go flat but there is a severe side effect, they weigh in about forty pounds and have more rolling resistances than a MACK truck. This disadvantage was self-evident as I tried to push the tires up the bumpy, slightly uphill sections on Irondale Road.
As we wrapped up the Irondale stretch I spotted my savior, Josie Babin. She had an energy bar and banana wrapped in ponytail holder, especially for me. It was like a weight was lifted off my shoulders. If all else failed the vultures would not get me when I bonked and fell over from starvation. We turned on to Highway 66 and I figured our mission was accomplished and it was time to sit up. Those in the group would have to chase up and over the rollers on Irondale Road, hopefully expending some energy and helping out our better climbers Steve Seiden and Stephen Apsey later in the race. Except some bonehead pulls alongside and told us we had two minutes on the group. I looked at David and he said, "Two minutes, gosh we should keep rolling." We did.
We rolled the first dirt road grateful we were not in the pack. It was hairy enough keeping both of us upright. I'm sure the sketchiness we experienced was magnified ten-fold in the group. We rolled Pickneyville Road, steady on up the hills; pushing on flats. Paranoid, like a couple of crack-heads, we sweated it out--worried about getting caught just prior to the last series of hills. Thankfully, we made Woodville without getting swarmed by the pack. At Feed Zone #1, I snagged a Snickers bar (thank you Mr. Mike Rourke). At that point I would have mainlined the sugar and peanuts if only someone had handed up a syringe with a large bore needle.
Near mile 55 or 60 on the trip to Fort Adams my portly tires started to take their toll. I began my disintegration into self-inflicted purgatory. David "Big Red" Alexander put the over-sized quads in action and was churning. I sat on his wheel contributing meek little pulls when I could. It wasn't looking good; we were standing and busting our legs on hills that had an elevation change of 6-8 inches. Yet, we heard we had 4-minutes, 5-minutes, and then 6-minutes. At the base of Pond Hill, David says, "6 minutes, 40 seconds--this could work!" As psyched as I was about the time gap, I knew it was over for me. I told David to give it a go. He set off dreaming of victory after a 90-mile breakaway. Although, he had to postpone his vision for just long enough to walk up part of the Pond Hill.
I managed to find some rhythm. I thought, "6 minutes, that's a long time. Maybe, if I hold it steady…" As I neared the end of the dirt section Stig Somme blew by me. He wasn't struggling, he wasn't hurting--he was flying! And, I think the bastard was even smiling. He gave me a chipper little, "Hi Jon" and poured on the gas for good measure. David was up the road about two minutes. He didn't know it yet, but his race was over.
I was dropped from the first chase group, then dropped from the second chase group, then dropped while trying to motor pace off the wheel vehicle. I knew it would be a long 20 miles as I plodded on. I walked the Tunica Trace hill and watched while Gina "The Goddess" Voci pedaled to the top. I managed to remount and grab Salty's wheel and hoped to hang with him; that idea evaporated on the very next uphill. I fought the pain in my legs, hands, butt, back, forearms, neck, and shoulders all the way to the finish line. Stig won; David cracked on the Tunica climb and finished 12th. I raced as hard as I could, finished, and barely survived. But what a ride! Next time it just might work…-Jon