Thursday’s predicted weather forecast for Sunday’s Love Valley Roubaix race (21st March, 2016) – a high of 44 degrees Fahreiheit / 7 degrees Celcius with at least 60% chance of cold rainfall. The embers that fueled the fire for my love of Love Valley Roubaix looked to be extinguished like a cheap candle.
But come Friday afternoon, the weather forecast had dramatically improved. I was still very much on the fence about attending, and my decision wasn’t helped by teammates Dr. Pain and K-Dogg, who were at odds with each other. Dr. Pain advised against attending, while K-Dogg’s excessive whining proved more persuasive. The trip was on!
Like clockwork, the traffic crawled to a grinding halt along Interstates I-95 and I-77, but didn’t prevent us from arriving in time to visit Jeff and Wes at First Flight Bicycles, for a little tribal knowledge about the course. K-Dogg’s Toyota Prius recorded the worst mile per gallon average in the known history of this remarkable vehicle. We hit an all-time low of 42.1 mpg – headwinds, crosswinds, elevation changes and two bikes on the rack with a lead foot doomed us at the petrol pump.
The chosen hotel for the evening, referred by our teammates who stayed at home as the “Bed Bug Inn”, was an affordable affair. It was selected by other visiting cyclists, so obviously they were in the know. Come 2am, I poked my head out the room door, hoping for pouring rain. I warned K-Dogg earlier, “if its raining at 2am, I’m bloody going home”. Alas, while it had rained, the parking lot was relatively dry, a fact supported by Weather.com
It still hadn’t rained and with a morning temperature of approximately 37 degrees Fahreheit, it was vastly warmer than the 2015 edition. Regardless, K-Dogg and I piled on clothing to keep us warm and any chance of rain at bay. Out of character I wore a vest, which broke up the usual svelte lines of my girlish figure (no cheeky comments please).
We received a warm welcome from promoters Cam, Eric, Gardner and assistant Yuri. Thanks to the helpful and courteous volunteers, we collected our race numbers in rapid fashion and began making preparations for the race. I was most chuffed with my choice of tyres; a year earlier, I rode Hutchinson’s 700c x 28 Sectors, which proved satisfactory for those conditions. However, I erred on the side of caution and chose the excellent Maxxis Rambler tyre for the 2016 edition of Love Valley Roubaix. Because the decision to attend this race was so last minute, I grabbed the first bike I had ready – my venerable Ritchey Breakaway gravel travel bike. “Technophobe” K-Dogg randomly selected his tyres from a pile of somewhat serviceable casings of the non-tubeless variety. As for bike selection, he grabbed the first bike that had appropriate gearing.
My warm-up consisted of rolling down the parking lot hill and ascending it one time. Warm-up over!… too cold to bother getting serious. Food was loaded into my vest pockets and I made for the start line with five minutes to spare. My typical ploy of arriving late feigning “media” credentials segued into a primo start position almost backfired. Both of my cameras were equally displeased with the cool weather and refused to work. I rushed to the side of race promoter Cam, offering a pre-emptive apology for a camera FUBAR. In his typical laid back manner, Cam said in a relaxing tone, “don’t panic, no worries at all”. Then inexplicably, the cameras began working. Brilliant! With 10 seconds to spare, I panned my camera across the start line and clipped in. Giddy up, as they say in Love Valley!
Somehow, I found myself at second wheel going into the first turn. This was a less than ideal position. Being this close to the front requires a certain level of responsibility.
It is frowned upon to lose the leader’s wheel, and frowned upon if you willingly drop back to avoid the responsibility of doing any work on the front. Catch 22.
At the base of the first serious climb, that would all change. I was quickly swarmed worse than blowflies on a rotten t-bone steak. My legs screamed bloody murder on the 12 percent grade as I drifted from second wheel to fourtieth wheel, by the time the summit was reached.
K-Dogg and fake K-Dog (aka Kevin Hessler – one G) yelled encouragement as they promptly vanished up the hill. My climbing legs were somewhere in a closet at home, setting the scene for a day of measured tempo riding whenever the road tilted skywards.
My preparation for Love Valley was less than optimal. On the tail end of a rib injury, carrying a little more weight than usual and with bugger all high end intensity training, I figured Love Valley Roubaix would make for solid training with some fun people. Those are some good excuses eh! Thankfully, I have a stack of endurance miles in my legs, all part of my preparation for 2016 Dirty Kanza 200. Did I mention K-Dogg goaded me into attending?
Some riders find their zen as they tap out a tempo on a climb. The pace slows, with breathing and beating of one’s heart the only sounds to break the silence of the effort. My zen comes from descending. The pain of the climb becomes a distant memory. I never rest, always pedaling, only stopping to shift my weight as I set up for the next corner. I relax, keeping my body loose and braking only when needed, staying focused on not overdoing it, but fast enough to make up a few seconds from the minutes I was losing on every ascent.
I would catch and pass riders on the descents, only to be passed again on the ascents. I could never find that sweet middle road and a group of riders to work with. My day was looping into a series of individual time trials. Climb, descend, time trial, climb, descend, time trail, repeat all day.
During the tough gravel climb of a road known as Gilreath Ct, I was gapped by my companions, shuffling along in my 34 x 32 low gear. The following short descent couldn’t come quick enough, and I used it to catch and pass almost everyone who had dropped me. How dare they drop me!
At the bottom, I came across the figure of my teammate K-Dogg, standing beside the road. He looked perturbed as he struggled to fix a punctured tyre. “Oi!, I told you to switch to tubeless!” I yelled, and kept going. In hindsight, I should have stopped, but considering K-Dogg climbs like a mountain goat, he was best left to catch me later on.
The painful gravel / paved climb of Bethany Church Road leads to the highest peak of the race, which I believe is named Brushy Mountain. Certainly not the longest or toughest climb I have ascended, it is nevertheless steep enough to cause some damage to the legs of anyone climbing it.
I had been joined by #236, Carl Peltzer, who was happy to sit my wheel as I tapped out my tempo, even complimenting me on my steady effort. Onya Carl! Aiding my effort was the duo of riders who lay approximately 45 seconds ahead when we began the paved section of the climb. Counting the time gaps between landmarks along the road, I was happy to hold the gap steady and not lose any time to the duo when I eventually crested the peak.
One of my favourite parts of the course, the paved descent down Brushy Mountain came and went too quickly. I caught the 2015 30+ women’s winner, Jessica Singerman, just after the turn onto 115, where we both reminisced about our 2015 performances. It seemed Jessica was also on an off day. As we chowed on our respective foodstuffs, we were joined by Carl. Jessica and Carl rode me off their wheels ascending one of the undulating climbs of 115. I wasn’t overly concerned, as the toughest climb of the course lay just ahead, Balls Mill Road… I would need every bit of petrol in the tank for this one.
The right turn to Balls Mill Road kicks up almost immediately. Ordinarily, some wining and dining happens before things get a little rude, but Balls Mill is direct and to the point. Beginning at a grade of approximately 10%, the climb quickly ramps to 18% on the higher slopes. A space and time vacuum formed over the riders ascending it; everyone was in slow motion, wistfully leaning left and right and doing anything to keep their bikes moving forward.
On the steepest and hardest point of the climb, I caught and passed Carl. He was paying the price for overdressing, riding a 1 x 10 / 11 speed drivetrain and setting too hard of a tempo.
Don’t get me wrong, in the right scenario a single chainring drivetrain can work well. But for serious climbing, you need lower gears, and the middle ground of a 1 x 10 / 11 drivetrain just doesn’t cut it. Unless you’re a former Bulgarian power lifter, turning squares on a climb is never good for anyone. I have no idea how the single speeder guys do it – much respect for them.
As the road leveled out somewhat towards the top of the climb, I heard a friendly “Oi!” from behind. It was the voice of K-Dogg, my esteemed teammate, just about to catch and unceremoniously drop me.
You think being a teammate, he’d wait. But he probably remembered what happened earlier, as I rode past him while he fixed a tyre puncture. D’oh! Even if he had waited, I would have been a hindrance to his superior climbing abilities.
The climb and pavement ended, turning left onto the gravel of Vannoy Ridge Road. K-Dogg was just ahead, holding a 10 second gap on the rolling undulations of the ridge. With a serious effort I could bridge to him, but possessing tribal knowledge from the 2015 race, I knew there was a tricky gravel descent just ahead. K-Dogg and descents don’t mix… if only we could combine our cycling powers…
It didn’t take long for me to catch and pass K-Dogg on the descent of Vannoy Ridge Road. He descends slower than a sloth in a hurry… but he did catch and pass Chuck Gillis, then second on the road for the 60+ lads. 60+ age group leader Tom Ratajczak held an unassailable and puncture free lead over K-Dogg. Even if I had aided K-Dogg’s chase, there was plenty of climbing and descending left – no way would we catch Tom.
A brief climb broke up the descent, allowing K-Dogg to briefly catch on and sit my wheel, before the second leg of descending began. Unfortunately, I left K-Dogg behind but caught David Brendle of the Fiets Maan racing team. David has tribal knowledge of this descent and stuck close to my rear wheel, even when I had the Ritchey in a brief sideways drift.
We reached the bottom of the descent safely. For the umpteenth time at Love Valley Roubaix, David made the list of cyclists who dropped me on a climb. After bidding him farewell, I knew that a few miles of undulating hills lay between this point of the course and the penultimate climb of Fox Mountain Road.
I was caught again by K-Dogg, who this time left me for good. Close to the base of Fox Mountain, I exchanged pleasantries with an Irish bloke who resides in Winston Salem (sorry mate, forgot your name!). He dropped me.
On the tough climb of Fox Mountain Road, I briefly rode with a young lad from Brevard College, who was experiencing a rough day with punctured tyres. He too, dropped me. I crested the summit a few minutes later and safely descended alone into Love Valley.
Thankfully, there was nobody in sight to contest my placing in the 40+ age category – not that I was placing anywhere near the podium. I sauntered up the final climb and into Love Valley proper, crossing the line in 3:14:45, six positions down from 2015 and 15 minutes slower. My performance was as expected. Nevertheless, I had a marvelous time at the race, and think of the positives that will come from the day’s thrashing in the mountains!
I dusted myself off and headed into the Silver Spur Saloon, to join my fellow gravel racers for catered chow (part of the race entry fee), socialisation and podium awards.
Whilst K-Dogg experienced a tyre puncture, his ride performance was enough to land him second spot in the 60+ category, behind winner Tom Ratajczak. Nice ride Tom, and congratulations to all who raced, placed and podium’d!
Finally, a big thank you must go to the promoters and their team of volunteers. Love Valley Roubaix was a smoothly run race on an amazing course, supported by friendly and encouraging people.
Then… we drove eight hours back to Gainesville, Florida <ugh>. See you at Darby Roubaix!
JOM’s Strava Data from 2016 Love Valley Roubaix is HERE.
- Love Valley Roubaix Race Video from the perspective of two guys who reside in Florida – K-Dogg and JOM.
- Video interview and big news from Cam Fraser of Blue Mountain Revival Productions and Eric Wever of Pisgah Productions.
Thanks for reading!