Monday, April 4, 2011

Hillsboro Roubaix 2011 (Cat 3) Race Report

Hillsboro Roubaix is a race with several traditions (from the 4 editions I’ve ridden): crosswinds, shattered packs, crappy roads, whining about the yellow line, strong words and grandstanding from officials about said yellow line, the first sunburn of the season, and getting dropped.  Most of these traditions were carried forward, but yesterday I set a new precedent for that last one.

Three 708 racing p/b Dressel’s Public Ale House riders lined up for the cat 3 race.  Nick and Keith graciously agreed to work for me in the race.  Our team was prepared as best we could be and we were hoping for a good result.

At the start Jerry (I’m terrible with names, I doubt this is his real name, but let’s go with it) of the Livestrong-kitted-team started up a dialogue…

Jerry: Were you in that break last week?
Me: What are you talking about?
Jerry: At Forest Park?
Me: What are you talking about?
Jerry: Weren’t we in that break together two weeks ago?
Me: What are you talking about? (I grin.)
Jerry: Ok, that WAS you…

My cover was blown and we hadn’t even started.  I looked around and found some of my “marks” in the 100 man field.  We soon pushed off under sunny skies in brisk winds.  The blue shirts decided that the neutral start should extend down the first hill, which is fine.  However the pace care maintained 17mph of neutrality down the hill.  I considered abandoning the race as I quickly emptied not my legs but my store of g-rated exasperation phrases.  “Gosh! Well I’ll be! C’mon!”  It was an episode of the Andy Griffith show but we were only 3 miles in.  I didn’t want to go HBO on the field but that is how it was looking.  Why did I sign up for this?

We eventually got underway but most of the race suffered from our bunch being afraid to really go hard at or off the front.  Hard surges would be followed with long periods sitting up.  During the slow times I would sing and chat with my neighbors.  I’m sure not a few racers wanted to shut me up but the way to do that was attack and only a handful of guys really gave it a go.

The big drama on the first lap came when the moto ref neutralized the field and told us to quit breaking the centerline rule.  He was right for calling us out.  I watched as a rider dodged an oncoming car while rounding a blind left hander (if you raced, it’s that down and up one – can’t forget it!!).  We barely escaped a tragedy beyond speaking.  While we were getting our lecture and being threatened with a mass DQ (not an offer for “Blizzards on Me!”, either) a rider behind me asked a confrontational question.  I don’t even remember what it was.  The ref responded to the group yet more agitated.  I was incredulous and told the kid to shut up.  It reminded me of my freshman speech class in college…

A young PhD candidate Sherlene (I don’t actually remember her name) was our instructor and also the course admin (organizing the course and curriculum for the department that year).  Unfortunately for her, she had a room full of cocky engineers-to-be on her hands – not the easiest clay to mold.  Sherlene asked the class: “What have you heard about this course?”  And genius of geniuses, Rufus T. Barleysheath (not real name) is the first row pushes back on the bridge of his spectacles, raises his hand, and utters the words “blowoff class”.  My forehead hits the desk.  To Rufus and his kin in the peloton: learn to keep your mouth shut!

Meanwhile, in Hillsboro…we ended the first lap quickly as Nick (Burnham) and Tim (Psimet) showed themselves in the top 20 for the first times.  Both are strong riders who are close to upgrading, so I had my eye on them as main competition.

With the wind speed and direction it seemed that for anything to stick it had to get away around the halfway point on the 2nd lap.  Tim, Jason (Wild Card) and a few others had a go in the crosswinds but cooperation never developed at the front.  I foolishly thought I could force a move by 1) Broadcasting it (“Go! Go! Go!”) and 2) Jumping away myself.  I was looking at the prospect of hanging myself out front 8 miles out of town.  Instead of accepting the likely death this would render, I resolved to win the bunch sprint.

Nick (708) had sheltered me from the wind throughout the race and kept me near the front.  In the run-in to town we stayed in the top 20.  I slipped into the top 15 before the hills and we separated the men from the boys as guys started blowing up.  I’m told we gapped the pack on the first hill, they caught us on the flat run in to hill two, and things shattered again.  Descending into the moonscape of tarmac, cement, and brick I was sitting top 5.  I think I bunnyhopped four pieces of “road” that would have eaten my Honda.  I followed wheels until Jonathan (Chipotle Junior Development) came by on my left and I returned the favor by the line, winning Hillsboro Roubaix by a small margin (a wheel? – someone post some pics!).

My heart exploded in emotion as I screamed “yes”.  Not sure to whom.  I probably scared some kids.  I hope the good people of Hillsboro didn’t mind too much.  I could have yelled other things I guess…

The moment was surprising for me.  Public displays of emotion – are they anyone’s forte?  But there’s no hiding how you feel at max heart rate.  I was naked.   My goal was before me and I answered the challenge.  I did it.  I had redemption from the 2010 edition.

A pleasant surprise was the congratulations I received from my peers.  Several competitors were genuinely happy for me.  One even hugged me.  We all know classy riders and well, other riders.  I enjoy competing with friends, the guys with class. 


Last year’s race ended in disappointment but with good signs of early season fitness.  The race became a psychological watershed for my own racing and later, a goad through winter training.  This year it’s a little bit different as my goals are to survive the next week of moving my household before defending at the Tour of Hermann.


  1. Wow, well done Frenchy. I think it was only three years ago that I finished ahead of you in the cat 5 race at Hillsboro. Now you've got to go and make me feel bad!

    Good luck at Hermann. I was planning to watch, but I have to go out of town.

  2. Way to keep your head and play to your relative strength in the sprint. You're strong in a break too, no doubt, but there are lots of strong cat 3s that can win in a lot of ways. Nice job and good luck with the season. Maybe I'll see you in Hermann.