this past weekend, mr. rogers and i drove up to west virginia to take part in the hilly billy roubaix race. 72 miles ridden "over dirt and paved "State Roads" around Monongalia County in Northern West Virginia and Western PA." it's an endurance cyclocross race (one of the four events in the American UltraCross Championship Series). bad roads, bigger tires. sounds like a good time. we've done some pretty crazy racing before, how bad could this be?
so i drive over to mr. rogers' neighborhood thursday night. we (almost) finish putting my bike together, load up the car and get to bed.
we roll out early and get to morgantown around 3pm friday.
after some last minute bike adjustments, we head out to scope out the first part of the course. within a quarter mile of the hotel, we get our first little taste of the type of "roads" we'll be riding over. they have a very loose definition of roads up here. we make our way to the start and head off to see what this race will be all about.
the first part of the course is a long and at times steep climb on a gravel road. not much traction, just a couple good lines, it should stretch out the pack pretty good. the back side is a steep gravel downhill. you can get some speed, but again, not much traction. stupid cantilever brakes don't inspire any confidence. it's gonna get hairy. at the bottom there's a brief road section, and it's back to gravel. we don't go too much further knowing we have to do 70 miles the next day. we now have a decent idea of what we've gotten ourselves into. the bikes seem to work. we ride back to the hotel, get some dinner, and get to bed. tomorrow's gonna be a long day.
tomorrow comes. we drive out to the venue, a park a few miles outside of the city. we hang out for a while, meet some people, pin our numbers, pump up the tires, pack our pockets, listen to the pre race address, and wait til start time.
it's a neutral rollout to the main road (video of the start). we take a minute to regroup and we're off. mr. rogers (right edge of the pic above, in the stylish green and grey dopestrong kit) has aspirations for this race. i'm just here to make it to the finish. i don't see him again for another 6 hours.
it starts out with a mile of paved downhill,
a right turn, quick left, and we're on the first gravel road heading up a hill. i don't know what it was like at the front, but back where i was riding it wasn't fast and there were people everywhere, making it hard to ride at the pace i wanted. but that was expected. i, like a lot of the riders around me, wasn't trying to get anywhere in a hurry. we get to the top and i figure i'm gonna make a little time on decent, keep myself near the middle of the pack. i manage to make my way around folks the whole way down. gotta love it when mountain bike skills pay off. i notice quite a few people fixing flats on the side of the road. sucks to be them i think as i'm flying down the road on the edge of control. not long after, as i see the pavement up ahead, the first section is about to come to an end and...i flat. sucks to be me. i change out the tube and get going, it's catch up time. coming up is a particularly interesting section. the last bit of what we pre rode the previous day. it starts off innocently enough, but gets progressively wetter and narrower.
puddles so wide only a few inches of non-submerged "road" remain on the edge. it's fun to navigate at low speeds, but when ridden at race speeds, it's hairy. mr. rogers will probably elaborate in the comments, but the story i got was that while going through one of those puddles, he failed to keep the rubber side down. sucks to be mr. rogers. but it's not his first rodeo. nothing broken, remount and back at it. it's only a few seconds lost, for now. he's still hanging with the leaders, albeit a little muddier.
at the start we were told that the entire race took place on state roads. roads on the map, with a state road number. about 10 miles in, we were at the first spot where that became extremely hard to believe. the road was really a trail and there's no way anything less that a four wheel drive makes it through.
even the dirt bike official had issues.
sections like that are what made this race both brutal
and beautiful. i'm a mountain biker first, as is mr. rogers. we both ride rigid. we're like pigs in shit on a trail.
and the trails were a ton of fun. but this is a 70 mile race. it's gonna add up. it's gonna be a whole lot of awesome.
one of the things that makes the pain worth it is the other people sharing the experience.
amongst a strong showing of local morgantown cyclists, there were a lot of riders from pittsburgh and D.C. everybody was having a good time.
it's hard not to in those surroundings. people would ride up, or you'd pull up to a group on a section,
and a conversation would start. we'd talk about how crazy the course was, our bikes, where we were from... things would split up on the more challenging parts,
different groups would form. as time progressed, i'd start seeing fewer and fewer other racers. i'd be riding solo, down remote "roads" thinking about how nice the area was for riding. barely any cars, never flat, trees everywhere, nice temps (it hovered right around 70 all day), nice views...
another thing that made the ride great was the volunteers. J.R. Petsko is the guy that organizes the event. he does a wonderful job and made sure the riding was the only thing that was difficult. even riding in the middle of nowhere, there was no chance anyone could get lost. everything was marked. between turns, there were still frequent signs to let you know you were on the right track. most of the turns were manned by volunteers dressed in the hillbilly theme.
it added a lot to the general atmosphere of the race. you weren't in kansas anymore. things are different in the mountains. all the aid stations were well stocked and had nice and helpful people working them. but my favorite was the unafishal ade station.
that one had jello shots waiting at the top of a climb 35 miles in. best aid station ever.
back to the actual racing. this is were it starts going downhill (not literally, unfortunately). i cramp up. bad. it's gonna be a hard second half, but i'm used to cramps. i can ride through a lot. as long as i get to the end i'll be happy. mr. rogers on the other hand is trying to finish as fast as possible.
and things are going pretty well. his earlier crash was just a minor distraction. he's gotten himself back in a good position. he's in good company.
that's Gunnar Shogren, one of the established badasses in attendance.
and i think that's mr. rogers on his tail on a particularly nasty section of the race.
there were more than a few like that. uphill, downhill or flat on some rutted out singletrack or muddy doubletrack. the organizers managed to challenge us in more ways that you'd care for after several dozen miles.
all part of the charm of a race showcasing some of the most epic riding west virginia has to offer (granted, that's the only riding i've done in west virginia). things weren't gonna stay rosy for mr. rogers though. it's his turn to get a flat. a quick repair and... wait, where's his CO2 inflator? flew out during the crash earlier? bah. you've just won yourself a ten minute break on the side of the road waiting for some help. someone finally offers some help and mr. rogers get on his way, picking up some riders on his way to the finish, doing his best to salvage his race. i came in much later. a little more than six hours after heading out.
in the end, mr. rogers finished in the money in our category, an impressive feat given his misfortune. but he's good like that. i managed to make it to the finish, meeting my expectations. we both had a great time and can't wait to return next year. this race is the stuff of legends. the terrain was unrelenting. hill after hill after hill. smooth pavement was a rarity. both rider and bike were pushed to the limit. this was a mountain bike race on road bikes, requiring both endurance and handling skills. the route, scenery, volunteers and organization made it one of the best days i've spent on a bike. i like all types of cycling and this race has a little bit of everything. really, more like a lot of everything.
the mood at the finish was festive.
there was plenty of beer and pizza. everybody seemed to have had a great time. the winners left with a nice piece of coal
and a bottle of boone's farm.
see you next year in west virginia. trust me, you want to ride this.
most photos courtesy of Fred Jordan, with permission. the site has hundreds of great pictures, it's worth a look.
here's the gps of my ride. mr. rogers forgot to recharge his, so it didn't make it the whole race. mine got turned off for a mile or so near the middle. top left on the map. you'll get the idea though. even if the race had been on smooth pavement the whole time, it would still have been a hell of a race.