Sunday, May 8, 2011

Mule Hell - Roubaix.

Mule Hell - Roubaix is a 48-ish mile Gran Fondo-style ride to benefit the Family Resource Center, a shelter for abused women and children.  The route begins and ends in Wytheville, VA, following a few ridgelines, a few creeks, and a few choice gravel / dirt roads.  There were also a few choice words uttered when tires began to blow on the first gravel section, but since this is a family site, we'll get on to the ride report...

Weather was purrrfect.  Upper 50's to mid-60's and not a cloud in the sky.  With 40-50 of us lining up, it was sure to be an interesting ride.  I noticed quite a few SWVAC kits around.  These guys, the Southwest Virginia Cyclists, put on this ride and at least three others as fundraisers.  The others have cool names like Big Walker Century and Bikes and Barbeque.  Sounds like some stuff worth getting out of bed for.  Anyway, I was greeted by Lee, the event organizer.  He seemed to think that since I was fresh back from the Battenkill, I'd be in fine shape for his ride.  I decided not to tell him I've been pretty lazy since early April...

The ride started and immediately, I mean IMMEDIATELY this one guy in a Subaru kit (not the cycling team kit, as far as I could tell) slides off the front.  He was nearly out of sight after a few miles of straight, rolling highway riding, but slowly and surely he started getting larger in our view.  Not sure what his plan was, but the breakaway lasted about 8 miles and by mile 10 he was off the back.  Fun times.

I took my first pull (see the pic above) just as we passed Photographer Jill.  I tried to hold a good pace up and over a few rollers, and did thin the field just a bit.  The first gravel section came up around mile 20, and as soon as we hit it two guys blew out, then another just before we got back to the pavement.  I ended up on the front with Lee at the end of the gravel climb, which was nice as I wasn't sure exactly how hard this ride might be.

Now down to a group of about 16, we rolled up and over several more hills, cruised (pretty quickly) along nice creekside country roads, and approached gravel section #2.  This sections wasn't as hard, and the group pretty much stayed together.  A semi-truce was called until the last dirt section, at which point I found myself on the front.

I tapped into a little left-over Battenkill frustration and picked up the pace on this section just a bit.  Most of the SWVAC guys had no problems hanging on but the Hokie you see here was a casualty. 

On to the last set of steep climbs, both of which required a granny gear and nearly some paper-boy action.  We crested more or less together as a group of 5-6 and made turns for home.  It was with about 1 mile to go that I realized we were closing in on the finish, and with the spirit of camraderie and fun that had been such a part of our group, sprinting for the win was really more for kicks than any result. Plus, the only prizes were door prizes, so it made the end that much less stressful for all.  I followed wheels and rolled in 3rd, happy to line up for BBQ and some slaw.

Big kudos to the SWVAC folks and Lee for putting on a cool event.  I really think this ride should be bigger and draw a huge crowd.  The route is perfect for a fondo-style ride but could get hard to manage with categorized racing.  Nevertheless, mark your calendars for next year's event and join me there.