Now that Q+M has an office in Traverse City, we get to call the toughest road race in Michigan a ‘home’ event.
The Cherry-Roubaix has evolved over the years, adapting to the changing interests and fads of cycling in the state. Once simply a criterium in the heart of Old Town, the race added Friday Night Sprints, a road race, and even a points omnium before abruptly taking a break. Out of the ashes, 2015 saw the Cherry-Roubaix re-emerge as a grand fondo, with mass starts at three distances. You’ll notice, however, there aren’t any aid stations or photo ops; it’s a race, and the lack of categories means that you have to beat everyone that shows up.
And on that first edition of the Roubaix reprisal, it was a younger, bolder Cody Sovis who took the win from a three-man breakaway forged over a long stretch of gravel roads. The race has certainly changed since then; it’s grown for a local backyard brawl to attracting some of the best riders and teams in the Midwest to take on the most demanding course on the calendar. Those strong squads are up against 90 miles and nearly 5,000 feet of elevation gained in stunning Leelanau County.
New for 2018, the race organizers have raised eyebrows by removing the iconic hilltop finish from the race. For the past two years, the ascent of Herman Road from its northern face has served as a demanding finish that, in theory, favored the local climbers, although that memo never reached the imports who’ve won it. Base Media’s Chris Wanley (2016) and Benny Cook (2017) have written their names on the climb and took demonstrative wins over the past two years, so perhaps the change to a flat, fast finish is a sign of submission to their success.
It’s a pan-flat run into the line, however. The new finish is at the foot of Herman’s south face, literally under its shadow after 90 miles of undulating roads punctuated by a series of two to six-minute climbs. The final challenge of the day comes after a sharp, high-speed left hand turn off Lake Leelanau Drive and smashing into the wall that is Otto Road. The numbers don’t quite do it justice. At just .38 of a mile and an average grade of 7%, it doesn’t sound like much, but two factors influence just how hard it is. First, riders will have 86 miles and over 4,000 feet of climbing in the legs before they hit the base of Otto, which welcomes them at 3% before spiking up to 10% in the middle. There’s also the run-in to the climb itself. It’s actually slightly downhill on Lake Leelanau, and for some, the drop from 30 mph to less than 10 in just a few pedal strokes can be extremely jarring and a tough change of pace.
Last year, Al McWilliams flew the colors for 3T Q+M, riding much of the day alongside top-secret-future signings Cody Sovis and Sean Kickbush. Only a flat tire knocked him out of the lead group, with Sovis putting in mile after mile on the front to help control affairs for Sean heading into the finale. Sean was present and correct for the drag race up Herman Road, ultimately finishing 12th place, with Sovis cruising home in 17th.
For 2018, we’ll have the local boys, Sovis and Kickbush, back in action and looking to keep the title in Traverse City. Both riders will be on their 3T Exploros and 28c tires to help deal with two sections of gravel that feature on this year’s route. Both of those sections come in the final 30 miles of the course and are expected to play a bit role in the selection before the bare-knuckle brawl up Otto.
You can get signed up for the 2018 Cherry-Roubaix right here.