It’s pretty easy to affix/hyphenate something before “Roubaix” and call it a bike race. This year’s Cherry-Roubaix confirmed that TC’s big fondo deserves to borrow that moniker.
The Cherry-Roubaix course doesn’t feature any cobblestones, although there’s a rather rolling and rollicking stretch of worn red brick just a few blocks from the start, riders never get so far south as Sixth Steet. Shoot, it even nixed its short stretch of gravel that has featured in the previous two editions. But the event has shown that year in and year out, it offers a tough challenge that even the best riders in the state feel accomplished even finishing, not unlike the professionals who take pride in simply surviving to the velodrome in Roubaix.
This year’s course chopped off nearly 2,000 feet of climbing and trimmed off the hilltop finish that served as a cruel but decisive final four kilometers for the past two editions of the race. If anyone thought those changes would make the race easier, they were very wrong. The race organizers dialed up the familiar ninety-plus degree heat (that’s 90 degrees American) and a piping hot south wind that made the last hour of the race feel like racing straight into an open oven.
Of course, it was a pleasant and calm morning in downtown Traverse City at the start, and we had our two locals representing the squad. Cody is a former winner at Cherry-Roubaix, and Sean was a big race favorite heading into Saturday’s event. The guys called in some horsepower in the hopes of keeping the title in TC for 2018, ultimately calling on Keen Technical Solution’s Jeff Owens, kolo t.c.’s Dan Ellis (Jay’s better-looking brother), and Norte Youth Cycling co-founder and Super Canadian Ty Schmidt to make a squad for the Team Competition, which scored the best four times of each five-person team.
The start was frenetic, with Cody marking the moves and getting in three different breaks, although only one ever got legs. After being reeled in, he was content to keep the pace high, with Sean and Jeff looking to get in the move that would stick. Sean got it right, moving clear with a trio of other riders who set off to chase a solo break. The group would ultimately get over two minutes clear of the peloton, which was reduced from sixty to forty to just twenty riders by the time it hit the two-hour mark. The quartet of the climbs of Trumbull, Hlavka, Schomberg, and Dufek shredded the main bunch, but also dampened the spirit of the leaders, and their gap shrank.
Sean was holding his own in the lead group, outnumbered by not one, not two, but three strong riders from Base Media, plus BISSELL’s Nolan Vanderzwagg, who was looking completely unperturbed by the pace, even after spending a big chunk of time solo off the front. Cody, meanwhile, succumbed to the heat and his early efforts, spending the final hour of the race looking for roadside sprinklers to ride through and wondering why there aren’t more ice cream shops in the middle of Leelanau County.
In the finale, Sean was suffering from what he would describe as the worst leg cramps of his life. The lock-ups were so bad, Sean cried. Actual tears. His stubborn refusal to get dropped, however, saw him suffer up the final climb of the day, the 8% grade of Otto Road, and a descent to the line for 9th place overall, just over a minute behind the winner. His average speed was a blistering 23.7mph, not too shabby considering there was over 4,500 feet of elevation gain and a 15+mph headwind win for the last 90 minutes of the race.
Aside from the hills and heat, another fixture of the Cherry-Roubaix is drowning of sorrows at post-race. Though the finish has changed locations a few times, riders can always count on some good food, cold beer, and a place in the shade to collapse into once they’re done. Riders from the 40, 60, and 90-mile races can talk about how everything went down, drink beer, and try to get their heads on straight. It’s a sort of communal triage, with some of the weariest and saltiest riders given an extra cookie or two as they slowly start to feel human again.
All the effort was worth it, and thanks to Dan’s dogged desire to finish and narrow escape of an insane driver nearly killing him on the finish line, the TC collaboration won the Team Competition by just 36 seconds!