I attempted to ride the Boulder Roubaix course yesterday to give everyone a current preview of course conditions, although I was flummoxed by wet weather. I did the race in 2010 (as a Cat 3) and I train on the roads regularly throughout the season when I’m looking for a little more solitude, so I should be able to give some good advice. In homage to the Paris-Rouabaix, I’ll give ‘sector’ descriptions, numbered counting down to the finish. The star rankings indicate overall difficulty of the sector, considering hills, corners, road width and condition.
Sector 6 – Start Straight – ★★: The start line is on dirt road with decent, occasionally bumpy dirt. There are usually a few very smooth lines and some that are bumpy and/or gravelly. There are two 90 degree corners, and two rollers. The second roller is just before the pavement and is short and steep.
Sector 5 – 49th St – ★★★: The left hand turn off Nelson on to 49th street is blind, very tight, slighly off-camber, and can have loose gravel over the pavement. This sector tends to have the most large gravel. Keep in mind that lower tire pressures increase the risk of pinch flatting, and that while riding alone you can stick to the less gravelly areas, but in the peloton you may not have the luxury. There is another pair of 90 degree bends, and some gentle rollers on this sector.
Sector 4 – 59th St – ★★★: This sector is short and technical with a few corners on a narrow road. The road surface is generally very good with well-cambered corners. Be aware of how officials are treating the yellow-line rule, as cutting to the far left side of the road may result in disqualification.
Sector 3 – Crane Hollow – ★★★★: This short sector features a few more 90 degree bends and is again quite narrow. The road climbs across a one-lane bridge before two more 90 degree bends, and a 120 degree bend back onto pavement. Expect this sector to feature high speeds as riders try to stay near the front to avoid trouble on the narrow climb.
Sector 2 – 55th St – ★★★★★: This is the longest section of dirt, and features the most difficult dirt climbs, and a high speed descent before a fast 90 degree turn onto the feed zone hill. This sector has variable dirt with washboard and gravel, but most of the stars are awarded for the terrain and strategic importance as the finish line nears.
Sector 1 – Finish Straight – ★: After the steep feed zone hill, the course is dead-straight to the finish. The dirt is some of the best on the course, and I would expect the whole road to be available to ride as the finish nears.
Weather: As with any race on the front range of Colorado, weather the wildcard. It looks like we’ll have mild, sunny weather on Saturday. The recent moisture will hopefully keep the roads smooth and the dust down.
Wind is another key factor. Light winds will make the Boulder Roubaix not unlike a standard road race, with the constant rolling hills and scuffles for position wearing on riders until a selection is formed. Strong winds from the west will blow the race apart quite quickly. The exposed, narrow roads leave nowhere to hide in a crosswind.
Equipment: If I could ride any wheels, I would ride a 38mm carbon tubular with 25c tires. Andreas Klier (160 lbs, Garmin-Barracuda) was reported to ride a similar setup at 70/75 PSI at the Tour of Flanders. Carbon rims are not likely to disintegrate, but are likely to be cracked and ruined, so I’m leaving my carbon tubulars at home.
If I had alloy tubulars, I would ride 25c tires. Since my only other option is my training clinchers, I’ll be using 28′s. The larger size has some increased weight, but with clinchers, the increased size allows for a lower pressure without risk of flats. Last year at the Mead Roubaix I rode 28c Conti SuperSport tires at 70/80 psi.
I use Specialized Rib Cage bottle cages, which are a snug fit. Many superlight road bottle cages may not hold a water bottle securely enough, and it may bounce out on washboards, so make sure your bottles fit well.
Otherwise, the course is pretty straightforward and doesn’t require any specialized equipment. I have a very nice cyclocross bike, and I could put my road wheels on it for the race, but I don’t think it is necessary. I won’t be double-wrapping my bar tape, but I will wear gloves as I always do when I race.
Summary: The Boulder Roubaix is one of the areas hardest, most scenic, and best attended races of the season. It may seem intimidating, but with a fatter pair of tires and a pre-ride of the course you’ll be all set. Plus, you can enjoy the ride of your fat tires for the spring’s other dirt races or over the next winter.
On the Elite side of things, there aren’t any National Racing Calendar events this weekend so we can expect a full contingent of local pro racers. Looking back on 2010′s Results, you will see quite a few memorable names from the past few years of cycling at the domestic and even international level. The average speed in 2010 was 26 mph! I know the race will be hard, but I am ready for my first big test of the season.