Paris-Roubaix is one of my favorites to watch: I love the Classics—the toughness involved, the history behind each race. So when I started seeing signs around town that the Boulder Roubaix was coming, of course I had to sign up.
For those who don't know, Boulder Roubaix is a cycling road race that loops north of town, on a mix of paved and gravel farm roads. I signed up, with little to no idea what I was getting myself into. I also knew that I was 7 points away from moving up to Cat 3 and I knew that if the field was large enough and I placed in the top two, I could potentially cat up. This was sitting in the back of my mind the entire race—so I was determined to stay in the front pack, no matter the effort.
This decision would hurt. And pay-off. But definitely hurt.
While I love Ironman racing, so much of it is staying within yourself and racing your race. Yes, as I've moved up into the pro ranks, I have found this to be less and less the case for certain races—but for the most part, Ironman racing is about smart, conservative bike riding to set yourself up for the run.
Contrast that to cycling, where there are team dynamics, and teamwork dynamics with people you just met and a "go for broke" mentality. Some say it's high-stakes chess at 23-mph.
Within the Cat 4 ranks, we were going to be riding two loops of the course, for 37-miles total of traversing road and gravel. And this isn't soft, smooth gravel, this is rutted, washboarded, my-arms-are-tingling-from-the-vibrations gravel. I swear, my arms were just as sore as my legs the day after the race. Making things tougher, I had just completed my first-ever bike lactate and metabolic test the day before at CU (more on that later). Needless to say, I was going in there on tired legs and just hoping for the best.
The first lap featured the normal cycling dynamics of alternating between steady riding with the occasional surge as someone tried to make a break. I love this—pack riding, everyone looking around, the occasional chit-chat as folks try to size everyone up and see who is going to make the move. At around the 15-mile mark, two girls made a break for it. It took a second to register and then realizing that it might stick, I went into overdrive to try to catch up, along with one other girl. Our four person break-away lasted for a few miles before the fourth girl fell off, and then I lost some ground as well and was playing solo cat and mouse with the two girls ahead of me, who were working together to maintain their lead.
I made one significant push and caught them, then we spent the back half of the second loop working together to try to 1) catch the Cat 3 group that we had made up 4-minutes on, and 2) hold off the larger pack that was creeping up on us. After 15-miles of a three-girl breakaway, there was no way we were going to lose that lead. So with a few shared pulls, we made it within 3 miles and one of the girls went solo off the front. I tried to counter but had no legs.
Pushing through, I just kept repeating to myself "top 2, top 2, top"—making sure I did my best to hit my goal going into the race. I barely held off 3rd and 4th but crossed the finish, covered in dust, with aching legs and arms that felt like they just got sent through a blender.
Strava here: https://www.strava.com/activities/933458825. I love the heart rate data: really easy to show where each breakaway attempt happened and then the 20+ miles pretty much all out. Also, for a ride where it was hard to put down consistent power with the washboard-like gravel, I was also very happy with the numbers I saw.
Ultimately, my calculations were wrong and I was 1 point short of getting that Cat 3 upgrade, but this was the most stacked Cat 4 race I've ever been a part of and little did I know how prestigious and popular Boulder Roubaix actually is among locals.
So overall pretty cool, a great threshold workout, and now on my regular list of favorite races to ride and recommend. One thing I don't think enough triathletes do is get outside of their comfort zone when it comes to cycling: jump into a road race (everyone is actually very nice and not at all intimidating), try your hand at cyclocross, get comfortable doing things other than riding in your aerobars in a straight line. Trust me: it will be great for you!