Friday Group Ride #93

Bernard Hinault hated Paris-Roubaix. He called it “nonsense.” He raced it until he won, and then he quit showing up each year. Fabian Cancellara and Thor Hushovd and Tom Boonen all get paid to race it. They say they love it, but if they weren’t being paid, do you think they’d subject themselves to that torture. Of course, if you want to ride the route, you can sign up for the Paris-Roubaix Cyclo, which takes place every other year, and shell out your hard earned cash for a perineum pulverizing promenade over the pavé.

Such is our love for cyclo-suffering that we will actually pay for the privilege of experiencing the same pain as our heroes.

You can ride the Êtape du Tour, l’Eroica or the Flanders sportive. Each ride gives you a chance to challenge yourself over difficult terrain in a legendary locale. People are already doing these by the thousand, sometimes on vintage bicycles. Our sport is anything if not perpetually nostalgic, right?

Or, you can ride Paris-Brest-Paris, Boston-Montreal-Boston or even the Race Across America (RAAM). Go big and then go home. Why not?

Just the other day I met some gentlemen who are racing RAAM this year, and what struck me about them, beyond the passion for cycling they exuded, was just how like ordinary cyclists they looked. Any of them could be on your next group ride, and you’d never know what they were capable of. But they’re daring to do something extraordinary.

This week’s Group Ride asks: If you could ride one of the big events in cycling, not as a pro, but as an amateur, which would it be? This is not fantasy time. This is time to think about a challenge you might actually take on and ride. Tell us what you’d do, why you’d do it, and when you think it’ll happen.

Image: John Pierce, Photosport International

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  1. todd k

    Lately, I have been more inclined to choose something off the road. Something along the lines of the Great Divide Mountain Bike Race would be a pretty amazing undertaking. I love the philosophy behind this “race”: ride along the entire route of the continental divide fro 2,745 some odd miles, emphasis on being self supported, no support crew allowed, amazing country, arduous route, off the beaten track, rewards effort over technique, etc. In short, it offers something entirely unique. That said I have a hard time fathoming a) ever having the time necessary and available to undertake such an effort and b) willingly being away from my wife and kids for the time it would take to complete that route. (Currently it is considered an official finish if you complete it in the record time *2, which currently equates to 34 days.)

    More realistic I could see myself undertaking the Colorado Trail Race. It has a lot of the elements above, but compacts it into “only” 470 miles. Maybe when the kids are in grade school and I can get more volume riding in during the wee hours. Not even sure I would approach it as a race, though. I just want to ride some of these trails and have fun doing it.

    I’m not sure why trails appeal to me more than the road lately. I think maybe the solitude and the novelty plays a role. It may be that I am in a more exploratory phase at the moment and trying to regain some of that feel you have when you are eight years old wandering just a bit furthe away from home than you ever have before just to see what is down that other road you have never been on. Some of it may be a desire for a more grass roots simplified do it yourself approach, with decreased emphasis on times and placings, simple rules and goals that emphasize participation over speed. Who knows?

  2. Author

    @Todd – I get where you are. I love to ride on the road, and I do it all the time. When I think of “events” though, I’m finding myself more drawn to things like D2R2 or the Vermont50. I’m trying to come up with my list for next year, so I can begin to think about training (HA!), and it’s all offbeat sort of stuff. I don’t want to think about competitiveness. I want to think about adventure.

  3. Brcire


    What to say? The Rapha Continentals near me, a return to Belgium for the full RVV, LBL, and of course, PR.

    But as much as I am working towards achieving these goals, there are the “local epics.” Much like where Robot is going – the adventure. We all have them and have heard of them. The published rides on local club boards, then the links and extensions made by others. And of course, the rides totally made up by another rider with an idea and some friends.

    In Northern VA, at the top of my mind The Ring – a yet to be succeeded one day circumnavigation of Fort Valley’s Massanutten West and East Mountains – gnarly, nasty, neverending nougat of rocks, climbs, and suffering; Kill Bill – which is now at V8 – each time another road that goes up is added all within The Beltway of NoVA to see if 10K of climbing will be achieved; an out and back of Skyline Drive simply for its beauty and the PRO fantasy of it.

    I love it! So much like how some of them old races started… What if? And then, can I? And can they? And why? Because of the adventure and discovery both of what is beyond the turn or at the top and what is inside of me.

    And in this response, my subconscious tingled with more such as taking on a big one in the winter to add another element to the challenge; to do the 120 to the Delaware shore but this time straight to the beach to dive in and there’s the fam with the BBQ going…

    Thanks for the article. More maps being pulled, emails sent to friends, dates debated.


  4. Adam

    Rapha do a Cent Cols Challenge, whish is 100 summits in ten days. I’m really trying to figure out a way to do that in 2013. I’d also really love to do the Flanders Sportive. Why? I just like to ride my bike, so for Cent Cols it would be a totally selfish 10 days away from the world to do nothing but. Flanders, well that’s just the greatest race on the calendar, so to ride it one day and watch the day after = heaven.

  5. Author

    I’ll throw this out there: I discovered about a month ago that Vermont undertook an “ancient roads” initiative a few years ago that sought to map out all the unused/unpaved old roads in each town in the entire state. I have begun (only just) cobbling together a long, off-road route for next year. Will do with friends probably. The cartographic aspect alone has me excited.

    1. Padraig

      I feel like Edward Norton in The Italian Job: “Yeah, I’ll take one of each of what you are getting.” Your comments are re-writing my bucket list.

  6. todd k

    Robot: I have D2R2 on my list too. I’m hoping to get out there for 2013 on that one. I like your idea of an ancient roads route in the same vein. I’d like to do the Dirty Kanza 200 route, but I don’t really have any desire to do it as a race either. I just want to conquer the route.

    I’d love see the general routes that are associated with many of these events become so well established that the route eventually supersedes the event. It would be great to have a catalogue of fantastic rides across the US that one seeks out and tackles because they are worthwhile in their very nature regardless if you ride them on a specific date.

  7. Souleur

    Next year I will hopefully complete a couple of long dirt road cross country rides, Trans-Iowa and Dirty-Kanza.

    I too find the off-road (as I love mtn biking) great. I haven’t hit the cross circuits because there just isn’t much around the midwest like there is in the NW/so Cal/east coast. But there is dirt roads everywhere, and not much traffic, and in winter, that is appealing w/a low headwind.

    All things considered, there is a killer ride in Louisiana, a Roubaix of sorts that I would love to do and Battinkill, but reality isn’t that I will do these this year.

    Lastly, Vino-Fondo is a great one I hear, from the Italian ‘Hill’ in St Louis, which is very probable next year.

    Outside of the road races/crits/and my first year to look to TT, these would be great rides

  8. Sam

    Robot- The ancient Roads idea sounds amazing. As a long time rider of bikes of every other sort only recently turned onto “road” riding, I find myself as inclined to ride my 700C skinnies off the beaten path as on them. I have been up in the Taconic/Berkshire ranges for the past couple months doing a lot of recon and riding as many punishing dirt and gravel roads as I can find, trying to string together some epic loops to ride with friends in the Spring.

    There is something about both the character of those roads, and where they take you that I find highly addictive; the fire roads, and logging paths and farmers byways that criss-cross this part of the Hudson Valley and South Western Mass.

    To stay on topic, I’d love to give D2R2 a try, and along the lines of what Todd said, would be keen to try more of these sort of off-key “race” routes informally as well.

  9. Harth

    As a non-racer, these types of events swirl around my brain constantly. I love preparing and training for single events or trips. The idea of a goal like that seems attainable and gives me something to look forward to without having to stay in constant shape and dedicate the weekend time require for racing.

    D2R2 is on my short list, for sure. That sounds like a great adventure that hopefully will happen sooner than later.

    For my 40th, I treated myself to the 100-mile Cascade Cream Puff mtb race in Oakridge, OR. Wow! Glad to have that under my belt, but not compelled to head back to “race” it again. Great singletrack but the dirt road climbing was endless, monotonous, and mind-numbing. I have been back to ride those trails and would like to make it an annual pilgrimage.

    For my 50th, in four years, I cannot get PBP out of my head. I think I have what it takes mentally to persevere, but I have to decide if I have what it takes to prepare physically, logistically, and financially. Plus, I’d have to prepare my wife…

    I agree that the Great Divide trail is compelling, luring. But for me, it would have to be done in sections as a self-supported tour, not any racing.

    Like the Vermont comments above, a mix of dirt and road is a real plus. Somehow, I see such events increasing in popularity in the future and I hope more of them take shape here in the Pacific NW. One option that is on my list is the Adventure Corps Rough Riders Rally, but it is not scheduled for 2011 (yet?). Any word on that?

    Thanks for putting the Flanders event on my radar – what an opportunity to immerse oneself in one of cycling’s greatest events.

    A question: do you guys seek these events out as solo adventures or do you always have buddies to partner with you? I have done it both ways and both have merits, but definitely appreciate sharing the experience, though it is not always feasible.

  10. Ben

    In europe… Flanders and something in Italy lead by Andy Hampsten.
    US…I like the dirt/ancient road stuff all of you are bringing up. On my teacher’s salary, that my kids keep jamming down their pie-holes (who knew that kids would require food & clothing??) I’ll need to keep it in CO. I was hoping to do a 2nd year event this year called the Crooked Roubaix up in Grand county (near winter park) but it was cancelled this year…hopefully back next year! But it is 60% dirt roads & 2 mountain passes. Fingers crossed!

  11. Arthur

    I’ve done 3 PR and 2 RVV and they are both seriously tough outings. However, neither compares with riding a 12 hour time trial in the UK. PR is 167 miles and has taken me an average of 11 hours, RVV is slightly less but the hills knock the stuffing right out of you. Time trialling 215 miles in 12 hours (this was a mid field finish) took me a fortnight to recover from but I couldn’t face riding the bike for months afterwards. Be careful what you wish for..

  12. Mike Owens

    “Bernard Hinault hated Paris-Roubaix. He called it “nonsense.” He raced it until he won, and then he quit showing up each year.” You didn’t quite state it incorrectly, but Phil and Paul have brainwashed folks into thinking that Hinault only rode P-R once, won it and never came back or that once he won it, he never came back. Indeed, Hinault clearly disliked Paris-Roubaix but publicly acknowledged that great champions must ride it. His placings were 13th in 1978, 11th in 1979, 4th in 1980, 1st in 1981. After his victory, Hinault said: “You won’t make me change my opinion. Paris-Roubaix is a stupidity (une connerie).” You use the translation “nonsense” which is appropriate. It was generally believed that he wouldn’t come back. However, he did in 1982, riding his last P-R and finishing 9th. I knew he rode P-R multiple times including after his victory but the Hinaults quotes are courtesy of the great cycling historian Benjo Maso.

    I find some of your columns outstanding. Thank you for doing this.
    All the best.

  13. todd k

    Harth: In answer to your question I increasingly seek rides with small groups. Some events are just getting too large for my particular tastes. I also increasingly dislike having to either sign up for an event months in advance just to reserve me a space on the ride, or hope for a lottery pick to work in my favor.

    That said, those events I do, I tend to arrive alone and ride alone. It is often hard to align goals, time and locational preferences with others. I also have a couple of very young kids and that often constrains my availability to ride on a whim or on short notice. Ironically, having these young kids makes me more reluctant to do a lot of solitary riding outside an event structure . Not so much because of the chance for something bad to occur, but rather when seemingly minor things like a insurmountable mechanical occurs, my being alone can lead to hours of delay getting help, assistance or just getting a call in to let my wife know I’m ok, but running late. That worry related stress can really ruin my enjoyment of a given ride.

    +1 on more of these rides in the PNW. We should do some research and find some. They are out there, we just need to find them or establish them.

  14. Souleur

    @Harth: its lone wolf country here in the midwest, although I love riding w/others

    sounds like vermont is deserving of a friday ‘real’ group ride sometime?

  15. Mike

    I have realized over the past few months that I MUST do L’Eroica within the next few years. No choice. In the meantime, there are several mixed terrain rides here in the Midwest that will be great prep, as well as few races.

    Hillsboro-Roubaix in central Illinois really fired me up this year. My results sucked…but having done it once, now I have to go back…

  16. thom barry


    Will you tell us when you head up to do that ride in VT? I live in n.hampton and I did the D2R2 this summer – it was the best single day of riding I’ve ever had. I would love to help you chart out another ride like it.

  17. RPB2

    Off the top of my head:

    -LOTOJA (206 miles from Logan, UT to Jackson Hole, WY). Fantastic race/ride. I have finished in under 10:30–want to shave an hour).

    -Haute Route (Geneva to Nice over 6 days). Hard to manage taking a huge chunk of the annual holiday away from the family for this one, but this would be a dream.

    -Mt. Washington Hill Climb

    -Etape du Tour (doing Acte I and Acte II this year, with family in tow and a week of following the TdF in between–I am really looking forward to scratching this one off the list).

    -Paris-Roubaix (also doing the Paris-Roubaix challenge this year–April 1, one week before the pros–I can’t wait to ride into the Velodrome).


    -Maratona dles Dolomites

    -la Pinarello cycling marathon

    -Fausto Coppi Gran Fondo

    -Levi Leipheimer’s Gran Fondo

    -RAAM (dare to dream…)

    -to ride one of the greatest cycling events in the world with best friends again–Hilly Hundred in Bloomington, IN. Easy to get into, but hard to coordinate schedules…

    Good exercise, thinking up this list. I’m sure I will have more to add.

  18. Robot

    @thom barry – Misery loves company, eh? Happy to share the experience with you. Hopefully next year we can get a big RKP crew for D2R2, also. I’m going to force Padraig to come out, so we should do it up BIG!

  19. Peter Kelley

    The full 180k D2R2 course… Even though the 115k almost killed me this year. I had the pleasure of riding with Robot during early segments of this year’s event. I spared him and his riding partners the sight of my sorry ass on the latter portions of the ride. Next year I’ll be on a cross bike, and I hope to have more miles in my legs.

    Maybe the Rapha Litchfield Hills ride in CT.

    Cross Pyrenees (Sea to Sea) ride.

    A hut to hut mtb ride out west.

    Something near my Alma Mater in Lexington, VA.

  20. Pingback: The Goat » Blog Archive » Cyling Bucket List Asks Which Suffering Is Worth It

  21. Lunapro

    A few years ago along with a group of friends I road the Campagnolo Grand Fondo and stayed on to ride most of the climbs in the Giro. I would like to repeat that but this time do the climbs in the Tour de France.

  22. michael

    The 100 cols challenge, both Pyrennean and Alpine versions, are on my list. I dearly wish I could have done the entire Giro route that Easton cycling tours did last year as a fundraiser. Full length version in the same amount of days as the actual Giro.


    Lastly, the old cycle tourist in me badly wants to conquer one of the following – the old Silk road in Asia, or the tip of Alaska to the end of the America`s in Tierra Del Fuego.

  23. Keith

    was really looking forward to doing the PR challenge this year, but i was disappointed to find it was not the same weekend for the pro’s! now i’m considering taking a vaca for a week so that i can do the ride and see the pros the next weekend (and experience belgium/northern france in between?), but obviously that’s going to be expensive. other idea is just to go the weekend of the event (4/8) and bike my own PR the saturday before the race to experience the crowd AND the terrain AND see the pros just over those two days. anyone have any suggestions?

    @RPB2 – i see that you’re doing the event on 4/1. don’t you want to see the pros on 4/8 too? not sure what to do.

    thanks everyone else for your lists. it’s really inspiring and makes me want to try to reach beyond what i think i’m capable of!

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