This past weekend Victory Velo bike shop in Auburn, California, put on the third annual Tour de Placer Roubaix. The event, which is a benefit for the local National Interscholastic Cycling Association team, is a gravel ride that loops up into the foothills of the Western Sierra. It’s a roughly 50-mile loop with maybe 40 percent of the circuit on dirt. The course changed some from last year, with more dirt this time. And more climbing. Last year the course ascended roughly 5000 feet. This year, depending on whose GPS you wanted to believe, it seemed to be just a bit more than 6000 feet of vertical.
One of the features I love of the the event is that it’s a ride, not a race and as a result, people show up with the bike they think they’ll most enjoy, not necessarily the one on which they think they’ll finish fastest. Most participants went for a gravel bike but there were plenty of mountain bikes, a few on drop-bar mountain bikes, and at least one tandem.
The organizers found a variety of new single track to take in, and even though some bits were within sight of the nearby road, it made for a more entertaining jaunt in the Sierra foothills. What makes the ride truly unique among my various gravel ride experiences is its use of singletrack that runs along the old mining canals.
The canals twist through the hills, climbing at a gentle 3 percent. And for riders new to doing mixed-surface events, these trails are perfect are a perfect, low-impact introduction. The turns are lazy as an old dog and the gradient is gentle enough to convince any rider they’ve got the upper hand over gravity.
Of the many things cycling gives me, one of my favorite dimensions is how it takes us to vistas of breathtaking beauty. Without cycling, I don’t know how often I’d drive up into the mountains to look at snow-draped peaks and sprawling conifer forest. And for years I devoted myself to going to Europe to ride roads made famous by the Tour de France and Giro d’Italia. I appreciated the history of those races, the lives of the riders whose exploits I came to revere.
While I still love going to Europe, my interest in destinations closer to home has grown and I’m not so obsessed with cycling’s history in a landscape now. To see the hardscrabble landscape of gold country as the miners saw it, to feel the the promise they must have seen in the landscape, has given me a fresh interest in the history of the West Coast and filled me with a desire to explore further.
I said this last year: this is one of the prettiest rides I’ve done.
Action images: Jorge Flores, Justpedal