A Pretty Darn Good Day: the Tour de Placer Roubaix

A Pretty Darn Good Day: the Tour de Placer Roubaix

I’ve driven to Auburn, California, for each of the last four years to ride the Tour de Placer Roubaix. Among the many mixed-surface events I’ve ridden, this one has become my one of my favorites. There are a few reasons why:

  1. The course winds through the Sierra foothills and takes in everything from old miners’ flumes to deep forest and river canyons.
  2. It’s a chance to get away from home and see something new without any serious risk of getting lost, or a need to do 500 map checks.
  3. At 52 miles it’s long enough to be an adventure, but short enough that it doesn’t last all day and leave me shredded.
  4. It’s not a race. You can’t really win this event. Or lose it.
  5. The registration fee goes to support the local NICA team, an easy-to-support cause.
  6. Fresh quesadillas. They had bacon and cheese, chicken and cheese and just cheese.
  7. The event finishes at Moonraker Brewing, so crossing the finish line results in a beer and a burrito. Yass.

This year they changed the course some to include a new dirt road, Ponderosa. Previously, the course looked a bit like a slice of pizza. I also elected to take a less aggressive approach to the ride this time as last year, I rode hard to get through the cold rain. With temperatures in the 50s and the skies clear as a pane of glass, I figured I could actually enjoy myself and I rolled out with friends from home who also made the trek.

Because the event changed starts to the outskirts of Auburn rather than the previous downtown start at Victory Velo bike shop, there wasn’t the frantic rush through the neighborhood streets trying to stay on the back of the lead group. We had a neutral rollout until we got to some less populated streets.

The climb up the flume trails remained unchanged from previous years. The riding is almost like being on a ridge in that there is often only three or four feet from the dropoff into the flume to the dropoff into someone’s back yard. With a gentle, usually 3 percent grade, the climbing is easy and it’s not uncommon to have a conga line of riders making their way up. Invariably, someone comes along half an hour into the ride who acts like you’re souring his day by not keeping pace with the leaders, which is, honestly, the very thing many of us had hoped to avoid. I tell ya buddy, that bike done rided off. This ain’t the place to be if you think you’s fast. My Southern roots can come through in my self-talk during these moments.

Previously, I’ve said that the whole point to doing this ride is Yankee Jims, the road that drops 1100 feet over five miles to a tiny bridge over the North Fork of the American River. For anyone who likes descending dirt roads on a gravel bike, this is an E-ticket ride. At the bottom a collection of miscreants, I mean really fun guys, were beer bonging (we can verb that, right?) anyone who stopped long enough for them to pop a top. I believe my first was a Tecate, but we had a, uh, redo when someone failed to get pictures of my first.

The climb back up Yankee Jims may have been leisurely. We stopped for one of the waterfalls, because how could you not?

From the top of the climb, the high point in the ride at 2600 feet, we had some rolling hills then hit the sag stop that has made this ride famous among my friends. Quesadillas, people. Hot. Made on the spot. The women in our group believed that three slices were too many, but my buddy Adam and I concluded that three was a magic number. No regrets on that. A few miles later we began the drop down Ponderosa Road, which was a fair bit more aggressive due to steeper grades. We also hit the only stretch of real mud on the entire course, which at 20+ miles per hour was … lively. I still pucker when I feel my tires break free, but I love that feeling of getting them under control. It’s a bit like a first kiss. Nervous as hell before, then pure exhilaration.

The climb out was ugly. This is the opposite of the backcountry skier’s motto: earn your turns. This is: pay for your turns. The road was probably graded before the gas crisis, but there was little to suggest I should be so optimistic. Grades were so commonly double digit that a stretch of 8-9 percent offered recovery. The views down into the river canyon were the very reason why I do rides like this. No Nikon can reproduce the view.

The ride back into town included a dog leg onto some PG&E property on which gravel had be dumped recently enough to still be loose. If at any point I’d begun to think that running a 35mm tire would have been the way to go, this disabused me of such a fantasy. Even with Clement’s 40mm X’plor MSO, my tires settled into the gravel and robbed what little power remained in my legs.

When I rolled into Moonraker, most folks had cleaned up and donned cotton, but I wasn’t really in the mood for a delay. I went straight for the burrito and the beer after the kids on the NICA team hung my bike up.

This is precisely the sort of ride that is going to catch on and some day we will joke about how they used to cap the registration south of 500 riders. This is the sort of event I could see riders in more snow-bound states use as an excuse to escape the winter.


Images: Ana Pimsler (1, 2, 3 and 5), Padraig (4, 6 and 7)

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  1. Scott M.

    So glad to see you enjoying the American River canyons.

    I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again, this ride is but a mere taste of the awesome riding in the Motherlode — whether you tend toward road, gravel or mtn. With three forks of the American providing a myriad of canyon walls climbs and descents; a matrix of single lane roads crisscrossing the gold country; climbs up to 20 miles long; views stretching from the snow-capped Sierras to the Sutter Buttes; the American River Trail; a thriving group-ride community; race teams aplenty; a phenomenal bike shop or two; and a few world tour pros we proudly claim as our own; this area is very much underrated as a top training ground.

    Come back any time. I’d love to show you around.

  2. Thom Kneeland

    That sounds like an amazing day. It’s one I’ll put on my calendar to keep track of for next year. I’m usually looking for an excuse to head south for some quality miles. I could probably figure out how to make a weekend out of it by visiting family down there. If you’re ever interested in making the short trip north to Southern Oregon/Far North Northern Cal we have some amazing rides that are tons of fun, have a huge variety of terrain, and are low key. We have our first ever Shasta Gravel Hugger race (or ride) coming up in March. It’s in the Shasta Valley and about 80% of the ride has the mountain in view. Plus some of Siskiyou County’s finest decomposed granite roads and virtually zero traffic. Love to see you there.

  3. michael

    im desperate for a good gravel ride in this area. any other ideas? we have gravel bikes with 38mm tires. not too interested in single track. would love any suggestions

    cheers Michael

    1. Author

      Talk to the good people at Victory Velo in Auburn. It’s a terrific shop and you might even find some folks to tag along with.

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