Every spring the cycling world sets its sights on the harsh roads of Northern Europe and the white roads of Tuscany. The professional cycling season is getting underway and the strong men and women of the World Tour are hungry for wins. These long single day races are made tough by the brutal roads they cover. With long sections of cobblestones in races like Paris Roubaix, Tour of Flanders and the white crush gravel of the Strade Biache, these races are all about endurance, power, and a lot of luck. While only a few select cyclists are ever lucky enough to toe the line at these monuments, the rest of us can have our own Roubaix adventures right from our back door.
All over the world, cyclists are rediscovering the joys of taking the road less traveled. Throughout the world varying types of unpaved roads beg to be ridden. In Northern Europe it is all about the pavé. In the Southern United States, red dirt roads made popular by country music songs, call to cyclists who are not afraid to get a little dirty. In rural places around the world, varying types of gravel crunches under the tires of cyclists as they make their way on their very own Roubaix.
Unlike the UCI sanctioned Classics of Europe, there are no rules governing what bikes and gear the average person can use for their own Roubaix. The bikes and gear vary as much as the people who are riding these rugged roads and there are no wrong answers to the equipment used. The bicycle industry has developed an entire sector devoted to Roubaix bikes designed to absorb the roughest roads and now even an entirely new bike market for gravel racing and riding. The popular gravel bikes popping up in catalogs is a variation of a road and cyclocross bike. It has disc brakes and clearance for fat tires ranging from 28mm up to 40mm. These gravel bikes also have slacker (shallower, not lazy) seat tube angles than a traditional cyclocross bike and longer wheelbases than a road bike. The frames are tough, made from every kind of material. The most popular material being carbon, but steel, titanium, and aluminum are also very common.
Like the European classics, most organized Roubaix events take place in the unpredictable spring months. Here in North Carolina, weather this time of year can be sunny and 70 degrees or it can be raining and in the 30s. A year ago I rode in the Love Valley Roubaix, it ended up pouring rain and I had to abandon half way through due to hypothermia. Fortunately now, I am better equipped with all the right Giordana clothing to layer in. From cold rain to blistering heat, I can kit myself for any condition. I even like to keep socks, bibs, baselayers, a short sleeve jersey, arm warmers, leg warmers, gloves, and a lightweight vest in my bag for race day…just in case!
In the event of rain, I turn to my G-Shield kit. Giordana G-Shield is a collection of highly water resistant pieces. We offer a short sleeve jersey, bibs, bib tights, arm warmers, and leg warmers. All of these pieces have a treatment applied to the threads of the fabric before it is constructed, which makes the majority of precipitation bead off before absorbing. Over the course of a several hour ride little water, if any, will penetrate the fabric. While others abandon or slow due to hypothermia, I stay dry and comfortable and can keep hammering away.
When the weather turns hot it’s time to pull out the ultimate race kit. For 2015 Giordana released a new edition of the FR-C collection. Ten years in the making it is the ideal kit for racing. The jersey is light and breathable with an I-beam shaped panel that wraps from the shoulders down the back and around the waist. This design keeps the jersey and everything loaded into your pockets in place. The bibs follow suit with the latest advancements in sport compression Lycra with aerodynamic cuffs and seams. These bibs are also super light, breathable and stay in place like they are custom made for me. Putting this kit on makes me feel like I am a super hero kiting up for an epic battle. A battle that will play out on gravel strewn mountain roads steep and curvy.
For this year’s Love Valley Roubaix, we had sunny and dry conditions but unseasonably cold weather set in. The start was in the upper 20s and was only supposed to warm up to about 43 degrees during the duration of the race. I opted to wear a Giordana Heavy Weight Carbon Baselayer, Wool Socks, Super Roubaix Leg Warmers, Vero Trade Bib Shorts, a Long Sleeve FR-C Jersey, Wind Vest, Over/Under Gloves, Nordic AV Gloves, and a Cotton Trade Cap. From the whistle, the race was fast; we flew down the red dirt Main Street of Love Valley and made a left to start the first mile long gravel climb. At that moment, I think everyone felt way overdressed. After the first climb I quickly pocketed my Nordic gloves and unzipped my vest. For the remainder of the race I stayed very comfortable by unzipping my long sleeve jersey at the bottom of climbs and zipping it back up before the descents. With only one flat and a pair of legs that didn’t let me down over the 50 mountainous miles, I successfully finished Love Valley Roubaix.
Roubaix rides and races are a great way to test yourself and your gear in extreme circumstances. I highly encourage all cyclists to challenge themselves this spring and turn off that freshly paved main road and onto the Roubaix.
*Brian S. is an avid cyclist with more than 200 races under his belt. His love for cycling and passion for helping others discover the sport takes him from city streets to the roads less traveled.
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