Rouge Roubaix 2013 was when the Semi-Tough Cycling Club went from being just a few guys who went on group rides together, to a bona-fide cycling club with a diverse group of riders, many of whom wanted to race. Since the 2013 Rouge, much had changed at the STCC, and it was with great anticipation that the club awaited the start of the 2014 race. For starters, we were now an official USA Cycling Club, with two affiliated race teams – Rouler Racing, our unofficial “A-team”, and Semi-Tough Racing. We also had come to the 2014 race with loftier goals, and a we thought we’d planned a training and racing strategy achieve them. Some had goals of winning, others just to better their times from last year. But all had a sense of optimistic expectation going into the race, and we were pumped to ride hard.
Excitement was in the air from jump on the morning of the race. Team strategy had been discussed the night before over Mediterranean food. Bikes had been cleaned and tuned at the Rouler work stand. Motivational photo montages set to “Chariots of Fire” had been viewed. All that was left on the morning of the race was to gather for photos, and hear some inspirational final thoughts as delivered by Matt Kyte.
Matt challenged us all to look into the depths of our souls, and to summon the inner strength that comes only when you are burning hot on the edge of an overload; almost out of control; shoving it into over drive. That’s right… Quoting the immortal words of Dr. Kenneth Loggins, Matt urged us all to take it right into the danger zone.
The strategy for the boys from Rouler Racing in the 4/5 race was to control the front, stay together until mile 80 or so, and then see who was competitive for the podium. There were certainly a handful of guys on the team that might be there in the end, most notably Rob Sudan, winner of the inaugural Delta States Grand Prix of Cyclocross in the fall of 2013. Semi-Tough Racing had also pledged two of its fastest riders to work with Rouler Racing at the front, but as they were both first-time racers, there were questions surrounding how they might fare in race conditions.
The balance of the Semi-Tough Racing team had agreed to accept that a podium was not in their future, but to work together finish the grueling 102 mile race in under 6 hours – an ambitious plan considering that most of the guys on the team had barely cracked 7 hours the year before.
All was going to plan as the peloton made its way through the first third of the race. As the group emerged at the end the first of the race’s three gravel sections, STCC had a stranglehold on the front of the race. As expected, Rob Sudan and others from Rouler Racing were in that group, but surprisingly, so were rookies Murat Celebi and Aaron Viles from Semi-Tough Racing.
And so it stayed for the next road section, and into the Blockhouse Hill. Some damage was done up and over Blockhouse, with Rob maintaining the lead. As the front group entered the final dirt section, the leaders gained some separation up Big Bertha, and on the final 20 mile road section it was Rob’s race to lose.
Further back, the plan was working like a charm for the STCC “B” group. Headed into the third gravel section, the group was on pace to achieve their ambitious goals. Some cramping and general fatigue after Bertha split the group, but rookies Anthony Grable and Chris Kijko worked hard to get back on, and as the group hit the home stretch they were five strong, and back in action.
Back up front, Rob rode away from his competition on the finishing hill and took the win. The top half of the finish order was peppered with Semi-Tough riders, including a surprising 7th and 8th for Murat and Aaron respectively.
Overall, it was four top-10 finishes, including the winner, and ten top 30 finishes. Notably, every one of our STCC riders finished the race with a personal best time. The five-man STCC crew mid-pack finished the race in style – arm-in-arm – with a time of 5:48, achieving their group goal, and besting their times from last year’s race by over an hour.
Much thanks is due to our support crew: Christine Moser, Stephen Beaumont, Terri Shrum, Rebecca Hicks and David Sheehy. No one would have raced as hard without knowing that you guys had our backs. The club is already dreaming about and planning for next year. Among the obvious goals – more, faster racers. But we missed our #localhardladies on the road this year, and one clear goal for next year has to be to get them involved. This is a race for badasses (as Matt Kyte noted), and we have some badass women in our club.