Tunis-Roubaix XII Race Report

By Mark McGraw | The Campus Gypsy

No one in the Men’s “C” group looked back or missed a pedal stroke when we heard the stomach-churning sounds of lycra-encased flesh and a carbon fiber bicycle hitting gravel at speed. It was too early for sentimentality. We were on the first of four eleven-mile laps of a collegiate road race. There were still many tactical moves to be played, much gravel to churn through, and endless pain to be meted out and endured over the next two hours. This was Tunis-Roubaix, the Texas A&M Cycling Team-sponsored event famous for sending unsuspecting riders down tennis ball-sized gravel roads (I believe this year’s course was actually much, much tamer than in years past). What wasn’t tame was the weather: about 52 degrees with a 17 knot north wind gusting to 25 and intermittent rain.

I took my own advice after the UT races last week and stayed at or near the front for the first lap and a quarter. But when a couple of guys took off the front on the long stretch down I and Gn road with the tailwind blasting behind us, I didn’t react quickly enough. The couple of guys in front of me materialized into 8 in a lead group and I couldn’t catch them. The course soon turned us back into the wind and I was looking for a wheel to suck and losing ground to the lead group. I eventually joined a small group with Austin Marshall from our team, Ian from UT, a dude from U of H bundled up like he was doing Itidarod, and occasionally, the spaceman from Texas State with the old-school bike, green tennies and platform pedals. By the final lap Ian from UT had flatted, the U of H guy was smoked, and Austin and I worked as a group of 2 to trudge through the wind. I finished 8th in the 44 mile road race feeling like I had been eaten by a billy goat and crapped over a cliff, but a little smarter and maybe a little stronger. I’ve got to get to where I can more rapidly get up to a higher speed (sounds like a very basic concept of “racing” doesn’t it?). At least this time I didn’t take the corners like Grandma Moses.

Best sights of the morning:

-Looking around seeing about 125 people shivering in the cold wind before the races started. Most people had a look on their faces like they’d rather be wading naked through fiberglass insulation.

– The real bossy guy from OU who wanted to tell everybody else how to ride flatting at the beginning of the second lap.

– My hero Willie Allen riding up to participate in the alumni division in his A&M jersey from the Pleistocene epoch. He rode up to me as giddy as a new cheerleader brandishing his race number. It was 666. I attached his numbers to the few remaining patches of material that would take a pin. And he rode like hell. Like always.

The 12 mile time trial in the afternoon was also grueling. Winds were up to 30 knots by the time we were going out at :30 second intervals. We had the tremendous tailwind in the first half of the out-and-back course before rounding a cone and bouncing off what could best be described as a “wind trampoline”. In the time trial it’s illegal to draft behind another rider, so you’re on your own against the wind and left to sort through your own discomfort and self doubt if things aren’t going well. I got 14thout of 31 riders in the C’s, which was not as good as I hoped for.

A few things kept it from all being too serious:

– One of our guys riding the time trial in BMX gear, complete with face-shielded helmet.

– Somebody competing on a mountain bike wearing a big sleeveless t-shirt that billowed behind him like the mizzen mast on a schooner.

– The elaborate warm-up routine of one of my teammates which includes an hour on the trainer at 130 rpm, pre-race tunes, bike yoga, lighting candles, incantations and offerings of incense to Eddy Merckx.

That night we had an alumni dinner catered by Johnny Carinos – a really nice event that included a display of old A&M Cycling team gear and jerseys. John Young, the father of one of our team guys, Pierce, brought in a lot of his old stuff from the late 70’s to show us. It was great to get to talk to him, see the pictures and hear the stories.

All in all, a great, unforgettable Saturday.