At this time last year we were in the wake of one of the coldest winters on record. Lake Michigan was frozen solid and we hadn’t seen above freezing temps in over three months. The roads were still icy and the thought of a bike ride outside seemed far fetched. Oh what a difference a year can make…
On Sunday March 15 a group of eager BELGIANWERKX riders tackled the Cheesehead-Roubaix route from Newburg to Belgium and back. The forecast was dry, breezy and just warm enough to tempt a couple of us to expose some pasty white legs in our BELGIANWERKX kits. Yeah, Wisconsin skin can be quite frightening in March.
The Cheesehead-Roubaix is an organized tour of 63 miles over the many gravel and dirt roads around a loop in the Northern parts of Washington and Ozaukee Counties. This event is held annually and is scheduled for April 26th this year. This is an event where riders of all ages and abilities can enjoy the scenery and diversity of the early spring roads in SE Wisconsin.
On this day ten of us were ready to test our early season fitness. Many of us were preparing for Barry-Roubaix in two weeks. Barry-Roubaix is the nations largest gravel road race held in Hastings, Michigan in late March. It is a grueling test with thousands of riders competing. Our local Cheesehead-Roubaix is a very tame version of this Michigan Spring Classic, but still a challenging ride for any rider.
We headed out at 11am. A nice tailwind on the way out gave us a false sense of fitness as we approached the first gravel section, Lover’s Lane. This first section of “gravel” is by far the most challenging stretch of the entire 63 miles. Since it comes at mile 8.5, it is enough to make many question their sanity and resolve to continue the rest of the ride. It is a muddy, up hill, rut filled farmers road with meandering gullies and protruding rocks. At the end of this one mile section, we had one who tipped over, another over the handlebars and all of us covered in mud. At the top of the hill we regrouped and shed layers of clothing. We were now nice and warmed up!
The top of Lover’s Lane is the high point of the ride. From here it is mostly a downhill 25 miles to Lake Michigan. The gravel sections for the remainder of the ride are very rideable with a few squishy sections at worst. The Eastern most section of this ride has its own special features. Most notably, the cold, damp, ever present breeze off the lake. A day that promises low 60’s inland sees mid 40’s near the lake. This is a great motivator to complete the gravel section through Harrington Beach State Park and begin the long, uphill return Westward.
As we left the lake region behind, our spirits rose with the temperatures. The course did take a toll, however, on our equipment. A couple of flats and a blown rear derailleur slowed us down a bit, but only ended one rider’s day early. We pressed on Westward, fighting long uphill stretches with a persistent crosswind out of the South. Once we were at the Southernmost section of the course, we turned North and headed for home. With a strong tailwind blessing our backsides, we found a surge of energy to bring us to “road bike” speeds on our “cyclocross” bikes, making the last 3 miles tick by in a flash. We rolled back into the Newburg Fire Department parking lot feeling exhausted and accomplished. Rewarded with a Cliff Bar, banana and a Pale Ale, a gravel rider needs very little incentive to endure such a test. The camaraderie and journey is always the destination.