Last Saturday marked the 7th annual Hilly Billy Roubaix, a tour of some of “best” roads in northern WV and Southern PA. It is arguably the hardest race on the ABRA calendar each year.
This year was my 4th year participating in the event and I was looking forward to the challenge! I had set 3 basic goals, the first (as it is every year I have done it) was to finish the race. The second was to break the 6-hour mark and the third was to break the 5:30 mark. The course was slightly different than last year due to the fact we had a new venue to the start/finish. This made the course basically 2 different loops. The first loop of 33 miles would be the toughest due to the amount of climbing. The second loop was about 41 miles still with some good climbs and pretty much unchanged from prior years. It would however be an easier finish with no finish climb like the one up to Mylan Park like in previous HBR editions.
I had pre-rode the first loop with friends the weekend prior so I had a good idea on how tough it would be, still I went into this race thinking I had sub-5:30 legs. While the past 2 editions of the race featured rain and cooler temps, I had noted many times that “we were due for a hot one”. Unfortunately, that prediction had come true. I can remember steeping out of the car after arriving at Mason Dixon Park to a noticeable feeling of heat! Oh well, got to deal with whatever comes!
The race started with a gentle rollout on paved roads but started to stretch out when we hit the rolling initial portion of Smokey Drain. Once we hit the steep pitches of the climb, the race exploded and the suffering began! After the hitting the highlights like L.I.C.E and John Fox, I was still rolling pretty well. I completed the opening loop feeling pretty good and still thinking about the sub-5:30 time. It was helpful to see my teammate EJ marshalling the turn onto Henflint for some more gravel. After negotiating the tough climb and descent of Henflint I was still feeling good and back on paved roads for a bit.
I was in a good group of 5 other riders which formed shortly before climb up Mason Ridge Road to the original next rest stop. As we approached the turn where the rest stop used to be a small group of people yelled “It’s around the corner” obviously referring to the new location of the rest stop. After pedaling up the climb across I79 then turning on to the next gravel section I started to wonder if that “It’s around the corner” was a “West Virginia” reference just like “down the road a piece”. It wasn’t hard to start to wonder because we had gone around many corners and had pedaled about 2 miles with no rest stop in sight! After finally spotting my buddy Terry marshaling a corner he yelled that the rest stop was at the bottom of the upcoming gravel descent.
After a much needed pepperoni roll thanks to my teammate Shawn, some chain lube and bottle refills, I was off again. After some more miles and another dose of encouragement from Nate Clair, I was finally starting to feel the effects of the growing heat but soldiered on. The legs were turning over pretty well, just feeling a bit of energy starting to leave the body. I can remember distinctly when the goal to break 5:30 was put on the back burner and that was at around the 52-mile mark. It was on the climb on County Road 54 which ultimately would get me up to the last rest stop which was JR and Gina’s house. This climb was a real struggle and even after making it to rest stop #4 and consuming a couple freezer pops, a small cup of peanuts and some salt pills, I left still not feeling all that great.
Knowing what all was left in the race, it became a matter of survival and setting small goals. The biggest of which was getting to the top of Smokey Drain because from there it was pretty much literally all downhill! While the heat was becoming oppressive I do remember being glad it was dry which made Smokey Drain slightly easier. The bad thing was I couldn’t fully remember where the “top” of Smokey Drain actually so after a few small “downs” and more “ups” it was becoming a real drag! Finally, I made it, then the next small goal became to get down to the rolling section of it. Descending on a steep and rough gravel road when you are pretty much knackered ain’t easy but I managed. After hitting the bottom rolling section, I only had 2 small goals to go, hit the main road off of Smokey Drain then the finish itself. The legs still actually didn’t feel bad but I was running on fumes but it was glorious site to see the sign for Mason Dixon Park and after turning on to the grass for a little cyclocross action I had made it!! While I didn’t reach my sub-5:30 goal I did manage to get in under 6 hours and for the day that was quite OK with me!