The ‘other Roubaix’: Pros and amateurs set for battle on Colorado’s dirt roads

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There are no cobblestones. The roads weren’t built by Romans. It doesn’t finish in a velodrome.

That said, Colorado’s Boulder Roubaix, which takes place April 8, one day before its namesake, has become an American classic in its own right. Held on the dirt roads north of Boulder since 1990, the race has become a rite of spring for amateurs and pros alike.

The event has been a labor of love for organizer Chris Grealish of Denver-Boulder Couriers, co-founder of the CrossVegas UCI World Cup event, who puts on the Boulder Roubaix every other year.

The event has gone through different iterations, and course changes. For a few years, the route was used as part of a Boulder stage race. And though it sometimes conflicts with national-level races — this year, it’s just a few days before the Tour of the Gila stage race in New Mexico, and on the same weekends as the Alabama Cycling Classic — Grealish says he receives personal fulfillment in making sure it continues.

Asked his favorite memory of the event, he answered, “The feeling of satisfaction I get from giving everything we have, to make the event the best it can be.”

It doesn’t have the history of Paris-Roubaix, but the Boulder Roubaix does have quite a backdrop. Photo: Dejan Smaic.

Past Boulder Roubaix winners include Roy Knickman, Will Frischkorn, Jay Thomson, and Danny Pate, as well as Mara Abbott, Joanne Kiesanowski, Katie Compton, and Alison Powers.

USA Cycling president Derek Bouchard-Hall also competed in the race, in 1999, as a member of the Mercury squad; finishing second behind his teammate, David Clinger. Also in that top 10: Michael Barry (third), Scott Moninger (fourth), Gord Fraser (fifth), and a 20-year-old Pate, in sixth.

Pate went on to win the race in 2002, before going on to a career that included riding for Health Net-Maxxis, Jelly Belly, Garmin, Team Sky, and now Rally Cycling. That same year, an unknown Compton won, two years before her first national cyclocross title.

“I’ve raced both Paris-Roubaix and Boulder Roubaix, and I think Boulder Roubaix is a better bike race!” Bouchard-Hall said. “Boulder Roubaix can be super hard, tactical, and technically demanding, but without going so far as to be the circus that Paris-Roubaix can be. Boulder Roubaix is just the right amount of chaos. I consider Boulder Roubaix to be an American classic. It has been around a long time, and has consistently been contested by some of America’s best riders. Everyone respects who wins it. It is also unique, super hard, and beautiful. I will never forget finishing second in that race, a result I considered a real achievement.”

The Boulder Roubaix: It’s harder than it looks — and it looks pretty hard.

One pro who will be competing this year is Aussie Joe Lewis of the Holowesko-Citadel team. Lewis, who lives in Boulder, punctured in 2015 and is back for redemption. He may find competition in Canyon teammates Mike Burleigh and Chris Winn, who are also registered.

“I won’t be in Alabama, so of course I’ll do a local classic,” Lewis said, who added there may be a few other pros, in the area preparing for Gila, who jump in at the last minute. “If I’m on an alright day, and there are not any other pros, and I don’t have any mechanicals, I’d like to think I can win. It’s a hard course. It’s going to wear down on people.”

The event offers free pre-registration to all juniors aged 9-14; juniors 15-18 pay only $20. Abbott, who came agonizingly close to an Olympic gold medal in Rio de Janeiro, will be encouraging junior women on race day, helping them get lined up before their starts and serving as official starter for those categories. Former Garmin and Optum pro Mike Friedman, who now serves as program director at the Pedaling Minds after-school program, will be helping get the junior men lined up and sent off.

Grealish said the inspiration for the race came, in part, from the iconic Copperopolis Road Race, organized every April by Northern California’s Velo Promo and held on rough roads and rolling hills east of the Bay Area. Like the Copperopolis race, vehicular traffic is generally light — one of the reasons Grealish says initially inspired him to create the event.

The Boulder Roubaix winner’s trophy is modeled after the Paris-Roubaix champion’s cobblestone; this trophy is made of Colorado sandstone.

The 2017 Boulder Roubaix, sponsored by a local Mercedes dealer and Wheels Manufacturing, travels an undulating 18.7-mile (30km) loop on a mix of dirt and paved roads; over 60% of the course is dirt. Amateur distances vary, from one lap to three laps, while pro-1-2 men will race 74.8 miles (120km).

Weather at Boulder Roubaix can vary, though a typical day in early April will see a high around 63°F (17°C) and a low of 35°F (2°C). The 2004 event was rescheduled due to a snowstorm. In the event of inclement weather, a makeup date is set for Sunday, August 27.

Shimano is providing neutral support, although with the sheer number of categories on the course at any given time, smart racers will bring a pump and spare tube, as well as tighten bolts and press in their water bottle cages before race day.

Video: 1999 Boulder Roubaix (warning: loud music)

Online registration closes on Wednesday April 5, at noon, local time. In-person registration is available on Thursday April 6, between 5-8pm at an athlete meet-and-greet event held at Mercedes-Benz of Westminster. Limited race-day registration will be available if categories are not full. The event is capped at 1,000 participants.

For more information on the Mercedes-Benz of Westminster 2017 Boulder Roubaix Road Race presented by Wheels Manufacturing, visit DBCevents.com, or follow DBC Events on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

CyclingTips will be racing Boulder Roubaix

CyclingTips editors Neal Rogers and James Huang will be “competing” at the 2017 Boulder Roubaix, racing two laps (37.4 miles) in the Cat.4 40+ field.

They’ll be riding the new Specialized Roubaix, with its unique Future Shock, and 28mm Panaracer EVO3 Race tires.

Look for a race report of sorts — complete with photos and trash talk — as well as product reviews, in the weeks that follow the event.

Video: 2017 Boulder Roubaix promo

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