Hilly Billy Roubaix

Definitely not a road race, not really a mountain bike race and not exactly a cross race either, the Hilly Billy Roubaix is the first stop of the American UltraCross Championship Series. This 72 primitive mile event that takes you over dirt and paved State Roads around Monongalia County in Northern West Virginia wasn’t even really on my schedule until my wife Joyce said she wanted to do it…

Ok, let’s do it!

I’m entered in the single speed category with 12 others, riding my Trek Superfly Single Speed running Bontrager 29-0 1.9 Team Issue tires which at 400 grams/tire bring by bike weight in at under 20 pounds; definitely competitive with most cross bikes. I’m running a big gear by MTB standards; 34×17. I’m more worried about the pavement than the climbs. I look back and see my wife Joyce chatting with one of the other woman. I realize we’ve never lined up together in the same race. Cool.

As we do a neutral rollout to the main road from the finish line towards the start area, we immediately descend what will be the last climb of the race. That’s going to hurt after 72 hilly billy miles. Most people are on cross bikes with cross tires. I see a few mountain bikes and even a couple of road bikes. This is weird.

2011 Hilly Billy Roubaix

Bang! A mass start of over 100 riders descends down pavement for a few miles before diving into a narrow gravel road. This is probably the most prevalent surface for the race. We immediately start hitting some rollers and it’s already getting strung out. Got to stay on the gas to try and establish a position. Single speed climbing on the loose gravel in the huge gear is tough; my rear wheel seems constantly on the edge of traction.

I see fellow single speeder LSV/Kelly rider Bernie Shaio just a couple riders in front of me and make the effort to get on his wheel. I’m thinking he might be out for redemption after I passed him on the final climb at this year’s Michaux Maximus. Also on single speed is Gunnar Shogren, who with a great start is quickly disappearing with the front group. I don’t see any of the other single speeders.

With some effort, I ride with Bernie for awhile. He’s going hard and I really need to settle down. My heart rate is really high. At one point both Bernie and I are super spun out trying to stay on the wheels of a group of geared bikes on a slightly downhill section. As I give up, I see that somehow Bernie was able to stick. He’s gone for now.

About 10 miles in the “road” is actually just a series of Volkswagen sized pot holes filled with water. Some are shallow enough to ride through, some however are not. Our moto pace ridden by Morgantown local Ryan Post managed to get his moto stuck in one of the deeper ones. Haw!

Ryan Post wondering how to get the bike started again

The “pot hole” section finishes with a shallow steam crossing. While he was getting his moto back in action Ryan managed to catch some of the tail end of the race riding (and running) through the stream. He was particularly amused by a woman who took off her shoes to keep them dry before the stream. While she was putting them back on, she was heard to say “Don’t take a picture, my husband will kill me!”… Yes, it’s my wife-unit Joyce.

Back in my race, Bernie’s got a little gap through the puddles and the stream which I’m only able to close after he’s alone and I’ve hitched a ride on the back of a geared bike on a paved section. As soon as I catch him, he slips away again when the geared rider starts to really drill it. Nice.

Soon I pass by Chris Mcgill fixing a flat on the side of the road. He’s riding some old vintage steel cross bike that belongs to Gunnar. He looks downtrodden. Ten minutes later I see Gunnar fixing a flat too. Gunnar is riding strong right now. A flat shouldn’t really change the outcome. He’ll be back. I’m not so sure about Chris.

Gunnar Shogren

Sure enough, ten miles later Gunnar passes me and I latch on. We ride together for a bit trading pulls and blow by aid station 1. We hit a big climb and he starts to pull away. I tell him to go catch Bernie.

Up over the top and down the other side we’re on a gravel road again. Gunnar is out of site. I see Mike Birner on the side of the trail with a flat. Shortly after that I see last year’s overall winner Gerry Pflug fixing a flat. This course is brutal! I’m thinking the relatively humongous 1.9 tires were a good choice.

The Pflug would catch and pass me twice more after a disastrous day of fixing flats. I rode with a Freddy Fu guy on a geared bike for a long while who I think was Brian Wieczorek though aid station 3. The rest of the race was fairly uneventful; that is, until the final climb…

The race finishes by backtracking on the paved road climbing up what we descended. At the top where the start was, we turn left to back track the section that had us in a neutral rollout in the beginning. As I make the turn, I glance over my shoulder and see a rider coming up the hill about 250 feet back. Crap, is that Gunnar? When did I get by him again?

With a surge of adrenaline, I’m pedaling with all I have left. Down the descent and out of the saddle up the other side. The final climb. I’m cross eyed afraid to look back. About half way up I hear “Hi Roger”. It’s Gunnar and he’s past me in an instant. Doh!

I crossed the line at 4:43 less than a minute back from Gunnar and two minutes behind Bernie. It’s both awesome and crappy to get 3rd by such a small margin… so I’ll stick with awesome! Congratulations to Bernie for the win and to Gunnar for schooling me at the end.

Single Speed Podium - Roger Masse, Bernie Shaio, Gunnar Shogren

In the woman, Betsy Shogren won in 5:02, Nicole Dorinzi 2nd, Stephanie Swan 3rd, Kristy Lanier 4th and my dry shoe wife rounded out the podium in 5th. Nice honey!

Woman's open - Kristy Lanier, Stephanie Swan, Betsy Shogren, Nicole Dorinzi, Joyce Gearhart

Hat’s off to J. R. Petsko for putting on such a fun event. The road marking and marshaling was top-notch. The prizes were fun and the beer was tasty. Joyce and I had fun and will definitely be back next year!


2 Responses to “Hilly Billy Roubaix”

  1. nice write up. awesome race. and the “wife-unit” can ride. she was dropping all sort of folks on the hill before the first aid station.

  2. […] of Gunnar. I’m not comfortable, recalling the last minute pass Gunnar laid down on me at the Hilly Billy Robaix to steal away a 2nd place […]

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