Sorry France, Roubaix is more tasty in America

American-style "Roubaix" races can't match the real thing in terms of the route, but the post-race food? I think the U.S. has the edge here.

On Saturday several thousand cycling fans will bump their way across the famed cobblestones of Paris-Roubaix in the Paris-Roubaix Challenge, a sizable sportive ride for amateurs. If you’ve ever wondered what it’s like to participate in such an event, I recommend reading Caley Fretz’s recent journal on what it was like to bounce over the stones.  Sounds pretty epic, huh?

Here in the USA we have numerous amateur races that have taken the “Roubaix” title because they feature dirt or badly paved roads. I know, I know, these races will never achieve the same level of epic wonder as the actual Paris-Roubaix (cobblestone beats dirt road every day of the week). Still, the American “Roubaix” events are worth checking out.

As someone who has participated in several of these races, I can tell you that they hold one sizable advantage over the actual Paris-Roubaix: The food.

Allow me to backpedal for a moment and say that I haven’t done the Roubaix sportive yet. I’ve been to France a number of times, enjoyed wonderful restaurants, delicious cafes, and amazing meals that are drool-worthy. My post-race meal, however, is a different culinary situation. A melange of beautiful produce from the farmer’s market, a crusty baguette, and runny cheese won’t satisfy after hours in the saddle. And when you’re bonked and approaching hour six of chamois time, are you really going to sit down in a fancy French restaurant to order escargot? Of course not.

If you’re a glutton like me, your post-epic-ride stomach craves some quick, hearty eats, and lots of them. That is why, although so-called “Roubaix” races in the states will never match their namesake’s difficulty, ambiance, or crazy cobblestone lanes, we eat better when it’s all over. How American.

Let’s take my recent adventure at Michigan’s Barry-Roubaix. In hilly Barry county, near Grand Rapids, this race is a modest 62 miles, compared to the Paris-Roubaix Challenge’s whopping 172 kilometers (about 107 miles). The dirt roads were bumpy, but they weren’t on the same level as the Carrefour de l’Arbe. Still, I managed to bonk, and after the race I had a hunger pain that no baguette or fromage could cure. I guess I should have thought of a way to easily get my food out from under a rain jacket with my sopping wet gloves. Luckily, I was in the midwest, where the locals enjoy the fast-food gem that is Culver’s (think of it as In-N-Out Burger only with cheese curds). Post-race cheese curds and a milkshake in France? Pas possible!

Another entry to my Tasty-Roubaix palmares is Rouge Roubaix in St. Francisville, Louisiana. This race can match the Roubaix sportive in mileage, and it’s a rather august event on the domestic calendar, 19 years old last month. Of course the Rouge Roubaix’s dirt roads, however hard and sinuous (those in Louisiana are, by the way), can’t compete with cobbles. But after the race, you’re surrounded by an endless supply of southern barbecue. Sorry cobblestones, pulled pork is the undefeated champ of post-race food in my book.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention my home race, Boulder Roubaix, right here in Colorado, which I’ll race on the same day as the hordes of riders taking on the Paris-Roubaix Challenge Saturday. This race has plenty of dirt and it’s pretty long at about 72 miles, so maybe it comes close to Roubaix on sporting merits. The food? Maybe not as indulgent as I prefer. We’re a little fussy here in Boulder — maybe that 2010 “America’s Foodiest Town” award from Bon Appetit went to our heads. The locals here prefer lemongrass and kale to Culver’s.

Still, Boulder Roubaix has a sizable advantage over some other events. After the race you’ll have no problem self-medicating to cure those bumps and bruises at the end of the day. And that’s bound to build an appetite for just about any cuisine, be it French or fast food. Man, now I am hungry for some cheese curds.

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