Just five weeks ago I had no plans for riding organized events. There was literally nothing on the calendar. Not a single event. It’s not that I didn’t want to do anything; that wasn’t the case at all. I wasn’t vaccinated at all and didn’t know when I would be and really wasn’t willing to trust that any events would be promoted until … well, I’m not sure what.
So I’ll say that I was a little surprised when I received a message from Jay Garrard, the promoter of the Tour de Placer Roubaix. He was inviting me to a slimmed-down version of the ride with 100 riders, rather than the previous edition’s 400. To say I took a moment to consider my response would not be accurate. I wrote him back not so much hastily as immediately.
The Tour de Placer Roubaix is one of my favorite events on the planet for a few reasons. Ima list them here, but they are in order of how they spill from my noggin, not in any prioritized listing:
1. I love that it’s a ride and not a race. You can’t win a damn thing for going fast.
2. It’s in the gold country of the Sierra foothills. It’s a different kind of California beauty than I have at home.
3. The dirt portions of the course, can run the full gamut from easy and fun to difficult and existential.
4. Bacon and cheese quesadillas.
Like I said, no order of preference.
Because of pandemic precautions, the ride was limited to 100 people this year and everyone wore masks at registration and the volunteers wore masks at all times. At the finish, the burritos were pre-made and foil-wrapped, salsa was put in individual containers and chips were scooped up with tongs. My spidey senses go off when I’m in a place where people are being careless and that didn’t happen a single time on this ride.
Previous years saw the ride benefit the local NorCal league MTB team. This year, Garrard decided to direct the benefit to the Auburn Bike Park, where the event started and finished. The runs are pretty cool and the bulk of the riders I saw there in the morning prior to the ride and in the afternoon upon my return, were kids and women, which stoked me to no end.
Much like the great one-day classic Liege-Bastogne-Liege, the Tour de Placer Roubaix changes a bit from year to year. Most years, what has varied is just how the ride gets to the descent of Yankee Jims to the American River. Last year, with a second big climb added, the course was significantly different—and longer. This year’s course hewed more to the general form of earlier years, but I can tell you Garrard knows the flume trails the way I know the aisles of my local grocery store. We hit stuff that I’ve only ridden in the other direction.
The real centerpiece of the ride is Yankee Jims, a dirt descent that is what I love about gravel riding. The surface is truly gravel and can be loose in spots; potholes and ruts occur. The grade is pretty gentle so most riders needn’t drag their brakes all the way down and then there’s the fact that looking around on the way down is totally worth it.
The rickety bridge at the bottom, which looks like it might have been built gold miners, is as mandatory a photo stop as the Ghost Tree in Monterey. The climb out, past waterfalls lends classic river-canyon views. Sand-colored boulders, the gray-blue water, greenery from succulents and grasses and then the oranges, purples, whites and yellows of wildflowers.
I’ve observed previously that there is something about owning a gravel bike that compels a rider to go ride in different places. Part of that owes to the fact that no USA Cycling event has ever taken such pretty locales. Part of it is that stopping on a gravel ride isn’t the shameful event that it seems to be in a fondo or on a century. Relative to that philosophy, The Tour de Placer Roubaix is as good an example of why as anything else I’ve ridden.