The Cherry-Roubaix: TC Does Cycle Racing with European Style

Cyclists race down Seventh Street in the August Cherry-Roubaix Old Town Crtierium.

By MIKE NORTON

I love riding my bike.

I won’t call what I do “cycling,” because that would make it sound much more serious and obsessive than it is. I don’t race, and I’ll never wear Spandex — for which the world owes me a large debt of gratitude. I just like riding that bike. I keep it in my office for lunch rides and quick errands across town, and when I’m feeling adventurous I’ll ride it home to Old Mission in the evening and back again in the morning.

But it doesn’t matter if you’re a hard-core cyclist or a dawdler like me; the Traverse City area is a paradise for people who like bicycles. There’s great road riding, wonderful paved trails (including the TART Trail, the Leelanau Trail, the Boardman Trail – which I just got done riding – and the new Sleeping Bear Heritage Trail) and some very respectable mountain biking areas.

To my mind, this place has just the right blend of challenging and easygoing terrain, with lots of amazing views of lakes, vineyards, forests and meadows to keeop things interesting. (Boredom is the enemy of exercise!)

That’s why Bicycling Magazine listed Traverse City last summer as one of the world’s “Six Best Cities for a Bike Vacation.”  It’s also why this is the home of two great cycling events: the November Iceman Cometh Challenge (the largest single-day mountain bike race in North America) and the Cherry-Roubaix, held each August. This year’s Cherry- Roubaix (the fifth) will be held Aug. 10-12, and even if you’re a distinctly non-competitive type like me, it’s a very impressive event to watch. In fact, it’s the official event of the Michigan Road Race Championship for the second year in a row.

Roubaix is a small city in northern France, best known as the endpoint for the annual Paris-Roubaix bicycle race, which includes almost 50k of bone-jarring cobblestoned streets.  Traverse City is probably better known for its cherry cobblers than its cobblestones, but many streets in its historic Central Neighborhood district are paved with massive bricks that were brought as ballast in the holds of 19th century lumber schooners. To the average white-knuckled cyclist, they give a fair impression of cobbles, which is how the race got its name.

The three-day event begins on Friday with a set of time trails on the Old Mission Peninsula (great spectator stuff). Saturday starts off with a morning Cherry-Roubaix Charity Ride – open to cyclists of all skill and age levels — to benefit Munson Healthcare’s Women’s Cancer Fund. In the afternoon, it’s the main event: the Cherry-Roubaix Old Town Criterium, where racers careen at high speed on a one mile course through the streets of Traverse City. (There’s also a Kids’ Ride and a fun, free-for-all Cruiser Classic.)

Finally, on Sunday, it’s road race time, when cyclists head out to the beautiful Leelanau Peninsula for what’s known as “the most rigorous road race in the state.”  This year, race organizers have gone back to the route used by cyclists in the 1980s, beginning and ending the course at Sugar Loaf Mountain north of Cedar.

Seriously, if you’ve never watched a bicycle race, this is the one to watch.

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About mikelovestc

These days, I’m the media relations guy for the Traverse City Convention & Visitors Bureau, but before that I spent 25 years as a reporter and columnist at the Traverse City Record-Eagle, a job that frequently took me out into the most remote backroads, forests, beaches and islands of the beautiful Grand Traverse Region. My strategy was pretty simple — just drive, paddle, ski or walk until you’re certain you’re lost, and then find somebody to talk to. It was a great job! I never intended to live in Traverse City. I grew up in Grand Rapids, spent four years in the Coast Guard in places like Miami Beach, Monterey and San Francisco, and when I finally graduated from college I took a summer job at the Miami Herald. To my surprise, I discovered I didn’t like the tropics nearly as much as I thought I would — and when the Record-Eagle offered me a job I took it, figuring I’d put in a year or two and head off to someplace like Seattle or Portland. What I discovered very quickly is that this place gets to you in a variety of unexpected ways. The beaches here are as lovely as anyplace else I’ve ever been, the weather is mild all year round — warm enough for swimming in September and cold enough for skiing in December — and just about the time you’re getting tired of one season you get another one every bit as pleasant. The people are laid-back and friendly, the music and arts scene is awesome, and the place still hasn’t gotten so sophisticated that a guy like me feels out of place.
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