My favorite race of the year was finally here. Copperopolis is a tough race, perhaps talk of the rough roads is a little overblown but this is definitely a race of attrition. Sure you need to mark moves and cover attacks, but for the most part it should come down to relatively select group that remains after 3 hours of hard racing.
The course is 21 miles with mostly bumpy and rough roads with one 10min climb followed by a loop around the lake with multiple stretches into head or cross winds and finishing with a shallow climb, a few rollers and blazing, bumpy descent to the finish which is about 200 meter roller.
Lucky for me, Rick Sutton had a place for us to stay just 15minutes from the start–thanks to Grant for the accommodations!
After a decent warm-up and a few delays it was game time. I found a place at the front of the group and my plan was to lead the initial descent into the climb. It would be a good way to warm-up the legs for 10min and maintain position–but being conscious to not press the pace or work too hard. After 5min of cruising a few guys started coming through–pressing just a little through the feed and into the climb. Rob Anderson started the pace-making as we headed into the stair-step climb for the first of 3 laps. I maintained position towards the front and the pace was steady. No crazy accelerations but the pace did intensify towards the end of the climb dropping a good part of the group and bringing us down to 30 or so. Once up on the flats, a few attacks started. I went with a few of the efforts but everyone is fresh at this point and it’s still a long race. Morgan Stanley and Specialized were both well represented along with a few from SJBC, Sierra & VOS. As we crested the second shorter climb, we caught the Cat5 group so we neutralized the descent. After that, we came by and prepared for the second lap.
No real fire works at this point, just natural attrition. I grabbed a bottle from Rick through the feed and headed into the second climb–this time with a bit more effort but I managed it well and come out the other end intact with about 15 guys remaining. Now the attacks were coming with more earnest and I went with a few–perhaps burning a few too many matches. In fact I went with 3-4 of them before Kevin Metcalfe finally slipped away solo. He gained 10 seconds or so on the group and everyone seemed content to let him stay out there by himself. I decided to save myself as I had overextended with those attacks and was feeling a few twinges. (Lesson 1: If you’re riding solo/without a team–you can’t go with each attack even if it’s someone who could stay away…I ended up missing the right opportunity anyway with Kevin.) About half way up the second climb, Kevin was still off the front when Mark Noble accelerated with one other guy. I was towards the front and then two more guys accelerated on the descent. It seemed harmless at that point but no one was willing to chase and I was going fast enough on the descent.
So through the flats and rollers their gap grew and the chase was mellow as we started the 3rd lap.We were slow for a good 5-7 minutes through the long shallow descent starting lap 3 when Dan Martin attacked just as we were coming into the feed. Unprepared for this acceleration, I found myself slipping towards that back quickly and by the the top of the little feed climb I was last in our small group. I dug a little and latched on. Hmm–I’m still learning but accelerating through a feed didn’t seem quite right. I worked my way back up towards the front but the attacks between Hutchinson and Martin and otheres were coming–one after the other. About half way up and just past the smooth paved section I was unhooked. I found the fastest steady pace I could maintain and worked with Mick Hellman who came of just as I did. I could see the group splintering in front of us so I knew this was the race being made.
5 off the front and 10 more of us attacking each other or just holding on as we dug deep to sort out the group one last time. By the end of the climb there where 2-2-2-4 and 5 off the front. The first 5 were gone. Now it was about bringing the next 10 back together. Mick and I worked well together taking :30 pulls and ensuring were weren’t pulling too hard. Over the rollers we could pull the 2 in front of us back just a little. For a good 25 minutes Mick and I worked to cover the gap. Man it would have been great it they would have eased up just a little so the four of us could have integrated sooner and saved a little. With about 3-4miles to go before the last climb we had all finally come back together.
The group seemed to ease and recover a little until a few attacks and accelerations started again. I gave it a go and went just before the left-hander into the final climb. Oh boy, it’s just a little riser and then a left turn but it felt like a mountain. I had a little gap but I was completely gassed and then quickly caught. (Lesson 2: If you don’t have the legs, don’t attack–rest and follow the accelerations rather than leading them especially when coming into a climb).
The legs were no longer responding. So I gathered myself as the road starts turning back to the right and you can see up the climb. Just then, Hutchinson dropped his chain in front of me and Dan Martin promptly attacked. Chris Dalusio and Brian Bosch responded immediately. I had nothing for a response. I just put my head down and tried to minimize the damage. The group was shattered in a free for all. Hutchinson was flying again and came by me working his way through tryinjg to get back to Martin. By the top of the climb I had caught Chris Wire and one other guy… we worked together a little on the descent but for the most part I was carrying the load trying to bridge back up to Mick Hellman and 3 others. Coming around one of the faster left-handers, I noticed a couple of guys sitting on the ground but didn’t really pay much attention.
Once off the descent I hammered the flats and over the first riser at the 1k mark. At this point, my chase was useless and I had used up too much without enough help. (Lesson 3 is obvious). Coming around the 200 meter mark for the finish, Chris Wire punched it passed me up the finish hill, I had nothing, using up too much in the chase, and just looked back to see if anyone else was coming. I rolled over the finish in 11th!! I was super pumped and grateful.
However there is a damper to my good race. The two guys we passed earlier on the descent were Brian Bosch and Dan Martin who had both crashed horribly behind Dalusio. Not sure of the circumstance. Regardless, it’s always concerning-especially in a high speed descent. Brian rolled through the finish a little later but he looked pretty banged up–later I saw him at the ambulance. What a tough guy, he took a bad one on the chin and was pretty rashed but it appeared that nothing was broken. Unfortunately, I never saw Dan come down and still haven’t heard any updates. Accidents are always an unfortunate possibility of riding and racing and I hope both have speedy recoveries. Best Wishes Dan and Brian….