berkeley_hills_road_race_cat3_2018

In the photo: Mathias Jacquelin

Written by Mathias. 

I have a particular history with Berkeley Hills Road Race. This wonderful event was my first road race ever as a Cat 5 a few years ago, and I always loved the 3 bears course. It was therefore a major target for me this season. The last three races I participated in were all ruined by mechanical failures and punctures. Needless to say that I was more than motivated to stop this trend.

The course is as follows: San Pablo Dam Road, a long straight and slightly uphill stretch of road followed by a fast descent, turning right onto Castro Ranch Road, a bumpy road with a descent kicker. The next right takes you to Alhambra Valley Road, a gorgeous winding road in the middle of the fields, with a couple of rollers. The next right takes you to Bear Creek Road, the main difficulty of the course, with three punchy climbs: Mama Bear, a descent leading to Papa Bear (on top of which the finish line is), then a very fast and long descent leading to a small kicker called Baby Bear, which takes you back onto San Pablo Dam Road.

Berkeley Hills always draws a large field, and there were 37 Cat 3s to start the 4-lap race. TMB had 4 riders: Connor, Jason, Leo, and myself. My plan was pretty clear: I would try to break away from the field at lap 3, no matter what the outcome was, I wanted to try something instead of waiting for the usual sprint up the last climb.

The race started at an unusual “coffee-ride” pace, our team staying near the front at all times to avoid letting anyone dangerous go away. During the second lap, a rider from Team Swift attacked on Alhambra Valley Road to which I responded and both of us were a little bit in front of the field but we gave up as it was pretty obvious that this one would not stick.

Entering the climbs, the second rider from Team Swift went off the front together with Trevor from Dolce Vita Freewheel. As they were both dangerous riders, we made sure that they did not get too far, and progressively brought them back without making too much effort. After the long descent following Papa bear, the gap was closed. We were now starting lap 3.

I wanted to go away during the third lap, and asked Trevor if he wanted to be in it, which he accepted. On Alhambra Valley Road, I wanted him to make the effort to create a gap and take his wheel. Of course, Trevor wanted me to do the same thing, and nothing really happened. This is where the peloton (and Trevor) made the mistake of letting me soft pedaling my way out of the group, and I found myself probably 20 yards in front of the pack. Nobody seemed to care, so I decided to have a little moment to myself, and sprinted my way out exiting a corner. Here I was, off the front. I went back to threshold and went in the “zone” mentally. 

I went hard on the climbs at lap 3, but not too hard because I knew I would have to resist the chase group on a long flat section (San Pablo Dam Road). I was still solo off the front when coming back on San Pablo, and did a TT effort there. My goal during that last lap was to get as much of a cushion as possible for the last set of climbs, because I knew I would be tired by then. 

Coming back onto Castro Ranch and Alhambra Valley roads, I had a 55 second gap on the chase group, and I was determined to maintain this gap. As I didn't exactly know who was behind me, I relaunched whenever I was out of a corner, out of sight of any potential opponents. I then "managed" my lead on the climbs, especially the last climb on Papa Bear which I started with a 30 seconds lead. At that point I knew it was game over for the chase group and victory was mine. The main risk was cramping so I set a moderate pace, and then just observed what was happening behind me. I saw Trevor standing up and do a massive effort in the distance. Staying seated, I managed my gap on him, and lost most of my gap, but I didn't care, I had won Berkeley Hills Road Race!

A big thumbs up to my teammates, some suffering from punctures, some from allergies, and some managing the pace of the peloton once I was away like pure professionals. Many thanks to Mike’s Bikes and our sponsors. I promise next time I will use more Gu gels!