Despite being one of my favorite races on the calendar, I haven’t had the chance to race Copperopolis since 2008. In the days leading up to the race, I wasn’t sure how I would do. The sensations on the bike have been good, but since moving back to the flatlands of Sacramento, my focus has been less and less on extended climbing and more on short-term power. I knew I was going to have to pull a lot of tricks out of the ol’ bag to get a result, but I wasn’t too worried as I’m on a team that has several guys who have the ability to do well at this race.
As Ben Jacques Maynes said, “This is a great race to be out front”. Despite the long distance (108mi), the unforgiving terrain (everything still hurts), and the wind (headwinds at a 3/1 ratio to tailwinds), the early break always has a chance at staying away. With this in mind, the team’s goal was to put at least one rider in the early break and then hopefully have the fresher riders bridge up later in the race.
Just before the first climb on lap 1, I followed an attack by Chris HD, and shortly after, 5 riders bridged to make a lead group of 7. With a little re-shuffling, we would finish the first lap as a group of 5, with a minute over an already shattered peloton. Joining me in the day’s long adventure was teammate Walton Brush, along with fellow brothers in suffering, Chris HD, Ben JM, and Kyle Murphy. Needless to say, it was going to be a long day, especially with BJM throwing down the watts every time we went uphill.
Coming into the 3rd lap, our group was joined by teammate Roman Kilun, MarcPro’s Justin Rossi, and Sam Cerruti. With the corresponding ill-fated flat from Chris HD, Team Mike’s Bikes found ourselves with 3 riders in a group of 7 with ~60mi to race. However, since we weren’t willing to ride the front all day long and let people sit on, the pace slowed, allowing Marc Pro’s Jonathan Teeter and Max Jenkins to bridge, evening the odds.
Then the attacks started happening. With over 50 miles still to go, any thoughts of cooperation seemed to go out the window. I wasn’t excited to ride 50 more miles in small groups of 1 or 2, but hey, “when in Rome…”. Max goes, I cover. Max goes again, Roman covers. Rossi goes, I cover, and we have a good gap. We start swapping turns on the front when BJM bridges up. He decides we still aren’t racing hard enough and attacks straight through us. Not wanting to ride that hard (or more likely not able to ride that hard), Rossi and I decide that we would try to keep BJM at 20-30 seconds and ride him slowly back as the wind started to pick up. After all, Rossi is an accomplished TTer, I’ve been known to hold my own, and there was still 45mi to go. Of course we’d catch him…right?
Well, after another lap of solid work, that outcome became less and less likely. I alternated from bonking to feeling good about 3 different times and was glad I packed 8 hours of ProBar in my pockets, because I devoured anything I could get my hands on. Finally, with about 10mi to go, we were caught by the Jenkins/Kilun/Murphy trio. Some of the guys thought we could still catch BJM, so they kept hammering at the front. I wasn’t so sure, plus I was starting to look pretty ragged. Despite my body’s insistence that I was done, I knew I had to “man up” when Roman asked me if I could seal the deal if he brought me to the last climb. I figured that no matter how much I was suffering, it was going to be hard to get rid of me on the final climb.
We started the final climb nice and easy. Here I am, thinking we’re going to soft pedal up the climb, when Rossi throws down a digger. I give him a sec to get a gap before I decide to punch it across and closed the gap just before the descent. We traded off a few pulls (yours truly probably more half-heartedly) and came into 1k to go with 10sec in front of a charging Jenkins. Jenkins was coming up fast, so I was positioning myself to be ready for him to blow by us, while also watching for Rossi to jump early. Rossi jumped at 250m to go and I was able to pop by at 150m to grab 2nd place. Roman rolled in for a super well-deserved 6th place and Walton held on for 8th (they counted Cat 2’s separate for upgrade points, so expect to see him with a “1” on his license soon).
Thanks to everyone out there for all the support. Thank you to Chris Riekert for letting me borrow his bombproof Zipp 202’s and all the volunteers and friends for the much needed feeds. Thanks to my awesome teammates for a job well done and thanks to everyone who came out and supported this California Classic.