images: Alex Chiu
When the nickname for a race is the “Paris-Roubaix of Northern California,” you know you’re in for a treat. With a circuit that includes two climbs and some gnarly road surfaces, Copperopolis Road Race certainly felt as close to cobbles as a ‘paved’ road surface could get. I still have pleasant dreams of the short, freshly paved section of the main climb that was sandwiched by rough roads.
The team’s plan was relatively simple – mark the threats, some guys need to make the early break, and Chris or I needed to be there for lap three when the hopeful ‘winning move’ would be made. Funny how fast plans can change in racing! We had seven guys, the next biggest team had eight.
It was actually a bit cold at the start, and my decision to not warm up before the race wasn’t the best. The main climb on the first lap was no walk in the park, but got the legs ready to roll on the flats. A couple moves tried to go early, but were marked by Andy, Craig, Cameron, Roman, Chris, and Aria immediately. A small break of two TMB riders and two Herbalife riders went up the road once we hit the flats. Riders attempted to bridge, but their moves were happily marked by our riders. At one point, Chris HD and I began to bridge up to the front move, until we were joined by a rider from Lupus, then another from JL-Velo. Eventually, these riders put in some big turns with each other to bring us to the break – now three TMB riders, three Herbalife riders, and the two other riders. Our gap rolling in the main climb on the second lap was roughly a minute and thirty seconds. The field must have nuked it in chase, as we were caught by the top of the climb.
Roman and Chris both kept me on my toes as additional attacks started flying. Tim Rugg from Herbalife came up on the right side of the road as I heard Chris yelling from behind me. I grabbed Tim’s wheel as a gap formed. He looked at me and said something along the lines of “yeah… I’ll work with this.” If he was in, I was in – though the thought of nearly 60 miles out front was a little intimidating. We worked really well together as our gap grew to nearly six minutes at the max (that’s the one of two time gaps we were actually told…). In hearing this time gap, we were told there were some riders trying to bridge – and they always seemed to be between 40 seconds and two minutes. Not the best numbers, but we were determined to stay out front.
Tim and I chatted about life, the donkeys on the side of the road, and the political correctness of what to say to a rider we were passing from other fields. I’ll tell you, not seeing the donkeys on the fifth lap was a mental blow.
Going into the last lap, we started to see a group of four-ish riders attempting to bridge behind us once we hit the flat section of the course. After running out of food at the end of the third lap (lessons learned to not bank on the race moto letting the van up to the break), I was admittedly getting a little nervous of the shrinking gap. At the same time, I had done a decent job eating the Probars and OSMO electrolyte drink I had! I knew if we hit the last climb without taking it too easy, there was a good chance we were set for the finish. Full gas on the descent, I pulled around Tim on one of the last corners and realized I had made a mistake… he likely wasn’t going to come back around me going into the last 1.5km – and he didn’t. Coming into the base of the final finish hill with roughly 350m to go, I hit it really hard. Unfortunately, Tim was glued to my wheel. I sat up at the 200m to go sign hoping he would charge around me. Without any movement with about 150m to go, I decided that I had nothing else in the cards apart from just going for it – seeing Roman jumping up and down at the finish line was a little extra motivation in knowing I could cross the line first! My Specialized Venge ViAS was perfect for this finish situation, and I knew I had aerodynamics on my side. Being able to post up without the worry of 25mph gusts (Bariani) was a great feeling!
On to Redlands!