I have been dreaming about winning Copper since I first heard this race existed. With shitty roads, hard climbs, wind, and sometimes bad weather, what’s not to love? I raced this race for the first time three years ago, one of my first races in the 35+ 1/2/3 field. I was the last guy to get dropped the last time up the main climb and watched a group of 15 ride away. The next year, I barely hung onto the little guys smashing the main climb on lap 3 and made the last group of 8. My inexperience had me too far up as we approached the line and I got jumped and sprinted for 4th. At that point, I knew this was a race I could win, but man it would be fun to have a team mate or two going into the finish.
We came into this race with the strongest team we’ve ever had here. Oli, Cox, and Josh have been riding better than ever, and with the addition of the breakout star of the year, RoboCop himself, I knew I had all the support I needed and even better, it wasn’t just on me, we had guys who could be successful in a handful of scenarios. As for me, I’ve felt as strong as I ever have thanks to Dana’s detailed and painful workouts, all targeted towards my first A race. All that was left was to decide on the equipment, never an easy chore given the depth of analysis and opinions on this squad… :) I’ve always raced my climbing bike here since the goal was to make the final climb and have the most compliant ride on the rough roads and dangerous descent. But this year, I gambled on my strength and chose aero over light and rode the Venge ViAS. So as long as I could push the weight up the main climb on the last lap, I’d have a serious advantage from there to the finish. Turns out I needed every watt saved. For tires, I wanted fast and comfortable and there’s nothing better than the Turbo Cottons. But given the rough road and potential flats, I upped it to the 26c version. It turned out to be the perfect combination.
Now to the race. We lined up with a moderately sized, yet ridiculously strong field. Superman and Batman (Giles and Baker) were in attendance, as well as the dynamic duo Roemer and Cottell, a chunk of Thirsty Bears including Ariel Hermann and some Squadras, led by the New Kid on the Block, Todd Markelz. Also, coffee rival, Peet’s, lined up a strong crew of Zimny, Theobald, and Boynton.
Lap 1 started uneventfully with a gentlemanly pace up the main climb, which was good since it was a bit chilly and everyone needed the warmup. After cresting and hitting the flats, everything was good and immediately I hear Baker yell that he got a flat. I recalled that he flatted early in the RR at Chico and was back in the group within minutes so I assumed we’d see him shortly. But apparently the Batphone didn’t get cell service and his butler wasn’t there with a batwheel and batmobile to bring him back. Shortly there after, the pace was so painfully slow that someone attacked. The plan was for Oli and Cox to mark strong moves and right on cue, Oli went with the 2nd or 3rd chaser. Pretty quickly a strong break of Ariel, Zimny, Cottell, Oli, and got a good sized gap. All the main teams were represented except Squadra, which was perfect. I was a bit worried about the complexion of the break because if it stayed away, Cottell and Ariel could put Oli in difficulty on the climb. I wanted to get him some help so I asked Josh to be attentive and look for a bridge. But nothing serious really materialized. Squadra was forced to ride the front and they basically held the gap to the break. As we approached the 2nd little climb, I checked my Garmin and they had about 45-50 sec on us. I crossed my fingers that Oli could hang one more time up the main climb and then we’d either be reeling them in or we’d send help.
Lap 2 started a little faster. Markelz was setting a good pace and we blasted through the feedzone. I had gone to the back to try to remove my seatbag which I had stupidly left on. I needed to jettison any extra weight. Todd then basically set the pace the entire way up. I was able to get back up into the top 5 wheels before it got too steep and I wanted to watch him climb. Impressive as he motored up with ease of a Sunday group ride. We caught the break as we got into the last steep part and I told Oli to hang on, we’re almost there. We crested the top and I’d guess that we had shed about half the field. But I looked back and saw our entire team! Oli came straight up and asked if he should go to the front to keep the dropped riders from chasing on. I said go ahead if you have it in you. A solid several minute dig established a gap that proved to be huge. The pace up the climb dropped lots of riders and Oli put the nail in their coffin. When he pulled off, Markelz took over and the rest of the 2nd lap was pretty uneventful. I was focused on staying near the front, remembering to eat and drink, and trying not to flat. One awesome reminder about having smart team mates around you was when Oli floated back to me after doing work and told me to ride further up. I agreed and accelerated towards the front as a small group went hard. My speed kept me with them and boom, match saved for later. Thanks Oli!
Lap 3 started with a bored Robocop begging to be unleashed - “you want me to light it up? you want me to light it up?” "Breath Rob, I have a feeling Markelz wants to show what he can do and whittle the group. Just hang tight and our race will start at the top.” And on cue, Todd led us up again, this time at a slightly more punishing pace. The fatigue was setting in. We made the top and the group was probably down to about 12-15. All of our guys were still there! My fingers were crossed that Markelz was human and his time on the front would take it’s toll. I also hoped that we had shed Giles. Well 1 out 2 ain’t bad… Markelz pulled off the front and Stefano attacked off the front. We were heading east and all of a sudden, I hear “Giles right, Giles right”, and like a speeding bullet, Superman went up the right side. This obviously caused concern in the group and anyone who could went after him. He went hard, as he does, and a smaller group started to form behind him as he caught Stefano and we hit the little kicker before the left turn at the far point of the course. Unfortunately this shed Oli and Josh but also Markelz.
The race was now on and it was perfect for me. A mixture of strong yet tired guys and I had my own superhero, Robocop, just waiting to be activated. The final group consisted of me and Robo, Giles, Cottell, Ariel, Stefano, Theobald, and Jacob Berkman from Thirsty Bear. And here comes superman again but with Robo stuck on him. Cottell counters and I go with him, then another counter, and another. Rob and I were on everything. Ariel gave it a go, as did Jacob, Theobald tried on one of the little rollers. But nothing stuck. At one point, Robo and Theobald had escaped and no one else wanted to chase. For about 30 sec, I thought it was game over. Cottell recognized the same thing and went after them, dragging Stefano with him and I jumped on the back. The action continued and then the save of the day. I had just covered a move and was sitting second wheel when Giles went hard and no one followed. I kept looking back to see who would go after him and nothing. Then from way deep, RoboCop come charging up with guys barely dangling off his wheel. He brought back Giles and disaster averted! The group was starting to tire and again Superman sensed it. Finally he went hard up the right, I anticipated it but was boxed on the left. I went up the left side and connected with his back wheel and away we went. The group was tired and we instantly had a gap. I did everything I could to hang on his wheel and we eventually traded pulls for a couple minutes. We made the left before the right that starts the second climb and I took over the front. As the road pitched up I did the math and thought this was the race. If they somehow brought us back, Robo would be the freshest and should be able to pull it out. I picked up the pace a bit as the climb started and saw Giles shadow start to fade a bit, I picked it up again and he faded further. I sensed the opportunity was now. I got out of the saddle and went hard. The road veered right for the final stretch of climb and I settled into a hard pace until I went over the top and decided to put the ViAS’ descending ability to the test. I pedaled everywhere I could to keep my speed up and with no riders around I could take any line I wanted. I struggled between getting low and aero and sitting up a bit to let the bike bounce underneath me. A couple of times, I felt like I was gonna get bounced off or have the stem hit me in the chin. I looked back a couple of times and couldn’t see anyone. I was all in. I was gonna win or lose trying. I floated around the corners and knew I just had to survive the sharp, off camber left towards the bottom. As the descent flattened out, I got low and went hard across the flat section into the first roller. I looked back and saw black and yellow and it looked like a couple of riders. I couldn’t see Rob and thought someone esle had caught Giles and they were chasing.
I passed the 1km sign and told myself this is gonna be the hardest 1km of my life but I was going for the win at THE Copperopolis Road Race. The team rode a perfect race to put me in this position and everything else had worked out as planned. I was gonna win or die trying. I went over the first roller and they they were charging hard. I have no idea the gap but it was maybe 100 meters? Definitely a big gap but still a long way to go. I put my head down and tried to milk every watt out of my bike and body. Another look back and the gap was bigger. Keep going, almost there. 500 meters. Another look back and they were closing fast. The road pitched up and I could see the 200 meter sign. I got out of the saddle and could barely get my legs around the squares. I passed the 200 meter sign and the road bends right. Head down and dig! I felt myself fading and was just waiting for Giles black shadow to sweep me up and then from the sky above, I heard “Go Matt, Go”! It was Rob yelling from behind. One more dig out of the saddle and and no once came. I rolled across the line with my head on the bars, barely able to breathe. Rob rolled by, pumping his fists, and hooting and hollering. He, Cottell and Giles came together on the descent and he rode their wheels the rest of the way and took them both in the sprint, and when I say sprint, I mean him riding the last 50 meters with his arms up, cheering me on to victory, a victory that could just as easily have gone to him.
Truly a special day and an amazing race by the whole team. I’m in awe of how we rode this race and am grateful for the opportunity to bring it home and thankful that I was able to close the deal. This day is a day I’ll remember for a long time because we all did it together.