By Rob Amatelli

Copperopolis.  A California Road Racing Classic.  Empress to all amateur bike races.  The Queen of the Classics, and for one euphoric moment on the Saturday before Easter, the mistress of one worthy conquerer.  It is written that only champions stiffened by an army of warriors with demigod-like powers possessing the purest of beating hearts and boasting unyielding strength will have the merit to lift her skirt and vie for her spoils.  To achieve such everlasting immortality one must first traverse eighty-five miles of the most cragged and scabrous terrain ever implanted on this terrestrial sphere we call Earth.  Mortal straphangers stand nary a chance against the menacing parcours set out by the Queen, and will be mercilessly crucified as punishment for such unabated insolence.  

Enlisted and qualified among our ranks that day: Madams, Oli, Sparkelz, Señor Donkey, Rooster, Pizza, and me Robo.  A worthy ensemble comprised of enough majestic force to rip the legs off any and every troll who dare threaten our premeditated barrage on the competition.  Among us forty other dogged and purposeful mercenaries with similar ambitions came prepared for the hostilities, willing to employ their own talents in a bid for the booty.  Though many of them honorable, none possessed the depth and synergy that is omnipresent in our band of hardened marauders.  Though we stood tallest amongst the teams, one man's strength transcended the capabilities of all others, even our own demigods.  According to cycling lore he was once bitten by a cobra, and after five days of excruciating pain, the cobra died.  He goes by the name Coble.          

The race commenced and the pace heightened immediately as men fought for position going into the precipitous early slopes of the course.  Cold patches of tar littered the crumbling pave, spraying shards of oily rock at the competitors.  In an attempt to shed the weakest riders and break up the field, several of our adversaries drove a fierce pace through a countryside blanketed in mutilated tarmac.  

Half way through the race, in a cagey display of tactical brilliance, Madams and Oli slipped away from the group.  With the field already decimated, those astute enough to sense the danger quickly reacted and leapt away to join our men.  Noting that Coble remained anchored to the dwindling powers of the chase in favor of letting his mate Will Riffelmacher ride the breakaway, Señor Donkey, Rooster, Sparkelz and I also secured ourselves at the rear of affairs acting as watchdogs over Coble.  Even though Madams and Oli are both proven champions, the combined strength of the men around them made victory less than certain.  Nevertheless they were in a group without Coble and that represented our most prolific opportunity for victory.  They quickly established a ninety second advantage over our group of weakening chasers.  

After a harrowing descent that plummeted down over the most ragged of the courses surfaces, the referee informed us the leaders had nearly two minutes advantage.  Optimistic that my brethren would handle business, I was nonetheless certain my own race for glory was over.  Just as the thought crossed my mind the cycling Gods imposed their will.  The destructive and malevolent roads of Copperopolis had claimed Pizza's machine earlier in the race. as well as many of the others, and now Coble had fallen victim to the same misfortune when his tire punctured and he was forced to stop.  Anyone else would have been out of the race.  But this was a man who wrote an autobiography that later became known as the Guiness Book of World Records.  I knew he would come back to us, I just didn't know when.  I seized the opportunity to improve our chances.  

Quickly I hatched a plan to take Sparkelz and bridge to the leading group of six.  With Coble stalled by his wheel change we were free to attack the remaining chasers and rejoin the front of affairs, giving us a strong advantage in numbers.  After discussing the strategy with Señor Donkey, Rooster, and Sparkelz, we were all resolved to the endeavor.  Señor Donkey rode a hard tempo into the foot of the climb, tiring all but the strongest of legs.  Sparkelz then leapt away from the last of the competitors as if he had wings.  I could see as he rode away he was taking their souls with him.  As they hung their heads in defeat I launched my own attack.  The plan worked perfectly.  Sparkelz had decimated the remnants allowing me to escape in his wake.  He nursed me up the steepest pitches of the hillside over the next several minutes as I imposed the death of a thousand soles on myself.  We would finally reach the summit where the gradient leveled and I was able to contribute to the pace making.  

After catching the breakaway and taking a moment to asses my condition, I caught my breath and prepared to fight.  With thirty miles left to race over such unforgiving terrain against such rugged men, I prepared myself mentally for the rigors to come.  Soon enough we were back on the slopes of the sinister climb to the plateau and right on cue Sparkelz launches another vicious attack that none could follow.  A small group of four formed behind him.  Madams, Jeromy Cottell, Will Riffelmacher, and Dan Bryant.  Dropped and trailing ten seconds behind I gritted my teeth willing myself to make it to the top and regain contact in an effort to help protect Sparkelz's bid for greatness.  My perseverance paid off as we crested the summit and I slipped back into the draft of the quartet.    

Exhausted from the effort, it took an incredible amount of concentration to stay in the shelter of their wheels.  Before long Cottell submitted to fatigue and fell back.  Then Will stopped taking his turns on the front.  The pace slowed and I was all but certain this was Sparkelz's day.  Little did we know the mighty Coble was closing in fast and a mere one-hundred meters behind us charging like a raging bull with steam coming from his nostrils ready to run us over and leave us for dead.  

Then the powerhouse that is Dan Bryant decided he wasn't racing for second and ramped up the pace to an almost unbearable clip of speed.  It took everything I had to stay in his draft.  After fifteen minutes of hell on wheels I look back to see it was only Will and myself behind Bryant, who was riding like he was on a mission from God.  We tore through the remnants of other fields like they were stuck to the ground when suddenly I could see Sparkelz just ahead of us.  Smelling blood, Bryant stayed on the rivet and swept up Sparkelz in an indomitable display of speed and endurance.  Without hesitation Will attacks our group to test our resolve.  Unwilling to succumb to the pain in my body I somehow manage to follow his acceleration.  When it was clear that I still had fight Will wisely slowed to save his energy and the four of us rode defensively into the final hill before the ever treacherous descent.    

When we finally began the short ascent Will attacked again but Sparkelz was ready for him.  Bryant was also able to follow and again, I am dropped.  I struggle up the hill yet am able to keep them within striking distance.  Ultimately I managed to make contact just as we begin the bone rattling descent for the last time.  

Riding into the final two kilometers Sparkelz sees I am on the front and intuitively takes over control, forcing Will to go around me.  I slip behind Will to get his wheel.  I am exactly where I need to be.  Sparkelz rides an even pace delivering us two-hundred meters from the line when Will starts his sprint!  I react instantly and am right on top of him as we drag around the bend shoulder to shoulder.  He takes the shorter inside line and is turning a big gear; but I have one more shift left in me.  I drop the hammer and kick again! I'm pulling away and adrenaline floods my body.  Bearing down I give it everything I've got when excitement overwhelms me as I realize I am about to win.    

Howling with delight I cross the line with fists pumping!  I've won!  I can't believe it, but I've somehow won the race.    

 

Rejoining my teammates after the race we embrace with celebratory hugs, reliving the chain of events that led to one of our own crossing the line first for the second year in a row.  Truly a team victory, it took seven of us and an act from the Gods to defeat Coble, who in a display of pure physical strength managed to finish fifth after repairing his wheel and ripping through the bodies left behind.  His legend grows. 

For now however, the spoils once again belong to Team Mike's Bikes.