Sunday, April 12, 2009

Copperopolis 45+ 1,2,3

By Mark Edwards
Photo Matt Werner, PhotoShop Lorin Gross

Last year’s Copperopolis road race marked my first entry in a 45+ 1,2,3 field. It also meant I’d be doing three laps (63 miles) vs. 2 laps (42 miles) on the bone rattling roads around Milton Ca. To say I was nervous would be an understatement. As it turned out, it worked out very well. Of the 40 starters, I was able to bridge from the first chase group to the leaders in the final 20 minutes to finish 3rd. Geoff, racing with me, provided blocking support that may very well have made the difference between the podium or not for me. Having a teammate’s support really makes the entire racing experience better.

This year my fitness and confidence were far ahead of last year’s. It’s still an intimidating race. The pounding your body and bike take punish your equipment and will to no end, broken bodies and bikes litter the course. But last year’s upgrade to Cat 2, a couple of recent wins, and improved power numbers all helped me feel prepared for this year’s “Paris- Roubaix of Northern California”.

But then, the doubts creep in… Last year’s podium spot was the result of an unplanned bridge, the group wasn’t motivated to chase, Geoff was able to block…

… then there was this year’s field. 60 guys vs. 40 last year, an increase of 50%. The list of starters was also impressive, if not down right intimidating. 3 World Champions, a National Champion, the current District Champion, and a whole host of really strong and accomplished Cat. 1,2, and 3 racers.

What if I made a poor decision? Had a mechanical? Got boxed in? Crashed? Popped on the climb? Well, at least if I crashed most people would forget about the lack of results.

Russ, Geoff, and I went into the first climb imbedded in the full field. 60 guys on a twisty super bumpy narrow single lane is tight. Lots of bumping and pushing as bikes bounce left and right a foot at a time. It was hard to move up, make that impossible – for me.

Near the top of the first climb Jon Ornstil, Clark Foy, and James Allen (three super strong contenders in any road race) opened a gap on the field. I was locked in behind 25 guys and could only watch as they rode off. But I was also relieved. Riding, head down all out with 3 guys for the next 3 hours… the seemingly never ending jackhammer your seat becomes wasn’t especially appealing.

On the second lap, on the first big climb, Rob Anderson went to the front and showed us how a World Champion climbs. He did some serious damage in the group; we crested with half the guys we started with. Then, about 90 minutes after the break had gone clear, we reeled those brave soles back in. They were clearly worse for the wear.

The start of the third lap, marked by one final tooth jarring accent was once again fast. This time Geoff headed to the front near the top of the climb and showed the group how we climb in Santa Cruz. I don’t know that any of the final group (about 12 at this point) got dropped, but most were completely spent by the effort. Way to go Geoff!

The final run in after cresting the climb was filled with attacks and counter attacks. I’m sure I wasn’t the only one praying not to cramp. About 20 minutes from the finish a rider unknown to me, in unfamiliar red and white kit, attacked. It was a bold move, and one that might potentially pay off big time. No one responded, soon he was a half mile up the road. Then the cat and mouse started… attack… sit up… attack… sit up…attack. This was followed by the bickering, “you chase”, “no you chase, you’ve got a teammate”. Then, the comment that got me, “I hope that guy wins, he deserves it”.

About this time we were approaching the base of the final climb. It’s short, but it had a headwind, and everyone’s tired at this point. Once again, Geoff assumed his smooth spinning, rip your legs off – slowly – position on the front. He ramped the pace up putting the group in distress. About half way up Anderson, as expected, went to the front and elevated the pace with a rider on his wheel and me just behind.

The solo guy off the front was out of sight, we were racing for 2nd. But I was still annoyed by some of the petty comments earlier. Anderson was breathing really hard, so 2/3rds of the way up the final climb I attacked. Checking over my shoulder every couple of seconds I could see I was opening a gap. About a mile of rollers follow the final climb, then a wicked fast bumpy technical decent into the final rolling mile and uphill finish.

At the summit I figured I had about 20-30 seconds. If I could make it to the decent I could hold my advantage. Then, I’d likely need the entire gap to hold off the chasing group in the final mile.

I dropped into TT mode and pushed as hard as I could. “what’s that ahead?” It was the solo guy. He was still way far ahead, but maybe… I knew I could descend better than most, maybe I could pull back some time?

Popping out at the bottom of the descent the leader still had ¼ of a mile on me. Again, down low on my bars, I started pushing. I didn’t want to blow up, I kept repeating “ride your own race, ride your own race…” I set a pace I felt I could hold for 2-3 minutes. As the finishing hill appeared on the horizon the leader saw me chasing. It still seemed like he was way too far ahead to catch, but I was hoping that seeing me would panic him into over exerting himself and blowing up.

If it happened as I hoped, he’d blow just as the grade kicked up, dropping him to a crawl. At 200 meters I was now on the steeper section. He had 100 feet on me, but he was slowing. I came out of the saddle and started my sprint. At about 150 feet from the line I was 15 feet behind him when he let out a string of expletives, sat down, and hung his head. He was so close, for a moment I felt a little bad. But heck! We’ve talking about a win in one of the NCNCA’s most prestigious races! Still accelerating, I flew by. Then, sitting down, I zipped up my jersey and smiled for the camera.

A very gratifying win, made even sweeter by Geoff’s excellent 5th place, and Russ’ super race – despite a mechanical in the final miles.


Nils said...

Congratulations on another win Mark! Sounds like a perfectly-executed race. I would've loved to see the attack you pulled at the end.

Dennis the Mennis said...

Yes, truly amazing Mark! And yet you're nice enough to let me pretend to be on the same team as you! ;-)