April 11, 2009
By Geoff Drake
I really like this race—the jackhammer roads, the climbing, and the scenery give it an epic quality. People seem to almost gasp when they say it: Copperopolis.
Last year I had a mixed result: I hung on to the first group but suffered greatly on the final climb; I recovered enough to help block for Mark; then I unshipped my chain, had to stop on the side of the road, and finished 14th.
This year I knew I was fitter, after a year on Mark’s program. I felt pretty sure I could stay with the leaders over the climbs, and maybe even animate things a bit. A good feeling to have when you’re on the starting line!
At the top of the first big climb, I was close enough to the front to see the three escape artists get away. I could have killed myself to go with them, but it just seemed too early for a breakaway. It took another lap, but we reeled them in. Gruppo compatto. All together.
With those three back in the fold, we had to figure out what to do next. Mark has become a master strategist, and I kept sidling up to him to ask: “What’s the plan, boss?” But it’s gotten to the point that Mark is so marked (pun intended) that he can’t even speak freely in the peloton. As soon as he would try to answer me, a hush would fall over the group and everyone would lean in to garner a few tidbits from the master. Bottom line: we couldn’t share many secrets.
On the third climb, I ended up leading over the top. I wasn’t sure how it even happened—I just went at my normal rhythm and pretty soon, there I was. It was fun. I felt really good and even stood up a bit and put it in the big ring over the top.
Out on the flat windy bits, Marked asked how I was feeling. “Good!” I said. He encouraged me to try an attack as soon as we went out of the wind, which I did. But a few moments later, I crested a small rise and was hit by what felt like a hurricane-force headwind. Humbled, I rolled back into the pack.
I put the pressure on a bit at the bottom of the final climb. Toward the top, Mark went after the lone rider who had escaped. Mark was on a mission and I knew he would catch him—it felt just like what had happened last year!
Approaching the finish, I started my effort a little too late and two riders got up the road ahead of me. But I held off everyone behind to take fifth.
If I learned anything this race, it’s that I need to be more confident and assertive. I think the legs are there. I just need the brain to follow!
It was a fun race, with so many good results for everyone on the team. Jim had us all busting a gut laughing with his stories on the way home. A fine day.