Saturday was the day for one of the hardest races on the calendar. Copperopolis is a grueling road race over windy, rolling, hilly terrain, and roads that are made up of patches and potholes. I was excited to be a part of it. This would be my second ever race with my new age group, the 55+. As in my first event with this group, I would be in an open race, rather than the category 4 & 5 cyclists that I have become accustomed to in the 35+ & 45+ categories.
I recognized a few names on the list of registered entrants. One was Mark Caldwell, the former pro, who I knew a little about from my race at Madera. Also, Scott Hennesey, who I had met at Madera, was signed up. One guy I had not raced with but had heard of was Rob Anderson. Jim Langley told me to look for a guy in an old Specialized kit. He had told me he didn’t understand why the guy didn’t get a new kit until he spotted the world champion stripes on the sleeve. I saw them, and I can’t say that I blame him. Ed Price and I were signed up for the Trip, and I was glad to see another familiar face in Chris Cerutti at the start line. In all, I think we had 40+ guys at the start, and we were off.
From the start line the race makes an immediate left turn and drops down a section of pave to the slight uphill at the feed zone. Before we had even reached the feed zone, I saw Anderson go by on the left of the pack. I’m not sure if his move would be called an attack, but even though it drew a response, and a couple of guys were able to jump off with him, the gap was not great and he did not turn up the pace but simply held it. In so doing, he managed to rip the pack apart from the very start of the race. Ed told me later that he knew from early on that he wasn’t going to have his way on this day. I didn’t see him after the start until we were back at the car. For my own part, I tried to stay focused on staying on the wheels of the guys I was riding with. We were the first chase group and there were somewhere around 20 of us left by the time we were halfway up the first climb. I worked hard to keep my pedals spinning and to conserve my energy and I was pleased to get over the top of the climb with this group. I felt pretty good, but I also realized that I was with some pretty good cyclists. Among them was Cerutti, a couple of guys from Paco’s in Truckee, and several Morgan Stanley cyclists. I saw that Caldwell was not with us and that confirmed my thinking from earlier that he had gone with Anderson. I expected the Morgan Stanley guys would not chase too hard with their man in the break, and so it seemed. Cerutti and I worked to organize a chase, but it seemed the Morgan Stanley guys would make the effort to break the rythym. Every now and then, we caught a glimpse of the leaders and it looked like Caldwell might be coming back to us. Still, our group seemed to back off a bit as we reached the second climbing section that leads to a sketchy descent and the end of the first of two laps. On the descent, I was on Cerutti’s wheel until I realized that for some unknown reason he was taking the descent tentatively. I didn’t want to get dropped on the downhill so I went around him and charged on. After crossing the line at the end of the lap, I saw that Caldwell had indeed come back to us and our group was down to about 15 - 16. The bad news was that Cerutti was not to be seen again, and Morgan Stanley now had four strong riders with Caldwell at the helm to work the rest of us over. I knew they would work to set a vicious tempo on the climb.
I tried to rest and recover. I drank, I consumed my whole flask of gel, I kept working to spin my legs out and deepen my breathing. Still, the pace had already been quite hard and with very little letup; and there is no doubt that I was the biggest boy left.
But I told myself that I had made it up the main climb with these guys the first time, and I would sure as heck do it the second. As the climb began, I could feel the lack of strength in my legs, but I did all I could to keep spinning. Little gaps would open, but I increased my spin and caught back on. Four or five of our group could not hold the pace and were dropped on the lower half of the climb. About 3/4 of the way up, I got gapped along with 2 other guys. We took turns trying to pull ourselves back on, but finally the string broke and we were dropped. Still, we all three continued to chase as hard as we could, but the gap, by the time we got over the top of the climb, was substantial. A little recovery, and back to the chase.
We just didn’t have the gas to get back on as the gap was too large, but we received encouragement from others we passed on the road as well as one of the motor refs who even gave us a brief pull in the tailwind section. Still we continued to work hard and one of us three, a guy in a Paco’s kit, was dropped. Michael Lynch, from Fun Sport Bikes, and I continued on as best we could and even though we kept overtaking cyclists on the road, none of them turned out to be from our group. As we approached the last short climb, I had to apologize and simply sit on Michael’s wheel. I was cooked, but he either didn’t have enough left to ride off on me, or he was just too nice to do it. As we hit the final descent, I took the lead and did all I could to hammer out a gap, to no avail. I decided to try and duplicate a short interval I have been trying up Bonita (1 minute at L5 followed by whatever it takes to the line at L6 - approx 30secs). It might have worked, but I had to get some kind of gap at the start and I simply didn’t accomplish that. Michael came around me and beat me to the line for 10th. Although I would have loved to have finished top 10, I was very happy to be 11th and the last rider to be scored as a finisher in our race. I like my new age group. I even feel like I might be able to learn to race well against these guys. I hope so!