Monday, April 9, 2012

Copperopolis Road Race 55+, 4/7/2012

By Bob Montague

Saturday was the race I had targeted as my most important race of the season. I really like the course, and I was hoping to do well. Ed and I carpooled up together and met up with Jim Langley and John Schaup. Ed had signed up for the 45+ [category] 4 race, and the rest of us were in the 55+ open field. Our race was stacked with all of the biggest names in our age group in Northern California. The headliners were Rob Anderson, Mark Caldwell, Steve Archer, Kevin Susco and our own Jim Langley. I also expected to see Chris Cerutti, but he was still recovering from illness. Still, we started with near, if not at our limit of 50 guys at the line.

The pace started off brisk and the initial piece of roadway going down to the feed zone hill is poor at best. I was already at the back of the group on the way down and I realized that would not do if I was going to have any chance of getting up the hill with the leaders. I moved up to the row behind Jim. I know that I can’t out-climb him, but I was hoping to be able to hang on his wheel up the climb. As soon as the feed zone arrived, Rob Anderson set the pace. He is an interesting racer in that he does not have a really big top end. However, when he gets a gap, there are few in our group who can both bridge that gap and then maintain his pace. On this day, he opened that gap with 4 others (Caldwell, Archer, Susco and a guy named George Smith). At the top of the climb, I was maybe 5 seconds off of Jim and he was 15-20 seconds off of this lead group. Jim and I regrouped with 8-10 others and we began to chase. I used the first few moments to recover as Jim was leading our chase group. I realized that our chase was not going to be fast enough to reel the lead group back and I moved to the front. I also wanted to give Jim the chance to sit in with the group. I raced with Anderson at Topsport and I felt that our group could chase them down if we worked together and chased hard. Only one other guy in our group was willing or able to chase as hard as we needed to to bring back the leaders. Jim told me he had hurt himself too much on the climb and perhaps others were in the same circumstance. I worked hard to drive the pace and for the remainder of the first lap, our gap behind the lead group remained about the same. By the time we reached the top of the second climb, it had become clear that we did not have the will to chase down the leaders.

From this point our task changed from one of chasing to one of preparing for the last lap and finish. I could tell that I was as strong as anyone in our group. I went off the front at the finish line at the end of the first lap and stayed away to the bottom of the hill before the feed zone hill. The second time up the main climb was easier than the first. In the group ahead of us, Susco had flatted and George had thrown his chain and dropped back to us. I was trying to think about how to position myself to help Jim at the finish, but he told me that he still could not recover from the first time up the climb. I was feeling good and driving the pace of our group, but I knew there were some better sprinters than me. Kevin Willits and Joe Lemieux along with Marc Hamlin as well as others. I expect that I was the least experienced racer in our group. That probably contributed to my placing at the finish. I did not try to get a gap on the last climb, but in retrospect, I think I should have. Still, a few guys, including Jim, got gapped. I was in front going over the top and everyone hammered the descent pretty hard. I was feeling good and wanted to make my best effort going to the line. I was hoping to go with Willits and when he started his move, so did I. Unfortunately, I got crowded to the edge of the road and had to scrub speed to stay on the road. I tried to reload, but everyone had passed me by and were heading for the line by the time I was able to go again. At that point, I went as hard as I could and passed 2 guys right before the line. I finished 11th and Jim came in at 15th. I would have been happier if I had been able to finish stronger, but I was really thrilled to be able to finish with the caliber of racers that I did cross the line with!

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