4th…but Overmatched by a Well-Orchestrated CW Race Plan

Six weeks ago in reviewing my training and race preparation plan (trainingpeaks.com) and the progress that I had made to date; I came to the conclusion that Copperopolis was an ‘ideal’ peak period race for me. This deduction wasn’t arrived at without much self doubt and self criticism. My memories from 1991 are etched into my brain: flatting (while being dropped) on the first climb; being caught and pass by 4 or 5 groups (even the junior I remember) only to abandon in shame after the first lap. Additionally I’ve had issues all year with cramping during race events that are either stressed induced (trying to hard) or course induced (lots of bad pavement) or nutrition (although I think I’m sticking with my pre and during race nutrition). So it was with fear, trepidation, and respect that I signed up for Copperopolis.

After I quiet warm-up with Ben Holland and Jim Torrence (Eden Bicycles) I was still feeling nervous when we lined up for the line. I was contemplating the Good Friday service I attended at Community Presbyterian Church Danville on the last 7 phrases Jesus spoke while on the cross…and specifically “into your hands I commit…” where God’s grace is what we need, completely undeserved, but free and freeing, all of the time. Races included! And then we were off…

Copperopolis is hard because the pavement is horrible – patched, rutted, cattle guards, gravel –relentless with one 15+ minute climb, a windy plateau, followed by 5+ minute climb and a hand numbing, nail biting descent with a few rollers before the finish.

The first climb was fairly calm and uneventful with a few guys left behind. Our field contained about 25 at the start; my smallest field this year…maybe the course notoriety? Cushman Wakefield was well represented with a team of five, then Kovarus, Victory Velo, Body Concepts, CA Technologies, and Christian Cycling each had two. Ben pointed at one of the CW riders, Henrik Schubert, who was being protected (wasn’t even carrying a water bottle on the climb – it was being portered by a teammate). I nodded in full understanding of their intent. At the top, the pace was hard but manageable. In such a small field I stayed near the back and let the other teams work. At about mile 15 both CA riders broke away as we turned into the wind. Ben immediately bridged up to them. They maintained a 15 second gap for about 5 minutes when Ben launched a solo attack away from them (he was thinking that the climb was closer than it was). As they were absorbed back into the group Ben’s lead swelled to a minute. Then CW took control of the field riding hard tempo up and over the small climb. On the descent I was behind a slower rider and we lost contact from the CW group and had to bridge near the finish line.

As we neared the feed zone on the second lap Ben’s lead was down to 15 seconds. As we began rolling up the steeper section of the climb Ben’s final words to me were “I’m cramping…good luck.” I myself had begun to feel the effects of the course with some initial cramps in my legs…but the lungs were good. Two riders broke away on the steepest section of the climb. By the top one had been caught but the other was out of sight. We were receiving time gaps from the race official: 45 seconds, 1 minute, 1:15 seconds. As it was one of the CW riders, the Victory Velo riders and CA guys chased but kept losing time. I sat in with no teammates and already cramping.

Finally a CA rider tries to break away at the base of the last climb. As he is caught a second CW hammers off the front. The remaining nine-rider ‘field’ hesitates. Finally, one of the unattached riders chases followed by the Henrik, the protected CW rider. I jump and latch onto Henrik’s wheel as he was the one I was marking the entire race. Nearing the top, our lead rider falters and the field is splintered. After a brief respite I realize that the Henrik will not work with two teammates ahead and, since I don’t want the field to regroup, I use what power I have left to crest the hill and lead the descent. Midway down the descent Henrik jumps hard and with his ~50 mph top speed gains time on me. My bike is in the air as much as it is bouncing on the potholed pavement. I chase hard and see that we are closing on the number two rider at 1 km. With 200 meters to go Henrik catches the second one and the lead guy is faltering. At 50 meters they catch the lead guy, Kevin O’Donnell but let him win with Henrik in second. A CW 1-2-3 sweep, as I watch helplessly from behind, crossing the finish line 10 seconds back but closing . . .

Ben managed to recoup and ride solo to finish 12th. I get my first podium photo ever (and a tee shirt) but feel a little sheepish in the lineup. As my wife texted me “You look like the lost little stepchild in that picture.” All in all a good day, not mentally hard, as so many larger field races have been, but physically exhausting. Now, I can be refreshed anew today by the Easter message.