Saturday, January 5, 2008

Copper-f'in-opolis (20070408)

Ah, Copperopolis, "the Paris-Roubaix of California".

I was racing one of my last E4 races (I'm about to upgrade to the
next-highest category - E3) so I should be relatively stronger than the
field right? I could even be accused of sand-bagging, but with all the
hype around this race, I'm still pretty nervous. This is supposed to be
the toughest race all year.

Add to that, my teammates Jim Rusk, Jason James, George Thoma and I are
the E4s and our pre-race plan was to take what is supposed to be a race
of attrition, and accelerate the attrition. We were going to warm up
well and drill the first climb, which comes just a few miles in to the
race. So our entire plan was to take the toughest race on the calendar
all year, and make it as hard as possible. Yep, definitely nervous.

When we lined up, instead of the 40 or so people that were in the race
last year, I think there were 70 to 75. I'll make a short detour here to
say that Joel (a 2) was going to race the P/1/2 race if any big pros
showed up, but he didn't see any so he did the Masters 1/2/3. And Levi
Leipheimer (Discovery Channel, duh) showed up, as well as Barry Wicks
(pro World Cup cyclocross racer - big big stud). Joel! P1/2 next time! Smile

So the E4s roll out, and we start up the attrition machine. I'm going to
make a second detour here and say that George wasn't sure how he was
going to do in the race, but he worked with us hard on the plan for the
first climb and paid for the effort I'm sure. Despite not having the
pack for help, after the race, I watched George cross the line. This is
a tough course, and finishing the race out wins a lot of respect from
everyone. Nice job, sir

Jim and Jason and I are still plowing ahead at the front, with the bit
between our teeth and it really stings. I actually partially blew about
halfway up the climb but was able to hold the damage to losing just a
position or three a minute, so I was in the pack okay at the top.

The pack was a bit smaller though, maybe 40 people? Our plan had been
for it to be around 20 though. We just couldn't push hard enough to drop
all those people. Either we need to work harder, or the 4s field is
really deep this year. I vote for a bit of both.

The descent was not nearly as bad as people say, there were no rains
this year so all the patches (and the road was essentially just a
collection of patches) were intact. That made for a very bumpy ride, but
there were no pinch-flat craters. So we bombed down it.

The second lap nearly had a selection at the front-end of the climb,
where I was at the tail-end of a single-file line of 8 with a tiny gap,
but the pressure eased off (mercifully for me) and we crested with 30 or
35. Still a huge pack given how fast were climbing, in my opinion.

The third lap rolls around, and this time Jim is a victim of the pace. I
was at the front not driving it per se, but just pacing myself just
under redline, and while there were little ones and twos trying to get
away they were all cracking on the climb and coming back. When we get to
the top, the pressure stays on though, and now we're down to around
20-25. Jason James is in there, there's a group of three up the road and
both he and I and a Squadra guy roll off the front, but not together. I
can't get to Jason, he can't get to the Squadra guy, and the three in
front are working well together. Squadra blows, I fade back into the
pack, and Jason's in no-man's land for maybe 5 miles. The pack
double-rotates itself back together (sorry Jason) with a decent chase,
and now there's just one hill, the descent, then the finish hill.

We cruise up the final hill, my left hamstring starting to cramp (guess
I need more miles), and bomb the descent. Jason and I are both in the
front 5 the whole descent, but so is Ryan Prsha, my Webcor-based nemesis
(he keeps beating me, dangit).

The sprint itself was a complete hairball as uphill sprints tend to be.
The downhill in front of it made it worse because people that downhill
fast (large dudes) don't tend to uphill sprint well. So the front/middle
is caving in / going backwards and all us little sprinters are trying to
blast around the sides. Jason actually had to get in the gravel on the
side a bit while in full sprint. Ryan goes first, but with good timing
and gets a bike length or two. I'm gaining on 6th, 5th 4th and Ryan a
little, we come to the line and the guy on my left just barely inches me
out for 2nd! Damn! I look over to see who it is, and it's Jason!! Score.
Jim Jason and I are trying to upgrade close together so I wanted him to
get as many points as possible, so this is a good thing. Ryan took it
though, with a thorough victory.

All in all, 2nd and 3rd isn't a bad day, and we definitely executed our
plan. I've had a couple people from other teams say (either there or in
email later) that we had a great show of force, and I think they're
right. We weren't sitting in and waiting for the results, we were making
the race happen. Very satisfying. The only thing that wasn't perfect was
to see Jim in the mix at the end too - but he was oh-so-close.

I'm about to upgrade, as is Ryan Prsha, so the E4 racing dynamic is
about to change a bit. It'll be interesting to see how things go then.
When I go to the E3 category, I'll be racing against all the guys I had
such a tough time beating (or not beating, as the case may be) this
Spring in the E4 category. Plus all the other guys that were good enough
to get high placings and move up, so the E3 races are going to be a
great deal harder, and I'm pretty nervous about it. I'm not sure exactly
what I'm going to do to prepare, but I'm thinking about taking some time
off racing specifically to focus on training for four to six weeks. I'm
pretty sure my fitness isn't quite where it needs to be for the E3
category and I'd like to change it.

So maybe no race reports for a while, but you never know. A lot of the
thrill of cycling is in the racing for me, so I may not be able to stay
away. We'll see...

No comments: