Sunday, March 23, 2008

2008 Copperopolis Road Race

(photo from Ken Conley - Spare Cycles)

Ah, Copperopolis. Just look at that.

It is hard to explain to people why I would want to wake up at 5am every
day to train on my bicycle, and then on a Saturday - which would
otherwise be a day off - get up at 5am again to head off to
nowhere-ville (Milton, California) in order to ride my bike some more.

On a daily basis, riding a bicycle for me is a sort of renewal. Despite
the ever-present danger of unwanted automobile interaction, through
careful route selection I'm basically on car-free roads most of the
time, just cruising along out in the smell and rush of the world,
limited by my own power to linger just long enough in any given spot to
soak up the texture of a place. Faster than walking, so you can really
get somewhere, but a completely different speed than powered transport.

But races...they are different altogether. Crits are just a stark
physical challenge - a line in the sand and how much can you bare your
teeth for an hour. Road races though, they combine all the personal
mental challenge you need to be competitive with that natural renewal I
get on the bike, and mix it in with surroundings you honestly just
wouldn't ever get to see otherwise.

I mean, why would you ever go to Milton, California? But if you didn't,
the beauty of the reservoir unfolding at the top of the climb would be
unknown to you. The horses, quizzically watching you as you blur past
their pasture wouldn't miss one cyclist. And I'm certain the hill up to
the reservoir doesn't know I exist, but oh how intimately I know all of
them after spending 4 quality hours pushing myself around them. This is
the type of course you never forget after challenging yourself on it,
mostly for the better.

The Men's E3 race started out with the rash of usual suspects I know,
guys I've been racing with for a couple years now - Brandon Hill from
Team City, David Levine riding strongly on Synergy, Ryan Prsha working
his way back into form on Webcor and Nathaniel English on ZTeaM. Okay,
Nathaniel wouldn't know me from a turnip (and why would he?) but I have
to give him a callout because have you SEEN how he rides? He's fast
enough that I actually don't even want to make it in a break with him
because I would simply shell out of it, like his unfortunate teammate
this year.

The first lap was brisk up the hill but otherwise a tea-and-cookies
affair. We were all marking Nathan, and he was just riding up front
looking back at us like he's bored (or am I projecting?). I was over
threshold on the climb, but not horribly and while we dumped some of the
pack, we still had 50 or so I'd say.

The second lap was tougher but not faster, just fatigue from the first
lap still in the legs. More people popped off but I made it over near
the front of the lead group, and Nathan hadn't really jumped yet. Maybe
30 people left at this point. People started to attack this time but
nothing came of it.

Ah, the third lap though. Here's where Nathan finally decided he'd take
his pro-level power and find the pain-setting on the E3 pack's dial
where he could shake free. We strung out up the hill and somewhere about
halfway up the elastic finally snapped. He made it away with a teammate,
and everyone else more or less blew up. I had it bad enough that at the
very top of the climb, when I was threatening to come completely apart
right as it levels off and the speed picks up, David Levine gave me a
friendly shove and a word of encouragement. My hand had been resting on
the mental "power off" switch, and the timing was perfect. I hardened
the ____ up, closed the gap and we were up the hill. Thanks David!

We never saw Nathan again, but now the 20-or-so strong pack was
basically a punching bag. People could roll away at will, and a few
people did. A second group of 3 organized off the front and rolled away
while everyone (including myself) in the pack ducked the wind and
sandbagged it.

We rolled around for one more climb up the hill and it seemed to me that
it was just straight threshold this time. 10 minute of pain, but not
quite searing - everyone just wanted to get through the lap. The lead
group was down to maybe 20 people, with 4 off the front. Nathan's
teammate cracked out of the break with Nathan and we fetched him.
Another person from the chase group cracked and fell through the pack,
leaving just 3 off the front as near as I can tell.

David finally couldn't take the waiting anymore and rolled off the
front, maintaining a power that kept him away to the finish (nice work,
man). My perspective on this was that I was right behind him, and he
honestly wasn't going that much faster but *I* certainly didn't have
anything. I mentally just wished him luck and cowardly hid from the wind
again. My left leg is twitching - threatening to cramp, and I'm
wondering if I'll make it up the last hill. I figure it's better to lead
than follow so stand up to set some tempo and am thrilled to notice that
the cramping parts of the muscle aren't used while standing, so the
pack's not dropping me this race! I made it through another one in the
lead group - good for the confidence.

We careen and chatter through the choppy downhill and with 1k to go a
Webcor guy went for the kilo sprint. Not sure if he held it or not, but
the rest of us waited until 200m to go before we launched our group
hairball of a sprint. I think I waited too long to start myself because
I had good position but let a couple folks come around before I wound it
up, which meant (duh) that now I was stuck behind them. Not thinking too
clearly is all I can say. Being able to sprint at all after nearly 90
miles of Copperopolis was a personal victory for me though, as was being
in the lead group. For that, I get one more cat 2 upgrade point for the
9th spot in a 50+ person field. Yay, me.

As I was rolling around after the race though, I was struck by how
genuinely great a vibe it was at this race. It is such a hard course
that most of the me-vs-them element is gone and it's just a collective
us-vs-nature thing. Everyone's hoping everyone else will finish and
we're just curious how other folks did. Teammates in other categories
are yelling encouragement at each other whenever they flash by. It's all
very cool.

Best example of this attitude I can think of is at the start of the
climb on lap 4, someone dropped their chain going into the little ring,
and as soon as that dropped-chain sound went out, someone yelled out
nicely "come on, give him a push". I'm willing to bet someone did, too.
Make no mistake, the strong men sorted themselves out but there's no
need for pushing and shoving. That's the spirit. That's racing at its
best and you find it in places like Milton. That's why I go.

Here's the chart for the power junkies. The lines are my various thresholds.


MoMoneyHoney said...

good work, Mike! Cat 2 is right around the corner!

Anonymous said...

That's about what I remember Mike -a brute of a race, some pretty country, and totally woth all the while. Nice job cracking the 10 mate.

Carol G said...

Awesome job, Mike. Congratulations!

Steven Woo said...

I'm impressed at how consistent your laps are, I couldn't push myself after getting dropped in the cat 4 race on the second lap. Our AP and NP are similar, though, so you must weigh a lot less than me. :)

Mike Hardy said...

Steven - I was at around 142 for copper, and after analyzing the E4 race data from last year, the times were basically the same for the front group in the E3 this year and E4 last year. Essentially the same times up the hill and the same lap times. I thought that was interesting, anyway :-). That should help you get a feel for what the 3s have in store if you're moving up - more of the same basically, it's not a huge jump. And I think Copperopolis is one of the hardest races so it should be a very good indicator of those things