Well even a blind chicken pecks a kernel of corn now and then.
Copperopolis has a reputation for a mean climb and nasty nasty rough roads. I found that both are maybe over-rated. I think most people who claim this course to be the roughest in NorCal maybe have never done that one infernal section of the Madera Road Race or have never done the Leesville Gap Road Race. The one difference is that Copperopolis only has about one half mile section that is smooth. Other than that, it's rough rough all day long but never reaches the roughest. So if you're measuring unrelentless road roughage, it wins but I still will argue that it comes in third behind Madera and Leesville in sheer ass kickery.
The course: After the start, there is a ten-ish minute ride to the bottom of the climb. I didn't find the climb to be quite so bad as I expected. After the climb there are miles of flat to rolling terrain over bad roads (note I said bad not, oh-my-gawd-how-did-I-not-get-a-flat-or-break-my-frame?!?!?). The other distinguishing feature is a very fast downhill with not a few nasty turns. This is made rather nerve wracking by what is probably the worst and most broken pavement on the course. Yes, this is a scary descent, sportsfans. Keep your eyeballs open, your hands loose and tighten up yer bootlaces cuz it gets a little scary. Then there's a short flat section and the uphill finish which is a big ring grunt of a hill (and that's one lap).
I was in the 35+ cat 4 race "B" field. I guess to make safe and small fields, there were was an A field and a B field with both having only 50 riders. But the race turned out to not fill up so let me stress that THERE WERE ONLY TEN GUYS toeing the line. I'm really not sure why the heck they didn't just combine the A and B fields... Just as we were sent out, one of the packs of backmarkers from the Pro/1/2 race caught us. The pace went up and I immediately completely lost track of who was whom in my race. By the time we hit the feedzone near the bottom of the climb I was convinced that two guys had sneaked off the front already. We hit the climb and I tried to stay third or fourth wheel of our mini-pack. Some guys faded, others came up and so it went until two guys sort of started to get a gap on me on one of the steeper sections (where I purposefully held back a little thinking it was a somewhat longer climb). The two started to get a bigger gap and I began to get annoyed that anyone behind me was just sitting on my wheel and not coming up to help out. I looked back to bitch about this situation only to find that the nearest wheel behind me was a good 100 meters back! Holy crap, I can climb and drop people??!?! When did that happen?
So I dug in and caught the two ahead of me over the top of the climb. Our trio didn't get a very good rhythm going until I convinced them we'd be much better off taking short pulls and rotating more cleanly. This worked well for about 20 minutes until we started catching little grouplettes of the other races and we'd get disorganized or they would suddenly decide the quick exchanges weren't as good as sitting on my wheel over the rollers. (Really, who sits on ME on any climb???) About this time I started to feel the first twinges of cramps in my calves. I had already drained my first bottle and was contemplating getting busy on my second bottle when we hit the nasty downhill. About a minute into it, I felt the familiar heavy impact of my water bottle launching itself out of the cage, against my calf and then skid onto the road behind me. Shit! There goes my drinky. How far to the feedzone?
A quick word about my partners to this point. I'll call the first guy Snake since he was about as sneaky as a snake. He was obviously the better climber of the three of us and also not very good at concealing his ability to go fast, yet suddenly suck lots of wheel and sandbag then suddenly push the pace again pretty easily. I'll call the other guy Big Guy. I can honestly say I've never seen a 210 pounder (not fat, just BIG) with thighs that big climb that well. Think Eric Heiden or Marty Nothstein big. Magnus Backstedt big. The kind of guy where you get down in your drops, look forward and your looking at the dude's seat post binder-blot straight ahead at your eye level. I mean, he was freaking Paul Bunyan on a bike (note: due to my tendency for hyperbole and the oxygen debt I was in at the time, Big Guy may have merely been large.).
We were passed again by the Pro/1/2 packlette on the descent and Snake tried to pull a fast one by mixing in. I wasn't about to let him get away with that and, in fact this blatant maneuver kind of pissed me off so when we got to the bottom, I just sat on his wheel and made no pretense to take a pull. I kept looking back for Big Guy but he had done a disappearing act. He was so far gone I figured he must have flatted on the downhill (or crashed but you don't think of that possibility in race mode).
I continued to sit on Snake, resolved to just stay there since I was cramping up, he was obviously stronger than me and... well, why take a pull in those conditions? I was happy to get to the feedzone and snatched the first water held out mercifully hovering out over the road by the hand of a Velo Promo angel. Immediately after the feedzone and just before the climb, Big Guy showed up out of nowhere breathless and sweaty. Apparently we'd dropped him on the descent and he time trialled back up to us. "Great!" I thought, "I have to survive another lap with cramps, a progressively worsening stomach, and two guys who can obviously take my lunch money." I started doing the complex math to keep my mind off the climb.
Ummm.... 2 guys off the front = third place + these two guys who are going to kick my ass = umm, carry the four, ummm, no don't carry a four. Ummm. Fifth place? Yeah. About fifth place would get me a Velo Promo T-Shirt. Chapeu!
I sucked a monumental amount of wheel for the next however long it was. I do remember pulling through a rotation and then turning to my buddies and saying, "Hey, I'm not dicking around here. I'm toast" (note: Nothing throws off your opponents like brutal honesty) Before the descent, Big Guy made a couple of mini-attacks that weren't very smart. He waited until he was taking a pull and sort of attacked from the front which was painfully obvious to read. That said, those attacks hurt pretty bad. By the time we were in the little climbs before the descent I was beginning to feel like I was going to throw up.
This is when Snake made his move. Big Guy was behind me and Snake just hit the last little roller hard enough to gap me. We hit the descent and I looked back to Big Guy and said, "I think you just screwed up picking MY wheel!" If someone said that to me I'd just shrug and pull a dumb face (or perhaps suggest a dimly lit place to relocate his tire pump). Instead, he looked ahead down the hill like a rabbit staring at a bumper coming at him on the highway. So I put him out of my mind and bombed the descent like a cramped-up and cross-eyed, half-puking madman.
At the bottom of the hill (glad to still be in one piece and hoping my wife continues to NOT read this blog...) I turned to Satchel Paige and Chris Carmichael to get me to the finish. Satchel famously told us all to not look back and I read Chris Carmichael where he said, "You can do anything for a minute." It was more like five minutes but I used the same philosophy. To my shock I could see through my foggy crisscrossed eyes that I was actually pulling back a small amount of time on Snake. But then the 200m sign appeared. I had a brief moment of panic that Big Guy was about to shit on my parade with ten feet to go and it was all over. (note: remind me to write another long-winded post sometime about "That time those two fuckers caught me with about 50 feet to go and I lost the race.")
As my body suddenly felt weightless and my brain flirted with passing out (I'm actually not kidding here, for a change) I once again turned to complex math. Hmmm, fourth place? Maybe? About 50 feet past the finish line I turned around and there was Big Guy. Whoa, that was close. I turned back to shake his hand and offer up the "Hey man, good race." But instead I just kind of half held up my limp arm and mumbled, "Huh meh. Goo ray. S?" In a somewhat more lucid state than I, he explained that he was not exactly a good descender (No shit, sherlock. There is no way in hell he should have lost to me otherwise.). Unfortunately, he was about as confused as I was regarding who was ahead or behind us when up rolled Snake happy, smiling and fresh enough that I would have pimp slapped him if I had the energy to do anything but sit on my top tube cradling my head on my handlebars while staring at the ground wondering if I really was going to toss my cookies (well actually I would have been tossing my pre-race clif shot to be more accurate).
So Snake, all happy and jubilent and effervescent and shit tells us great race. I mumble, "Were there two guys ahead of us?"
"No man, it was just us, one-two-three." Hmm. So (insert more complex math here) that makes me second? Well, dress me in a skirt and call me Nancy! That's a fresh ten dollar bill and a Velo Promo T-shirt (not the one shown on the right but I wish it was)!
I finally made my way back to Carl's van and slowly made my way back from "dizzy and half blind" to merely "dizzy and wobbly." I put normal clothes back on, locked the van and left my bike sitting out for anyone to walk away with. Back at registration I was happy to see Carl standing around since I had left his keys in my pocket and was worried about leaving him standing in the parking lot staring at his van, my bike and wondering, "where the hell....?"
I collected by booty and by the time I got back to the van, Carl had started up his mini-weber and hosted a fun little post-race tailgater (which is a tradition that I think would be most excellent to uphold).
OK. So now I'm not really processing this as any kind of great success... Maybe it's just my sadly consistent ability to deny myself any kind of reward but really there were only ten guys in the race! On the one hand, second is second. And also on that hand, I earned that place with a package of fitness, acumen, bike handling, and good old fashioned mental toughness (and of that I am proud). And also, on that hand, any time I finish in the top fifth of a field, it's a damn good day. But on the other hand, THERE WERE ONLY TEN GUYS IN THE RACE!!! So I'm not saying all of that to incite an "attaboy" from anyone who actually manages to make it through this damn long blather but rather to explain that I may not be all that excited about it.
(But thanks in advance for the "attaboy")
Ride safe! And thanks Carl for the ride and the post-race eats and for not making fun of my ass wobbling and stumbling around after the race!