So I decided to stop by and do the Copperopolis RR on my way up to Davis California, where I will stay for the next few months at the University there. This is one of the longtime NorCal “classics” and has a reputation for having bad pavement. Some people call it the “Paris Roubaix of California.”
The turnout was very impressive. I signed in for the 45+ 1/2/3 and I noticed that there were 3 other 45+ 4/5 fields (another 150 riders). There were also a lot of junior racers. It was a beautiful bright sunny and warm day – unlike most of the time I spent in SoCal the last few months.
There were about 45 people at the start line in my race. We were informed about the usual “centerline” rule, but I discovered right away that most of the course didn’t have one and nobody intended to enforce the imaginary line. So we were pretty much taking the whole road. On the first lap, since I was unfamiliar with the course I stayed near the front. The major climb comes about 3-4 miles from the start. One of the VOS racers, a thin climber type, pushed the pace and I thought we must be hurting some people. However near the top I looked back and saw everybody cruising right behind me comfortably. The road conditions were indeed very bumpy on the climb, except for a remarkable 1km where it was freshly paved. What a relief that was. Most of the rest of the course was rolling and the wind was not much of a factor. A few people tried some minor attacks and on the way back I tried to get away with someone who said “its too early for me”. I only wanted to get a head start on the descent which I had heard was bumpy and treacherous. Indeed it was. I started the descent in about 10th place and soon was completely spit out the back. I was all over the brakes trying to dodge every little road obstruction. By the time the descent was over, I was quite far off the back. I chased back on spending some efforts and realized the bottom was quite close to the finish. If I couldn’t handle this descent better, I might as well forget it.
On the second lap, I tried an attack before the feed zone. I thought people might be trying to pick up bottles and something might work. It didn’t. Later on the climb I was again near the front with the same VOS guy pushing the pace and heard some heavy breathing right behind me. I looked back and spotted Larry Nolan in the red Specialized jersey with the “World Stripes” right behind. I had hoped we would drop him, but he looked strong and powerful. This was very impressive, given that he must have weighed 20 pounds more than everybody else I saw out there. At that point I realized my cassette had shaken loose becuase of the bumps and my shifting was less than precise. On the way back somebody from a “Milram-like” jersey took a flyer but we brought him back just before the descent. This time I let Larry go past me and concentrated as Kevin McKenna said to me the week bofore, to relax the upper body. I just followed Larry and hardly touched the brakes at all. This time I stayed in good contact with the group and that gave me a lot of confidence.
For the 3rd, and final round, I again mounted a charge before the feed zone, but this was only so I could be assured of getting a bottle from the neutral feed. Going up the climb I found myself dangerously close to the back and having to fight my way through riders who were getting dropped. Moreover, I spotted Larry tacked on to the front group of about 8 riders and he looked like he was more comfortable on the climb than me! With his famous sprint, I was not feeling very confident at that point. I had thought previously about launching an attack at the top of the climb, but I was totally spent. Just before the turnaround I tried something, but I had very little left in my legs and even started cramping. Nevertheless I shook it off and tried again. At that point there were about 15 people in our front group. Mark Caldwell of the Morgan Stanley team then said “Neal, we have no chance as long as Larry is with us.” I said “that’s the point.” Just after that brief conversation I saw Larry move to the front of the field for the first time all day. I was about 12 riders back. I then realized this was probably my last and only opportunity. I launched a furious attack up the left side. Because of my previous futile attempts I think the field, including Larry, were slow to react and this time my legs were working. Caldwell latched onto me and we began moving away. I took some really powerful pulls, especially up the rolling climbs and we had a sufficient gap in my opinion to win. Nevertheless, I was quite surprised when a “no-name” rider, actually named Mark Edwards, bridged across and actually attacked us on the climb before the main descent. I let him go to the front and just concentrated on staying behind him. Caldwell was 3rd in line. This time I went down the descent very comfortably and just concentrated in preparing my gearing for the sprint. I had memorized exactly where to go, which in my mind was just before the corner where the finish line became visible. It was an uphill sprint, just the kind I liked. I put it in my 53×13 and hit it very hard. I was a bit worried because of my loose cassette but I was fortunate not to mis-shift. I shot by Edwards, but I could see Caldwell coming up on my left. Nevertheless I ramped it even more and easily blew across the line in first place, pumping my fist “Lance”-style. Caldwell finished 2nd and Edwards 3rd.
I waited the obligatory hour for my prize at the end, and was told that they only had size “large” T-shirts left. “OK, what else do I get”, I said. The reply was “that’s all, this is a Velo Promo race, what do you expect.” I guess this is amateur racing after all.