by Owen McGrath
Mar 26, 2016
It seems pretty unanimous that this is the hardest course on the NorCal calendar. The circuit is 21 miles of some of the roughest pavement imaginable, punctuated by two climbs, one 9-10 mins, Category 3, and another short one of 3-4 mins. More prominent is the brutal, bone rattling main descent at the end of the circuit. The race flyer advises “strong wheels, thick tires and no loose water bottle holders or dentures” – I can’t determine of that last bit is a joke or actually a serious warning to masters racers. With 4 laps in Cat 3, that meant 84 miles and 6,500 feet of climbing. Not for the faint of heart.
We had a four man squad consisting of myself, Adam, Riley, and Erik, who was going to be our protected leader. The plan was to try and keep the race together for the first two laps, with Riley and Adam chasing down moves or being present in them, yet doing unequal work. We agreed that if all together on the third lap, we’d light it up on the main climb and force a selection. From there we’d try to initiate stronger moves and stack the break. We’d do the best we could for a leadout if we were with Erik at the end.
The first two laps went more or less to plan. We dropped a few guys on the main climb each time, but used our numbers well on the backside of the course sending guys up the road, and forcing others to chase. Adam, and especially Riley did a lot of work (huge props to Riley for going full beast mode on his first Cat 3 race). We knew nothing would get away that early in the race on the flats, but it forced a lot of other riders to do work closing the gaps.
Coming up on the 3rd lap Erik and I were talking about the climb. He said he was concerned about pushing it too hard and burning matches, but we agreed I’d go for it. A real skinny guy from Fig Mtn Brewing attacked and soon four of us Ben Cook of Team Swift and one other I can’t remember) drifted ahead on the steepest (13-14%) part of the climb. This HURT, but I knew others were suffering and getting dropped. We crested with a short (20-30 sec?) gap but before long were back together, with about half the field dropped. We still had 3 of our guys: me, Riley and Erik.
On the backside, while everyone was still really tired, I attacked again thinking it would be a good opportunity to make another selection, but there were no takers. I rode solo 700-1000M off the front for 5-7 mins and eventually was swallowed back up. From there there were no major moves save a few short splits when crosswinds briefly broke up the bunch.
Coming in the climb on the 4th lap, I knew I was in trouble and had burned a lot of matches. I got dropped and coming over the hill I could see that the main bunch, now down to 9 guys was pretty far up the road. I put my head down and went into TT mode while also sneaking a few glances over my shoulder to see there was a guy about 20 seconds behind me. I pondered the potential benefits of working with him for a few mins and decided to sit up and let him catch on. He takes one pull and I realize he’s completely shelled and has no gas. ARE YOU KIDDING ME?! I came around and started to pull and he couldn’t even hold my wheel, grunting out an “I’m sorry man”.
I did most of the back side of the course solo, in a state of pain and reflection on the life decisions that led me to the current position I was in, with a HR/power ratio that would resemble the threshold of a 120 pound junior. Focusing on keeping my head down and a good cadence I somehow caught back up to the main group. I was greeted by Erik laughing and smiling. Pretty cool that of the final selection of 10 guys, Dolce had three.
We hit the final climb where things heated up again. I got dropped on the last climb and came in with Riley. So much for Erik’s leadout, but after racing smart and hiding up to that point he had the legs to outkick Ben Cook and Brad Butterfield and take the win! Riley and I went 9-10.
This was a race we all felt really proud of. We had a plan and executed to it, getting our strongest guy on the top step of the podium. It takes a lot for that to come together and it was really awesome to be out there as the dominating team.