by Owen McGrath
It’s a dead flat, 70 mile road race, that does 5 laps around a circuit. The ongoing El Nino weather phenomenon esured our race would be really interesting- whatever you do, though, don’t call it #flandrian or whatever, my friend Adriano will make fun of you.
Seriously though, the weather was nasty. Driving up, the rain was coming down in biblical proportions, such that we had to slow the car on the highway to avoid hydroplaning. The weather, coupled with the recent daylight savings induced delay of sunrise made us all really question our priorities as we made our way up the 505 in the pitch dark.
By the time we arrived, the worst of the rain had stopped, but was still coming down, hard at times, and the wind was 20-25mph.
The easiest way to think of the course is a square. It starts going south in a headwind, then turns right into a tail/crosswind, then heads north in a tailwind, turns right for more crosswinds, and finishes on a brutally long, windy, gently uphill 3 KM slog to the line.
I had four teammates starting the race with me. The plan was to have me and Matt get into breaks, have Sean and Jesse help manage the pace and block if we got up the road, with Erik sitting in for the sprint. That plan had very clearly gone out the window by end of the second lap, which started with a flurry of attacks and counters on first crosswind section, putting the peloton to ribbons and effectively splitting the field in half. Sean, Erik and I made it through this first selection.
Going into the third lap, a two man break was up the road consisting of a rider from Data Driven Athlete and another from SunPower. Both had teammates represented in the field especially SunPower. I wasn’t extremely concerned at first- two guys with 40 windy miles is a tough one to stick. As we slogged on into the headwinds however, both teams were blocking pretty hard and the duo was gaining time.
Sean attacked towards the end of the headwind stretch. I was sitting on the front with Sunpower watching moves and covering the chase, and Erik countered from 5-7 wheels back just as Sean was caught at the beginning of the crosswind section: a very well-timed move. I sat up, two guys bridged to Erik and pretty soon they were up the road gaining time. For the rest of the lap, Sean and I, along with SunPower covered a number of attacks, notably by Aaron McDevitt (SJBC) trying to bridge up. Turning onto the headwinds on the finishing straight, things slowed considerably, with McDevitt eventually slipping alone off the front and most of us content to let him battle the headwinds alone. Lucky for him, we got neutralized for a break in the masters field, meaning that he, and more importantly Erik’s move were now well up the road.
Going into the first cross/tailwind section on the fourth lap, David Keefe (SunPower) attacked again, this time creating another selection with me, Brad Butterfield (TMB) and Nick Barreto (also SunPower). We were racing for 7th at this point, but everyone was nonetheless content to work hard for the rest of lap, making smooth echelons and pacelines through the tough winds.
Going into the final lap, SunPower used their advantage wisely. On the first cross/tailwind section, David attacked just after Brad finished his pull, leaving me to cover the gap with Nick on my wheel- classic spring classic tactics. So Brad is dropped, we have 11 miles windy to go and I realize that I’m a little screwed. David put in two hard attacks, both of which I covered with Nick getting a free ride on my wheel. We turn into the tailwinds and I’m wondering just how many more of these I can endure. The answer turned out to be none: Nick attacked while I was taking a drink just moments after getting onto David’s wheel. I chased for 2-3 mins until I saw spots, when David jumped around around me to close the 2-3 bike length gap to Nick’s wheel, leaving me unable to latch on. From there, they moved ahead in the crosswinds working together and I finished the lap solo, pretty much cracked.
So a 9th place finish for me, a podium (3rd) for Erik in what was definitely one of the hardest and most fun races I’ve done- windy, raining, exhausting, tactically challenging, and fun. Great preparation for Copperopolis!