Stage Racing for Fatties

While the real bike racers of the world were down in Redlands for the NRC opener, the rest of us were left with three equally unappealing race opportunities: the Wards Ferry RR, the Warnerville RR, and the Topsport Copperopolis Stage Race. I say “unappealing” because I’m a pudgy little crit-slut, and the thought of getting out of bed at 4:45am to chase skinny road racers around the Central Valley for hours makes me nauseous.

In spite of my aversion to road and stage racing, I gave in to the incessant peer pressure from my teammates and agreed to race the Topsport Stage Race; after all, it is the only flat stage race in the history of cycling. From the very beginning, my intention was to race well in the 90-minute circuit race and ride a solid ITT–which would place me highly in the GC–then embarrass myself a la Snelling by cracking less than halfway through the final, 92-mile road race. It would be the ultimate team letdown in a long line of letdowns!

Now, of course I didn’t actually want that to happen, but I did expect it. After all, the longest ride I’ve done this year is 40 miles, and only once have I managed to ride more than three days consecutively. However, my teammates Evan, Joel, Billy and Mike seemed pretty excited about the race, and their excitement was contagious. What I did not realize until after I committed to racing was that the P/1/2 races started at 8am.

That’s how I found myself snuggled between pair of wheels in the back seat of a ghetto minivan, pounding a pre-6:00am Diet Coke, listening to Billy and Evan bicker about the value of Taylor Swift as pre-race pump-up music.

As a bike racer, proper nutrition is a cornerstone of success. No obstacle should impede your consumption of a hearty breakfast, as illustrated here. Unable to find a spoon, Billy used the new iUtensil app for the iPhone to eat his yogurt.

The truth is, Billy managed to drop his phone into his yogurt because–according to Evan, who was driving–the only way to bring the van to a halt was to violently pump the brakes, causing the vehicle to lurch uncontrollably.

We arrived in Copperopolis to find an oddity of a circuit race: two long sections of smooth, rolling pavement, with a turn-around on one end of the course and an incredibly tight, narrow, technical loop through “town” on the other.

(From Steven Woo’s Flickr page)

If it looks as if I’m not focused on racing in the photograph above, that’s because I’m too busy poking fun at Mack Chew’s bike, mocking my friend Max for wearing a polka-dotted skinsuit, and generally running my mouth far more than necessary or appropriate. Evan is looking at me with disdain, probably because I’m an embarrassment to my team.

The 8am start and cold temperatures led to a pretty sluggish event, punctuated by one five-man breakaway including Evan that was caught with one and a half laps to go. Heading into the final lap, I sprinted for a five-second time bonus and then attacked through the technical loop through “town,” mostly for the thrill of eight consecutive, high-speed corners within a 500 meter distance. Nothing stayed away, and Andy Goessling of ALA cycling won the bunch sprint to the line.

The ITT was miserable, rolling, windy and bumpy. I thought I went fast, but the results dictated otherwise. The only highlight of the stage was the fact that Evan mounted a disc and tri-spoke on his road bike as an ironic gesture, then leisurely rode the TT on the tops of his bars at about twelve miles per hour.

When all was said and done, my teammate Mike and I were firmly planted in 11th and 12th on the GC with one stage remaining. The plan was for the two of us to conserve energy, go with late-race moves to improve our GC position and have a shot at a stage win.

When I referred to the technical loop through “town” earlier, I used quotation marks for a reason. This single city block “town square” is unlike anything I’ve ever seen.

It’s a bit difficult to tell from photographs, but the “Copper Town Square” is a surreal oasis of immaculate lawns, perfect pavement, and spotless buildings that seemingly sprung out of the grassy hills of Calaveras County overnight. Just beyond the buildings shown here is an endless expanse of barren land that extends on all sides of the square, and the whole scene is reminiscent (as Evan pointed out) of old Western movie sets with two-dimensional building facades supported by a couple of two-by-fours. I have to believe this “town” was built within the past year, because it’s so eerily perfect and manicured.

On the drive home, we stopped for linner (or dunch, depending on how you look at it). Evan ate a light meal.

When we finally made it back to San Francisco, I set about some evening lab work.

I pipette a lot; in fact, I bet my pipetting thumb can maintain about 300 watts for an hour, though I haven’t figured out how to attach an SRM to my P20 multichannel to verify that figure. I wonder if there’s a way to couple my standard TT bike drivetrain to a thumb-driven crankshaft for some additional power. Any engineers want to take that one up?

Sunday morning was pretty miserable; driving to Copperopolis at 5am is novel the first time, but the second time around it’s rather tedious.

The final stage was a brutal 92-mile affair involving stiff crosswinds, two 180-degree turnarounds, rolling hills, narrow roads and countless potholes. In other words, the course was awesome. Here’s a picture illustrating how narrow you can make a turnaround without anyone dying. Race promoters, take note: this is definitely the lower limit.

(From Steven Woo)

I can’t wait until this race gains popularity and 100+ rider fields have to navigate two of those turnarounds per lap. That’ll be safe.

As I mentioned at the outset, I went into this race with absolutely no confidence in my road racing legs. However, my teammates made it clear that I wasn’t allowed to be a little baby, and that they expected me to finish the race.

Believe it or not, but I did finish, and with the lead group no less. I even threw down a gutter-attack on the third and fourth laps…I felt like a real bike racer! I have to thank my teammates for covering the early moves and riding tempo, allowing Mike and I to conserve energy and make small talk with other racers. I’d also like to thank my legs for not cramping and my wheels for not cracking in half (Billy’s wheels were not so lucky).

Anyway, lest you think I’ve actually changed my ways and stopped letting my team down, I’d like to point out that I still managed to botch the finish spectacularly. I was so busy congratulating myself for making it to the end of such a long race, I forgot to figure out where the finish line was. The winning attack went with Roman Kilun and Will Riffelmacher, and I sat idly at the back of the twenty-man group, convinced that they would be caught shortly. Only as we crested the final hill and hit the “200 meters to go” sign did I realize that people were sprinting, and I think I finished seventeenth or so.

Classy, Rand. Really f*&king classy.

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