Words by; Matt Adams (Team Mike’s Bikes pb Equator Coffees)
I have been dreaming about winning Copperopolis since I first heard this race existed. With crappy roads, hard climbs, wind, and bad weather – what’s not to love? I knew this was a race I could win, but I wanted a teammate there at the finish so we could have some options.
My Team Mike’s Bikes p/b Equator Coffees team arrived with the strongest team we’ve ever brought: myself, Oliver Ryan, Scott Cox, Josh Pizzica and Rob Amatelli. We spent the week coming up with a plan and although I was our main option, we had guys who could be successful in a handful of scenarios. With the right plan and right team in place, all that was left was to decide on the equipment. I’ve always raced my climbing bike here, choosing light to help make the final climb. But this year, I bet on my strength and decided to go aero with my Venge ViAS. So as long as I could survive the main climb on the last lap, I’d have a serious advantage from there to the finish with the fastest bike on the planet under me. And it turned out I needed every watt saved.
Now to the race. We lined up with a moderately sized, yet ridiculously strong field: Scott Giles (ArtsCyclery.com/Schnur Racing) and Jonathan Baker (Chico Masters Cycling Team) were there, as well as the dynamic duo of Craig Roemer and Jeromy Cottell from Specialized Masters, a strong squad of Thirsty Bears pb Akamai (including Ariel Hermann), and SquadraSF p/b Terun, led by the New Kid on the Block, Todd Markelz. Add in rival coffee team, Peet’s with Brian Zimny, Nick Theobald, and Jason Boynton and the stage was set for fireworks.
Lap 1 started uneventfully with a gentlemanly pace up the main climb, which was good since it was a bit chilly and everyone needed the warm-up. Lap 2 started a little faster. Markelz was setting a good pace and we blasted through the feedzone. I was able to stay in the top 5 wheels and watch this guy climb. Impressive! The rest of lap 2 was all about staying near the front, remembering to eat and drink, and trying not to flat.
Lap 3 started with my teammate Rob (hereafter referred to as Robocop or Robo for short) begging to be unleashed – “You want me to light it up? You want me to light it up?” “Breathe Rob, I have a feeling Markelz wants to show what he can do and whittle the group. Just hang tight and our race will start at the top.”
And on cue, Markelz led us up again, this time at a slightly more punishing pace. All of a sudden I heard “Giles right, Giles right”, and like a speeding bullet, Superman went up the right side. He went hard, as he does, and a smaller group started to form behind him and we hit the little kicker before the left turn at the far point of the course. Unfortunately this shed Oli and Josh but also Markelz.
The action continued for what seemed like forever. The group was starting to tire and again Superman sensed it. He went hard up the right, I anticipated it and went up on the left side to connect with his back wheel and away we went. The group was crushed and we instantly had a gap. It was a typical Giles attack – way harder and longer than you think possible. But as I looked back, I saw the group falling behind. I did everything I could to hang on his wheel.
As the road pitched up I did the math and thought this was the race. I picked up the pace a bit as the climb started and saw Giles shadow start to fade a bit back, I picked it up again and he faded further. I sensed the opportunity was now. I got out of the saddle and went hard and the gap opened wider. I pedaled everywhere I could to keep my speed up and with no riders around I could take any line I wanted. I struggled between getting low and aero and sitting up a bit to let the bike bounce underneath me.
I looked back a couple of times and couldn’t see anyone. I was all in. I was gonna win or lose trying. I floated around the corners – I knew I just had to survive the sharp, off camber left towards the bottom. As the descent flattened out, I got low and went hard across the flat section into the first roller. I looked back and saw the black and yellow of Giles’ Art’s jersey and another rider or two with him. I couldn’t see Rob but he was right there, hiding from the wind.
I passed the 1km sign and told myself, “This is gonna be the hardest 1km of your life”. But I was going for the win at THE Copperopolis Road Race. The team rode a perfect race to put me in this position. I was gonna win or die trying. I went over the first roller, they were charging hard.
I put my head down and tried to milk every watt out of my bike and body. Another look back and the gap was bigger. Keep going, almost there. 500 meters. Another look back and they were closing fast. The road pitched up and I could see the 200 meter sign. I got out of the saddle and could barely get my legs around the squares. I felt myself fading and was just waiting for Giles’ black shadow to sweep me up. And then from above I heard, “Go Matt, Go”! It was Rob yelling from behind. One more dig out of the saddle and no one came. I rolled across the line with my head on the bars, barely able to breathe. Rob rolled by, pumping his fists, and hooting and hollering. He had rolled in for second!
It was truly a special day and an amazing race by the whole team.
Matt Adams lives in Fairfax, CA.