Northern Cal’s Road Trip-Worthy Races
By Chris Lyman
With December’s arrival, it’s time for that magical time of year when we dispense with such luxuries as sleeping in on Saturday, or eating an extra slice of cake, and begin behaving like a 35+-year old avid cycliist ready to train in earnest for 2013. (Or, for those of us still in the holiday spirit, we at least give the concept some serious thought. Pass the eggnog.)
The Northern Cal race season is a mere four weeks away, commencing January 1st with the San Bruno Mountain Hill Climb—an annual right of passage reserved for those who carpool together from Nerdville.
From then on, the weekends are two to three deep with crits, road & stage races straight through September. With so many to choose from, I thought it would be worth taking a look at the biggest, baddest and/or most notorious races of epic nature that are worth packing up the car for a road trip.***
For crits, I consulted with sprint ace Dean LaBerge, a 2011 Masters National Crit Champ, to get his take on Northern Cal’s best.
Mike’s Bikes Cats Hill Classic, 40th edition on April 4th. A hill approaching 20% hill each lap turns this into an interval workout within a race. The finish frequently comes down to a small group contesting for the win on this iconic course.
Nevada City Classic, June 16th. Yes, it has a hill and shares the word ‘classic’ in the title. But the likeness ends there, with basically half of the course uphill and half down through a historic, Gold Rush downtown. After a triple-clutch climb (replete with 95+ degree temps in 2012) racers make a screaming descent into a 90-degree corner. Giddy up.
San Rafael Twilight Crit, July 27th. This is pretty much a straight sprinter’s special through Downtown San Rafael, just north of San Francisco. The rectangular course has a mild, one-block rise after turn one and slight decline through turn three followed by a long drag to the finish. Stick around for the pro race and call-ups accompanied by umbrella-wielding womens.
Metromint Giro di San Francisco, September 2nd. One of the last significant races of the season. Downtown San Francisco, hills, rough pavement and whoever still has legs in after August.
So many races, so few weekends. To sort the wheat from the chaff I consulted with Jesse Moore, who spent years beating up on the Northern California Pro 1-2 peloton prior to retiring to the masters ranks in 2012.
Copperopolis, March 30th. Batten down the hatches and tighten every bolt on your bike because this is not a race for the faint of heart with a climb and fast descent on ‘road’ that “looks like it was bombed out in WW2.” This is a hardman special that’s most often won by a super rouleur
Pescadero Coastal Classic, June 2nd. This is a great course worthy of championship events with a little something for everyone: 75 miles of difficult climbs, one of the most technical descents in Northern Cal races, and great scenery. Down Highway 1 south of Half Moon Bay, it’s also not as far for So Cal folks. Refuel with a bowl of Artichoke Soup and adult recovery beverage at Duarte’s Tavern after the race is over.
Leesville Gap Road Race, July 6th. If you want to channel your inner Jens Voigt, this is the race to do it. Don’t let the short distance fool you; this is a serious race of attrition that favors the well-rounded and mentally tough. Early pave sections expose poor tire choices and eject water bottles just in time for a long sustained climb to further break up the field. Those that survive at the front will be challenged with more climbing, heat and famous Central Valley winds leading into what is usually a slow motion, small group sprint amongst the least-cracked riders. In the spirit of summertime, everyone is rewarded with fresh watermelon at the finish.
Patterson Pass Road Race, August 4th. Patterson sneaks onto the list because it’s a hot, tough course. Right away it goes up with a long climb into a headwind, semi-sketchy descent and another climb followed by a rolling parcours. Repeat 3 times.
Special Consideration: Mt. Hamilton Road Race, May 26th. The race starts with a 4,500-foot climb in the first 20 miles followed by a wicked descent that will test the best of bike handlers. After the 63-mile race, join the group riding 50-odd miles back to the start for a solid day on the bike.
One day isn’t enough? Can’t decide between a crit or road race? Here are a few stage race options.
Merco Classic, February 28 – March 3. Last year was the first of Merco as a four-day masters stage race and it was an instant classic. Merco opens with a road race featuring a grippy climb but flat run-in to the finish. Stage 2 is an out-and-back time trial to sort out the standings. Stage 3 is a downtown crit with a chicane and plenty of turns. The final stage is 96 miles, mostly flat with a few rollers and rough pavement to keep things honest. Quite possibly the best masters stage race in California.
Little City Stage Race, anticipated for August 10-11. LCSR debuted in 2012 with a two-day, three-event omnium format. It’s held in/around Minden, Nevada about an hour south of Reno. Great TT course, fun crit, and tough final road race. All at altitude that readies participants for Masters Nats in Bend.
Honorable Mention: Sea Otter Classic, April 20-21. True, it’s not a stage race, but with a crit, fun circuit and road race over three days, your legs will be sore on Monday morning.
Rumor Mill: Word on the street is that the Tour de Nez might be back as a four-stage race in July. Stay tuned.
Find the full calendar of races at www.ncnca.org/road.
***Before hate mail starts arriving and plans are made to ride me into a curb, many other events are worthy for this list. Northern Cal is fortunate to have a fantastic lineup of races, these are just some of the more classic variety. Feel free to chime in and add others worth mentioning.