RACE REPORT #3 The Koppenberg CAT 4/35+
Ladies and Gentlemen, here we are. Chris’ first ‘A’ race of the season. This is what all of those times spent sweating on a trainer in the basement through the winter were about.
My original ‘A’ priority race had been cancelled a few weeks ago, so I moved my efforts towards targeting The Koppenberg. This was an intimidating race. There is so much talk about the course amongst the riders it can really get in your head after a while. It’s a 5.5 mile circuit that includes 2 miles of very rough dirt road (we’re talking Baghdad highway after a B-52 carpet bombing rough). If that’s not enough for you and your 23mm tires, there’s a climb with about a 17% grade to top it off! The race promoters in Boulder must share some twisted infatuation with dirt and road races. I think there are 4 or 5 races this year that incorporate sections of dirt. This one had the nastiest reputation, though. It takes place on the same day as The Tour of Flanders (HUGE race in Belgium), and gets its name from a cobblestone climb that is often part of the course.
There was a lot of pre-riding of the course by my teammates and other racers, but I didn’t get to see it for the first time until the morning of the race. I really didn’t quite know what to expect, but felt good about my dirt riding skills at least. I got to the race very early so I could kit up and go out for a lap. I was pleasantly surprised to see a few uphill sections of dirt road before the main hill at the end. Hopefully that would string things out before we hit the climb and created a traffic jam. I hit the hill and found it to be a sharp rise for sure, but I was well suited to that type of climb so no worries. There were two tire-track lines up the hill that were packed down so it made things a bit narrow, everything in-between was not rideable.
Not having any prior experience in the race, I was totally unaware of how it would play out. I did NOT want to find myself stuck behind other riders as they struggled to make it up the hill – and chance that the front end of the group would make a break for it. Reckoning that the best defense would be a good offense, I decided my plan would be to give it my absolute best try to be first one to the dirt road. Control things from the front. Easier said than done when you’re lining up with 70+ other riders with the exact same plan…
After some periods of unstable weather, today turned out to be PERFECT. Dry and sunny. There was definitely a buzz in the air as the first real racing of the season got underway. I can’t explain it, but after spending the whole winter being very careful about my food intake, I totally fell apart the day before the race and chowed down a huge burger, fries, and all the fixings. Pre-race nerves? I’m not sure, it almost seemed that it was some type of sabotage behavior coming out. Maybe if I had a bad race I could blame it on the burger? How else to justify a poor performance after working so hard for the past several months?? I’m a nutcase sometimes.
My former boss and her husband had expressed interest in coming out to see some racing. I suggested that this one would be the one to catch. Especially if they could navigate their way out to the hill. Should be plenty of action out there I thought. We met up right before the start and it was great to see them – now I had even more pressure to perform!
My category was starting last in a group of 3 waves that were spaced 5 minutes apart. The start was on a paved road with about a quarter of a mile to a right hand turn, followed by another 1/4 mile to the beginning of the dirt section. I knew it would be an all-out sprint to get there first. Lining up on the front row would be key.
As the first wave started, I intermingled myself with the rear section of the group that was just ahead of mine as they moved up to the line. Once they were given the start, I had a clear shot at getting up to the line first – and that’s just what I did. Now only 5 minutes of instructions and adrenaline building to go. We got a 30 second warning, then 10, then at 5 the official counted each one. As soon as I heard “G-“, my foot was clipping into the pedal and I was alreay shifting up into the big ring. By the time the “-o” came out, I was hands-on-the-drops sprinting for that corner – 70 guys fighting for position behind me. Hole shot! That was sweet – I nailed that start! There was a photographer squatting on the corner that got an awesome shot of me drilling it at the front of the pack. Trouble is, I haven’t seen it – didn’t know who he was…
I took it through the coner and then kept winding up the speed on the slight incline leading up to the dirt entrance. I was doing 30mph and still in the lead when we left the pavement behind. I kept motoring at the front through the nasty sections of road, hearing an F-bomb about every 2 seconds behind me as some poor sucker slammed a rock or hole. Ha. That just made me smile and ride harder. The noise behind me was incredible, it sounded like about 20 old shopping carts full of tin cans being pushed down a flight of stairs. Man, that was fun.
I hammered the front all the way to the base of the climb, lifting my fingers off the bars in a peace sign and smiling as I flew by Traci and John. I was in my element for sure.
The race became one of attrition from that point on. I went over the top of the climb in 3rd place and hooked up with Steve (teammate). It was awesome to have two of us up in the front group of 10 or so. Things got confusing after the second lap, though. We started to catch and pass several riders and groups from the category that started 5 minutes ahead of us. Just before the 3rd time up the hill, Steve yelled that we needed to catch the group ahead of us. I hesitated for a bit, because I thought they were from the different category and we were actually in the lead group. What a bonehead – I need to pay more attention. I was feeling pretty strong still, so I shouted for Steve to jump on as I opened up the throttle. We came very close to catching the group at the top of the hill, but just could not close the gap down. He and I started trading turns at the front to reel them in. I had put in some pretty big efforts up to that point in the race and was starting to feel the effects. When Steve and I traded places, I glanced over and figured that he looked better than I felt. That being the case, I decided to try and do what I could to get him up to that group even if it ended up costing me. As we came around the north side of the course with about a half a lap to go, I was putting in a really long pull into the wind. Another guy had tacked on behind Steve and shouted something like “c’mon, close that gap down!”. Steve yelled something not so pleasant to him, along the lines of feeling free to close it himself. That’s all it took, he had been sitting on for a while and with fresher legs, sprinted around us. I could not go one bit faster, so Steve had to sprint around me too. Turns out they made the catch and finished with the front group (Steve got 6th). I finished 17 seconds later, easily winning the sprint from the group of 4 that I was in for the last mile or so to take 8th place out of 66 in my category. The way I cranked up the hill at the finish really made me wish I had been in the front group, I felt pretty confident that I could have gained a few spots there.
All in all, I raced very aggressively, didn’t crash or break anything, and learned a TON. I can’t wait to do it again!