Known as the Paris-Roubaix of California, the Copperopolis road race is a 105 mile race consisting of 5 21 mile laps around some of the roughest roads in Northern California. The first few miles were fairly rough with small rolling hills. A few miles into the course was the 10 minute jaw rattling climb that twisted it's way through the countryside. Once at the top, the pavement smoothed out quite a bit and then 10 (or so) more miles of rolling hills through N-Cal farmland continued. Then the twisting / heavily patched decent separated the daring from the timid. After reaching the bottom of the hill, there was few miles of rolling hills before the slightly longer climb to the finish.
The race was interesting for many reasons. First, was how Levi showed up to the race. It was hard to even tell Levi was there, except for the small flock of tiny dogs that his wife apparently brings to every race, but besides that, you probably would have never known. He showed up in a very discrete old school white Chevy conversion van straight from the 80's. Sitting in the back bench seat, all you could bake out was a fairly large jawed fellow with a black jersey on. But the bright yellow band on the arm of the left sleeve gave hints that it wasn't just some old guy in the back of the van. About 10 minutes before the start, a "friend" of his jumped out of the back wielding a full Dura Ace SRM equipped Trek Madone. Moments later, tiny looking fellow wearing all black except for the yellow arm band exited the car then jumped onto the bike and immediately zoomed away on the warm up course.
Finally the official called all the riders to the start. Every rider but one showed up and started jockeying for position at the front of the group. Levi, however, spent the time lurking behind the people gathered around to watch the start. It wasn't until the official called the thirty second warning before the stealth rider approached the pack.
For the first few miles, Levi just sat at the very back of the pack. Various riders tried to start small talk with the Tour of California champion but it would have probably would have been easier to have a conversation with a brick wall. The first time up the first long hill, Levi seemed to float effortlessly as yours truly was frantically gasping for air to keep pace with the leaders. At the top, the very long line of riders slowly came back together and the entire pack hit the long decent 10 miles later as one happy family. Levi a select few of local hero's negotiated the very long, very bumpy, very blind cornered, decent like they were on rails, while the rest of us were too busy concentrating on our handlebar death-grip to realize that a substantial gap had formed between them and us. But a few rolling hills later and the pack was once again back together.
Lap two started just as the first. We were all together again but with captain America now feeling comfortable enough to place himself in the middle of the pack. By this point, there had been numerous solo and duo breakaways (in hopes of LL bridging I presume) but Levi just sat in the pack and let the young eager beavers do all the chasing. The second round didn't go as well as hoped for the author. About half way up, a few of the big local names tried to attack the group. This time Levi felt it was appropriate to go with. But as for me, it was up to me and the other 30 or so dropped riders to chase the lead pack once we got to the top. The chase of 30 quickly became 15, then 8, then 5, then three. Finally, just before round three began, two fellow riders and I finally caught the main pack. Even before the hill, the change in pack-attitude had changed. Blazing through the feed zone it became obvious that Levi and Company decided that the there had been enough kiddy play and the race had officially begun.
The rest of the story is what I heard from Jon Staroba of Eastside Cycles who finished 10th....
At the top of the third climb, the pack was fairly small, about 15 riders or so. Gaps were formed regularly and by the start of the 4th climb, more riders had dropped. Another attack happened the fourth time up the hill, leaving only three.
The rest of the race is unknown to me or Jon except for the post race "ceremony."
Apparently, after crossing the finish line solo, Levi went directly to the registration tent and said "I won the Pro 1/2," took his money, and left before any of the other pro 1/2's even made it back to the parking lot.
I ended up a slightly respectable 21st out of 70(ish).
After I got back to the car, a local rider noticed my University of Nebraska Medical Center kit and said, "Welcome to Northern California road racing." I simply smiled, said thanks, then sat down on a cooler and pondered why we regularly subject ourselves to this kind of pain and agony. And then it occurred to me.... it's for days like this.