I won Leesville Gap in 2007 by out-sprinting the other 9 riders from an all-day breakaway. That was in the Cat 4s, a win in the Pro 1/2 field would be much harder. Much much harder, mo-muchly, the muchliest.
Nate and I drove down the night before with the plan to sleep on the lawn outside Williams High School (where registration would happen the following morning). Our blissful ignorance led us to forget it was the evening of the 4th of July. Strike one, loud fireworks all night long. Fortunately it was relatively quiet on the High School soccer field, so we laid out our sleeping bags to catch some sleep. Within seconds of lying down, we were swarmed by mosquitoes. Strike two, an unbearable amount of bug bites. Not all hope was lost, as zipping ourselves completely inside our bags prevented harassment from the buzzing pests. Strike three, sweating to death inside sleeping bags because it was 80 degrees outside.
At 1am and dozens of bites later, we ran off the field and got a motel room.
The Leesville Gap course is a little over 60 miles in length and features the worst pavement of any race in Northern California. About half the race is on broken asphalt and loose gravel. The quality of the road surface is what makes this race difficult. 60 miles feels like 80 because you have to pour so much energy into your bike to maintain traction and a smooth power output. The worst parts of the roads are in the first 30 miles, leaving you utterly destroyed for the later-half of the race. The Copperopolis road race in March is called the “Paris Roubaix” of Nor-Cal – Leesville Gap is far more deserving of that title.
The attacks started right away with teams from McGuire, Cal-Giant and Webcor all trying to shake out a breakaway. I just stayed near the front as I knew the real fireworks would happen along the busted pavement before the big climb, with the final selection occurring on the big climb (3 miles, 1500’ gain) itself. If you don’t make the cut in these decisive first 25 miles, the race is essentially over.
I got stuck behind a large split in the field about a mile before the climb. I shot out of the pack and chased hard to latch onto the front of the race just as the climb started. As I was chasing, I knew that I was probably burning the match that would help me ascend in good position. I was right, the lead group pulled away from me almost immediately and I spent the rest of the climb watching them drift farther and farther away. There is enough downhill and rolling flats following the climb, that a decent sized group can stay away for the remaining 35 miles. But I put my head down anyways and started chasing.
A few miles down the road a McGuire rider flew by me at 30 mph, he was truly hauling ass. I saw that as my opportunity to at least end my suffering on the course a little faster, so I jumped on his wheel. We exchanged pulls for the rest of the race, catching and passing quite a few riders. The McGuire rider did the majority of work, taking monster pulls in comparison to what I was able to output. I finished the day in 18th place – I probably would have died in the heat out there if not for the super-draft of the McGuire rider.
Photos are copyright Through My Eyes Photography.