Berkeley Hills is a classic and is the oldest continuing road race in the United States. It’s not an outright climber’s race, which I really like, because anyone who is in particularly good form can win. Daniel Holloway, a sprinter, won last year, Keith Hillier, a breakaway artist, won before that, Phil Mooney, a time trialer won before that. Maybe you could say the course fits a rouleur. The course’s main feature is the ‘3 Bears’, an extremely misleading moniker, and I’ll explain why later.
A breakaway went early on San Pablo Dam Rd after we completed the neutral rollout along the winding riparian edge of San Pablo Reservoir. Keith Wong (VuMedi), Kurt Wolfgang (Squadra), Adam Switters (Mike’s Bikes) and our dude Nate Freed were up there.
The pace was pretty relaxed as the break wound out their advantage – we tried springing Max across on Papa bear but it didn’t really work. On the 2nd lap along San Pablo Dam, David Mesa (Fresh Air Cycles) and Owen Gillott (Hagens Berman U23) went up the road to try and bridge – I was able to join them alone and we worked together to catch up to the lead break.
The gaps stayed pretty stable for another lap and both groups up the road were gaining time on the peloton. A larger group split off though and caught our group of 3. There was Justin, Craig Fellers (Mike’s Bikes), Andrew Biscardi (VuMedi), and Roger Arnell (Threshold Sports p/b Leadout). With our consolidated group, we were able to bring the breakaway up ahead back into sight on Mama Bear. Nate was having a great ride. Then, we could see Adam Switters attack the breakaway when he saw us.
We roared after Switters and launched a couple hard counterattacks when we caught him. Everything stayed together, but it was pretty clear that this would be the race’s selection of riders. Justin and I both knew that it was important to isolate Switters because of his fast finish, so we got ready to attack hard on the 2nd to last lap over the 3 Bears.
The 3 Bears – there is Mama Bear, Papa Bear, and Baby Bear just after. This is a lie. There are 4 Bears, because everyone ignores Stepchild Bear at their own risk. You climb the long straight drag of Mama Bear, then you crest and go downhill momentarily before it pitches upward again. Lots of people relax too much before this pitch. This pitch is Stepchild Bear – the hill that no one wants to acknowledge, the hill no one is willing to come to terms with. But if you doubt Stepchild Bear, it will remember when it goes off to college filled with bitterness and rebellion, and it will return in the closing moments of the race as a high-powered attorney, filled with angst and ready to take you for all you’re worth. So add Stepchild Bear to the family, because you already should’ve in the first place.
Last year, Daniel Holloway attacked on the final lap at Stepchild Bear before winning the uphill sprint on Papa Bear. He won the race. This year, I attacked on Stepchild Bear with 1.5 laps left, which was when we dropped Switters. This is when the tides of the race turned in Marc Pro – Strava’s favor.
As I began to sit up, gasping for breath, seeing that we lost Switters, Craig Fellers says, “Hey Chris you got new glasses! Those are sick!” Even when you try to put Craig Fellers on the ropes, he has the sunniest attitude in the peloton.
We climbed up Papa Bear, descended, and I attacked again on Baby Bear, taking Craig with me. We both talked for a moment and committed 100% to trying to make the move stick as best as we could. Behind, Justin was given a free ride behind Keith Wong and Roger Arnell. When Craig and I reached the first kicker on Castro Ranch Rd, I looked back and there was Justin – he had bridged across to us alone. I was so stoked I almost gave away his arrival to an unsuspecting Craig. Justin attacked immediately, Craig covered, and I counterattacked.
Craig was about 7 bike lengths behind me, going as hard as he could to catch me, and I was going as hard as I could to keep the gap open. I punched it before the descent towards Alhambra Valley Rd, where I picked up a helpful tailwind. The gap was growing and Justin was sitting-on. The best insurance policy on the win that money could buy – thats when it dawned on me that Marc Pro – Strava had the race just about locked up. I settled into a hard ride to the finish and rode up Papa Bear alone. I looked over my shoulder and saw Justin alone behind me as well, he pumped his fist.
When I crossed the finish line I made an ‘M’ with my fingers, dedicating the win to my old friend I lost in autumn, Mark Hollingsworth. Hope you enjoyed the race, Mark.