Leesville Gap Road Race (Retired due to bad roads. See Leesville/Ladoga)

Promoter: Velo Promo

Course: A rough, hilly and HOT 102km loop of rural country roads, some of which are gravel and others that are making the transition between paved roads and gravel.  They call Copperopolis the “Paris-Roubaix” of Northern California, but in my opinion, the roads at this race are worse.  Much worse.

Course Description: The start at the high school in Williams.  One of the awesome things about this race is that you can use the showers in the gym after the race!  How cool is that?

After the neutral roll out the race starts out with about 20km that is pretty much flat and has a pretty good road surface.  Being the central valley you should always be on the lookout for cross winds.  The wind tends to blow from the North or South and this section of the race heads East.  I haven’t seen the wind cause any major damage here but it can make you expend too much energy early in the race stuck in the gutter with no real draft.  

After the race crosses Highway 20 is where things start to get hard.  Here to roads start to get rougher.  Really rough in places.  The road also starts oh so gradually gaining altitude as you heads towards the big obstacle of the day, Leesville Gap.

When you get to the climb you had better be in the top 10.  Or better.  Every year I’ve done this it seems the pace gets hot early on this climb and the lead group splits off within the first few minutes.  The climb is almost 6km long and gains about 1,000′.  (I know, I’m mixing units but it works for me…)  Expect to be on the rivet for at least 16+ minutes.  The rough roads make it that much more fun as your tired legs fight to keep turning on the rough roads.

Distances: Everybody does the same 102km loop.  Be thankful that you weren’t here the first year Bob promoted it when the Pro/1/2 race did TWO laps.  Not many finishers that day.  I was lucky and got a flat on the 2nd lap.  🙂

Road Surface: Mostly poor narrow roads with lots of patches. There are several fairly long stretches of gravel road both before and after the main climb.  There are also a couple of stretches of crappy roads with pot holes and some stretches where it’s just really rough.  Starting at around km 55 or so the roads are generally pretty good for the rest of the race.

Gearing: I go with the 12×27 for this race.  I’m on a 50×36 compact and I like having the low gear for the main climb up to Leesville Gap.  If you go with the compact though, for the love of all that is holy DO NOT let yourself get gapped over the second climb.  The descent is long and fast.  It is fine with the compact IF YOU ARE IN THE GROUP, but if you have to close a gap you are doomed.  I’ve used an 11×26 before but hated not having the 16 tooth cog on the flat stretches late in the race.  You get stuck in that cycle of “the 15 is too big, the 17 is too small”  Back and forth. Another thing to keep in mind is that you want a small enough gear that you don’t HAVE to stand up on the climb.  I invariably find that every time I stand up I end up losing ground that I have to make up by getting back in the saddle.  It is just so rough that it is hard to keep the power going to the wheel when you’re standing up.

Facilities: The race starts at the high school in Williams.  The bonus of starting at the high school is that you can use the showers after the race and for once drive home clean and refreshed.  Bring your own towel, soap and shampoo.  Also, for years I stopped at the Subway near the freeway to get a sandwich for my drive home.  After all these years (like 20 or so!) it was my wife who took me to Granzella’s on our drive to Bend last summer.  I can’t believe that I drove past this place every year just to get a Subway sandwhich!  Go to Granzella’s!  You won’t be disappointed.

Weather: This is probably going to be a hot one.  

Feeding: There is a neutral feed zone that comes around km 68-70.  As long as you have good bottle cages and don’t eject a bottle on the rough roads, two bottles should be enough to get you to the neutral feed.  

Rules Specific to this race: Bring durable equipment due to the rough roads.  I used to say don’t bring light equipment, but now even my 1,000 gram carbon tubulars are pretty bomb proof. Consider your water bottle cages for this race.  Make sure you’ve got cages that will keep a full big bottle from ejecting on rough roads.  Tubulars are probably better than clinchers for this race because the clinchers are apt to get pinch flats from the pot holed roads.

Race Advice:  Everything hinges on the main climb up Leesville Gap.  Somebody may get up the road before the climb, maybe even a small group, but 99 times out of 100 the front group from the main pack after the climb is the group to be in.  They will catch any leaders in the following miles.  Depending on how much it breaks up over the climb there may be some regrouping, but not very much.  

The second climb out of that upper valley is not a good spring board to victory.  You might be able to shake somebody out the back, but it’s too short and too far from the finish to get away.  The descent is a fast, non-technical descent.  Be careful of letting gaps open up though.  I’ve seen guys get dropped out of the break on this descent so be careful.

The actual winning of the race happens in the last 10-15km.  Even though this race isn’t all that long riders are always hurting as you get towards the end.  Sometimes it’s the heat, but most times it’s just that this is a hard race.  Basically once you cross Highway 20 on the way out you are on the gas all the way to the finish.  At about 10km to go the course takes a quick left then right as you move from one side of the irrigation ditch to the other.  After that seems to be when the successful attacking and counter attacking starts.  This is a good place for somebody who can time trial and who can SEE the opportunity to attack.  After a series of attacks there is often a lull because everybody is tired.  THIS is when it is time to go.

For the sprint, take into account the wind direction.  If it’s a headwind be patient, if it’s a cross wind try and stay protected while still making sure you don’t get boxed in.

Lodging: There are hotels in Williams.

Corrections and additions, please email me!

Kevin Metcalfe

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