James Mattis – Champion of Masters

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The UCI held its first official Master’s and amateur world championships in Stavelot, Belgium in early September. They used to hold an amateur world championships every year along side the regular pro worlds, but stopped doing this nearly 20 years ago. The last winner of the amateur road race was Jan Ulrich back in 1993 – the same year Lance Armstrong won his world championship.
This year, 763 riders coming from 29 different countries came to compete for the coveted rainbow jersey. Some competing on the 20km TT course on Saturday or the 107km road course on Sunday.

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This year the event is back and used several qualifiers around the world. James selected the New York Gran Fondo as his ticket in. Although having a 2008 US Elite Road Championship title in his palmares added security to his qualification. James has had a successful road career here state side while also maintaining a healthy working career. He’s been always clever at targeting important road events and weekend stage races and arriving in peak form to return with a great result. Mattis rides for the SRAM-Zipp sponsored California Giant Berry Farms road team. The team is equipped with SRAM Red drive-train and a mix of Zipp wheels including the Firecrest 404 Carbon Clinchers and aluminum 101s for training. This is a healthy North American program based in California that focuses both in road and cyclocross disciplines. Its structure promotes cycling opportunity for up and comers as well as established masters who are still sticking their nose in the wind. It will be a long trip for James to defend next year as the race will be held in South Africa, but it seems like the proper thing to do.
The challenging course in Stavelot suited the strong Mattis. Including many climbs from some of the Ardenne Classics, it was certainly a true test for a World Championship event.

RR Finish

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Look out for the ‘Cal Giant team in action currently in the cyclocross season. From local races in California to USGPs and World Cups in Europe. Follow them directly on Twitter, @calgiantcycling

Here’s the play by play for Mattis… His World Championship report,

The course in Stavelot was a challenging one. Stavelot is in the heart of the Ardennes, and plays a central role in the Liege Bastogne Liege classic. The course for masters worlds included the climbs of the Aisomont, Spineaux, Haute Levee, Rosier, and the feared Stockeau – all of which have featured in Liege. It consisted of three loops. The first loop was mainly flat, with only the climbs of the Ancinne Barriare, Brune, and Spineaxu coming at the end of the loop. The second, and shorter loop, took in the Haute Levee, Rosier, and Aisomont climbs before again passing briefly into Stavelot. The final, short loop went up the Stockeau before a quick plunge back into Stavelot for the finish. A true mini-Liege with an easier opening loop followed by a tough finale.

The race started with a light drizzle. This is Belgium so it had to rain a bit just to set the proper tone. We went out on the opening loop with numerous riders trying their luck attacking off the front. I stayed a bit back watching the action. No need to work to hard before the climbing began in earnest. The pace was high enough though that we caught both of the younger categories (under 30 & 30-34 – which had started in front of us) just as the first climb began. The pace was high on the Ancienne Barriare climb, but not enough to rip the field apart.

The second climb – the Cote de Brune – was a different story. The 15% grades half way up it’s 1 km slopes were enough to select out an elite group of 10, that split again on the technical descent down to the village of Trois Ponts. I made that group, and tried to get it to work together. But, the timing or the chemistry didn’t seem to be quite right, and a larger group soon caught us. After another flurry of attacks, six riders sprang clear on the flat roads before we started the next climb of the Spineaux, and raced to a 45 second gap.

The challenge in a race of this nature is that it’s hard to get groups to work together to chase. So this break was a bit worrying. There were a few attacks on the Spineaux, but nobody was willing to really put their backs into the effort of catching the leaders. The gap remained about the same as we carefully navigated the treacherous descent of the Wanne, and then back into Stavelot to finish the first lap.

Then disaster struck: just as I passed my friend Thierry who had a set of spare wheels for me as we crossed some nasty cobbles in the center of Stavelot, I flatted. I looked up the road at the base of the Haute Levee climb and thought my best option with a slowly leaking rear tire would be to bridge to the follow car behind the leaders – they were in sight. Fortunately, before I attempted this, I was passed by my friend Lionel. He sacrificed his chances and gave me his wheel – a true sportsman.

With a new wheel, I set off to chase the leaders. Over the course of the Haute Levee, I surfed from one groups to the next until I was finally in a two rider chase group just 30 seconds behind the front group. At the base of the next climb – the Rosier – I knew I had to make it across, so I set a super hard tempo the entire way up, quickly dropping my chase mate, but only bridging to the leaders by the very top after a long chase.

The lead group was an interesting mix of riders from different age groups. A few from my category, a few younger, but only one 40-44 rider. As the only rider from his category, he knew that all he had to do was stay away to win the race for his age group, so he wisely did most of the work. The rest of us were content to let him pull, and saved our strength on the climb of the Aisomont to wait for the final showdown on the Stockeau climb.

The Stockeau is a historic climb in the Liege Bastogne Liege. Officially, it is the Stelle Eddy Merckx. Its the point – 100 km from the finish – where Eddy sealed each one of his five Liege victories with a powerful solo attack. At the top their is even a statue off Eddy. It’s starts off with a steady 15% grade, then ramps to nearly 23% about 2/3rds of the way up. It’s a brute.

It’s makes strategy simple though. I led onto the climb and just started to set a hard tempo. This was enough to quickly pop rides off the back, and by the time we made it past the steepest slopes, the race was down to me and another American – Micahel Olheiser. A rider from the 30-34 group also hung with me, but since he was not in my age category, he wasn’t a concern. Olheiser on the other hand was a big concern. He had just won the masters Time trial two days prior (where I was only third). You can’t give him an inch if you want a chance at victory.

Fortunately, with a twisty, wet, technical descent back into town to the finish, neither of us were too interested in racing downhill and risking crashing. This neutralized any attack he might have been contemplating. Still, Olheiser is a slightly more skilled descender than I, and had a small gap of a few meters heading back into town.

When we hit the final uphill stretch of cobbles to the finish line, I pedaled as hard as I could trying to make up the gap. It seemed that he had picked the wrong gear for the effort, or wasn’t able to shift properly as the cobbles jostled his bike, but he bogged down, and I gained on him quickly. Around the final corner I pinched him into the barriers somewhat as the hard, uneven cobbles threw my bike around. I just pedaled as hard as I could, and crossed the line as World Champion.

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