In 2005, former All-American 800-meter runner Paul Mach showed up to his first group ride in Davis, California. Five years later, he returns to City Park Monday morning wearing the red and yellow King of the Mountains jersey at the Amgen Tour of California.
The second-year pro jumped into the day’s long breakaway 20 kilometers into stage 1 Sunday. When he crested over the only KOM in the 104.2-mile route from Nevada City to Sacramento, the 2009 Mt. Hood Classic overall winner secured him team’s first classification lead of the race.
“The goal was to ride aggressively and get into a break,” Mach said.
When his Bissell team convened for its February training camp in the stage 2 finish town, Santa Rosa, Mach was uncertain of his place in the California roster. He rode his way onto the squad, however, with a place on the final podium at the San Dimas Stage Race in March and two stage wins at the Bissell Show, otherwise known as the Sea Otter Classic.
“It’s kind of a dream within a dream,” Mach said. “I wasn’t guaranteed to even get [into the race]. So to be here in the biggest race in America and get a jersey — and then to start in a jersey in my hometown — it just keeps getting better. It’s still sinking in.”
Before stage 1, Mach said Bissell would be hoping to find the sharp end of the peloton early in the Amgen Tour of California.
“We’ll be trying to make the breakaways, trying to animate the race as much as possible,” he said.
The 28-year old found the tip of the race early when he bridged across to a three-rider move in the rolling terrain that led the peloton away from Nevada City. When Marc De Maar (UnitedHealthcare-Maxxis) jumped away on a short ramp, Mach followed Chad Beyer (BMC) and Maarten Tjallingii (Rabobank) up the road.
“We worked well together,” said Mach. “We had a good time out there. It was inevitable that it was going to come back.“
Before that inevitability played out, however, the group rolled through two sprint points and one KOM. When the foursome approached the KOM at CA 49 with a five-minute advantage, Mach realized that the jersey was a possibility and he took the opportunity.
Mach’s first day on the world stage came just five years after picking up the sport at the age of 23.
“I started cycling when I moved to Davis five years ago,” he said.
His second day on that stage will come Monday in front of the community that brought him into the sport as a collegiate cyclist.
“All those guys, the Davis Bike Club and the cycling community in general, that’s been the people I’ve ridden with all the way through,” Mach said. “Coming back with the jersey, the KOM jersey from a big race, everyone’s already pretty excited to have a hometown boy in the race and now to have a jersey, it’s a special moment to be able to represent the community there.”
When his name is called at the start of stage 2, that hometown boy will roll to the line under a thunder of applause that will likely rival the headliners of the sport