Wednesday, April 24, 2013

2013 Sea Otter Classic Racing Report

The Sea Otter Classic, a "must" for any cyclist.  Even if you don't race, there's a ton going on and it's a blast of a weekend.  Outside of the Prairie City Race Series this was my first race back in 2006 where I raced in the "Sport Clydesdale" category for the XC race.
Yep, that's me.  It took me 2 hours to finish the old 20 mile course which was faster/easier than the new course.  I finished 13th in Sport Clydes... and was wiped!

Seven years later...

On Friday I lined up for the Pro Short Track race in a world class field 75 riders strong.  The course was different than previous years, starting on the Laguna Seca track and winding around in the expo area.  I liked it better than the old course on the hillside and it was a lot better for spectating.  I snaked my way up towards the front as riders were being called to the line and anticipated the mad rush rollup to find myself in about row 2 1/2 behind Ryan Trebon.  Sweet!  I would be on the inside for the first 180 degree corner.  When the gun went off, I had a bit of trouble clipping in but didn't loose much ground... I stayed on the inside and skidded into the cluster, tangling bars and barely making it clear of the barrier before sprinting to the next corner.  This was the "cattle chute" choke point corner for the course right at the base of the only climb on the course.  I tried to funnel in on the right side but as I went through the gap another rider turned into me and I was pinched between him and the barrier.  I had to unclip and awkwardly scoot through before remounting and heading up the climb.
Right in front of tons of photog's and heckling spectators.  It was a mess and I lost a bunch of spots.  But I finally pulled back in on the upper plateau as we hammered over in front of some grandstands before looping back down and across the worst part of the course, the gravel pit.  Yeah, they routed us through the gravel trap designed to stop race cars... by sinking.  Turns out bikes sink pretty easily too and trying to ride through there was energy sapping!  Your only chance was to follow an existing groove and hope it didn't abruptly end in a deep pile.  On the first lap I made it about 1/2 way and had to run.  But running was just about as fast and used less energy.  So as soon as I remounted I was able to pass by a few of the riders who rode it.  The field was strung out and mostly single file as the course wound its way through the venue with about six more 180 degree turns, some 'S' turns, a few rolling mounds of dirt and about an 8 foot rock garden.  I just set my sights on the next guy, whoever that was, and always tried to out accelerate him coming out of a corner or out brake him going into one.  I was moving forward and after a few laps was settled in with a group of about five or six and we seemed to see-saw a bit and mainly try not to wash out in the loose corners.
This short track was longer than the others I've done this year at 20 minutes plus three laps.  I was happy to have survived past the 15 minute mark as I could see a lot of riders had already been pulled.  I could see that the leaders were way ahead, but nowhere near close to catching us before our time was up so when I started a lap about 18 minutes in I sat up a bit more on the straights to recover and didn't pass everywhere I could.  I was planning on really hammering the last three laps and trying to bridge up to the next chase group on the next lap.  I should have just kept the power down because when I came around the final turn of that lap the USAC official was waving us to the side.  What?!?!  I was pissed!  They were pulling WAY too early!  I was in the last group to get pulled and finished 46th.  So then I loaded up with water, food, and set off for a pre-ride of the XC course.  It was a beautiful, warm day and it felt good to cruise for a couple hours.
Saturday's weather forecast called for a high of 64 degrees.  They were wrong!  It was pretty darn toasty by 11am when I started to warm up for the 12pm race.  I made sure to get in a nice long warmup in the hopes that maybe I'd feel decent in the first hour of the race, since we'd only be doing one lap and there wouldn't be much time.  I seemed to feel ok and recovered from Friday but you never really know until the gun goes off.  As I waited in the staging area listening to the callups, I think they named off about 20 riders before they stopped saying former or current world champion or national champion of some discipline!  This was an incredibly stacked field of well over 100!!  Once we rolled up I was on the right side again and about mid pack.  But start line position isn't as critical here since we roll around the asphalt raceway for about a mile before hitting the dirt.  Riding in a group of 100+ knobby tire bikes spinning around the track is one of the coolest sounds... but being IN that group also one of the scariest things I do all year!
Riding in a huge MTB peloton with guys who are all nervous, twitchy, and not used to being smooth and predictable in close proximity at high speed is nerve wracking at least to me.  And sure enough there was a pile up less than 100 yards into the race, thankfully on the left side.  I heard it and looked over to see the Specialized rider with his face on the pavement.
I think that spooked me a little because I just wanted to stay out of trouble and not be caught up in something stupid before we even really start the race!  I hung towards the back but got trapped in the middle.  Someone hit a cone in one corner which was flipping up in the middle of the group and right in front of me, I checked up and thankfully didn't loose contact with the draft.  As we started the climb up the hill towards the dirt, I could see that my teammate Ryan had made his way around the right side towards the front and was right where I wanted to be.  But I just couldn't get there before the exit of the track, which was yet another "cattle chute" cluster where those of us in the back had to dismount to get through and hope someone's pedal doesn't break a spoke, bend a rotor, or rip off a derailleur!  Jason Moeschler came leaping over the concrete wall and tires, passing probably 15 guys in the process... nice line Jason!

Finally I was on the dirt and the race could start!  I had lost a ton of track position.  Pissed and motivated... I sprinted up the first dirt road climb and got my passing underway.  The first downhill is a wide open stretch called "40mph DH" and the only clean line is to the far left.  The rest is full of ditches and cross ruts.  I had planned for this in advance though and put my water bottle in my jersey pocket so I wouldn't risk loosing it if I needed to slam through some of those ruts... which I did... passing another handful before rocketing the Highball up the next climb and passing some more!  This was the best I've felt all year in the first hour of a race and I was making the most of it!  I started to think I was finally gain some ground when I passed Adam Craig, Carl Decker, and some others I recognized.  After a few more rollers on the ridge line I caught up with my teammate Ryan in a group of about 4 guys.  He was coasting around a corner and a downhill so I yelled at him, "PEDAL!! We have to go now!!"  I went around and took off giving it max effort and drifting the gravel corners before coming to "the wall."  This steep but short climb was really loose this year, I made it about half way up before slipping and running the rest which wasn't any slower.  One more descent after that where I passed a couple more before hitting the flowy singletrack.  I fell in line behind Macky Franklin and Ryan Trebon and the pace was decent but not pushing it.  It was nice to be in a group that could actually ride and not feel like I was actually being too held up.  I recovered a bit here before we started up the next climb.  About half way up, Trebon pulled over for us and we motored by.  Then we passed another Kenda/Felt rider off to the side.  I guess they redlined a bit too early?  Or the maybe heat was getting to them.

Up on top of the next ridge Decker went by and I stuck on his wheel.  We see-sawed a bit and on one downhill corner I took the inside line to pass and smacked a rock, rim strike to both wheels!  I held my breath as I drifted to the outside, making the pass.  "That didn't sound good!" I said to Carl... and thankfully no damage was done to the tires.  I didn't even worry about the ENVE rims... they were fine.  We caught up to a good sized group as we entered some of the rutted and techy sections.  The dust was very bad and I couldn't see much, but it was nice to be able to trust the riders around me to pick good lines.  We made it through everything clean and eventually we were dumped back down to flat fire road for a transfer over to the next singletrack climb.

Just before that turn, Decker passed most of that group and I should have followed.  I figured we'd been going at a decent pace and these guys would motor up this climb too.  They didn't.  It's one of the longer steep climbs on the course and they just settled in to spin up.  It was tight and not much room to pass.  It could be done but would take a lot of effort.  Jason Sager (Team Jamis) went by really huffing but I elected to stay where I was and not blow up trying to make a few passes that might not stick.  I knew there were plenty of opportunities later.  Once we got to the ridge I made my way to the front of this pack but over the next few ridge line climbs we see-sawed.  I was giving it everything I had though and we were still catching and passing riders here and there.  I refueled with a Clif Shot and took down some more water before heading down the new trail for this years' course.  It was a smooth trail, but full of abrupt and tight turns which really broke the flow.  And unfortunately I was stuck behind a rider who was on the brakes a bit more than I wanted and he wasn't bursting out of the corners.  Nowhere to pass though and I was stuck to watch a couple riders pull away.

We popped out of the trees and down the road to the feed zone where I took down some more water before heading up the next ridge for some more good climbing.  I felt good on the steep stuff and caught up to team Giant rider Josh Carlson before hitting the gradual road descent.  I took the pull down to the bottom and as I turned to climb up the "goat trail" singletrack Josh complimented my strong pull.  I wanted to be in front for the goat trail climb.  I don't know what it is but I really like climbing this trail and always feel strong here.  It's mostly a steady climb with a few steep pitches, so you're alternating between standing and sitting, and it just has flow.
We caught and passed Macky and another rider before the trail widened up a little on some steeper climbs.  I needed a little break and Josh went by.  We passed Russ Finsterwald (Treck Factory Racing) who looked like he'd cracked... jersey open and sitting up.  I was maxed out too but could keep going.  With only the Skyline ridge climbs to go, I popped an Espresso Clif Shot hoping for one final jolt to the finish.

Josh, Macky and myself set out to try and catch a few more before all the climbing was done.  We worked together a little but we were all pretty gassed.
We still managed to pass a few and Macky got away from us both with two climbs to go.  And I had dropped back from Josh just a bit before hitting the last singletrack downhill as we got back to Laguna Seca where I caught back up to him and a Scott / 3 Rox rider Cameron Jette.

We powered up the last sandy climb to the track and hammered down the last 1/4 mile of pavement to the finish.  I locked out the CTD lever on my fork and gave it everything I had left.  I passed Cameron but couldn't get by Josh before we crossed the line.
I finished 36th, about seven minutes back from the winner Miguel Martinez (ITA) who was the Sydney Olympic gold medalist and former world Champion.  I'm really happy with my race and it was really cool to be up there with some "big names" in racing... and beating some.  And I'm always happy to come racing back to my awesome wife cheering me on at the finish line!
But as I was spinning around to cool down, a couple other racers asked me, "What happened on that downhill?!"  "Uhhh... what downhill? I didn't crash."  Turns out they didn't know there was another rider that same green helmet and kit out there.  So they thought it was me who'd crashed hard on the first blind rutted downhill.  After about ten minutes we were getting a little worried and riders started to trickle in slower and slower.  I went over and checked with the medical guys but they didn't have any reports of Ryan needing assistance.  Finally about 20 minutes after I finished, Ryan came rolling in, just a wee bit dirty!
Turns out he'd crashed so hard it cracked his helmet and he was knocked out!!  He didn't think he was out for long, and got going again but still felt out of it and stopped at a course medic station.  They checked him out and determined he was ok to continue so he went on to finish!  We made him go get checked out again, because he seemed a little excited about having knocked himself out :-).  But he was all good, at least physically.

Another cool thing about Sea Otter is that there is racing of all different types and it brings everyone together who loves bikes.  And for our team it meant we were finally all in one spot!
Marshall was there to watch us finish and we'd be there to cheer him on for his DH race on Sunday... in the one-of-a-kind white team skin suit!

Quite the different experience from my first 'Otter back in '06 eh?  It's amazing how much mountain biking has changed my life.

1 comment:

  1. Here's some aerial video footage of the Short Track race. Pretty cool!