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