Wednesday, May 4, 2016

2016 Sea Otter Recap - The Dirt Omnium

My first Sea Otter Classic was ten years ago, and it was the first big race event I'd ever been to.  I raced XC in the Sport Clydesdale category and got 13th.  I also raced DH on the same bike (which was two sizes too small for me btw), and got 17th in Beginner.  

It's easy to see a lot has changed since then, but one thing that hasn't is that I love racing different disciplines and being well rounded.  It was that way from the beginning.  So this years Sea Otter Classic was no different, where I was signed up to race Enduro, Short Track, XC and Cyclocross.  The "Dirt Omnium" as I like to call it.  

First up was Enduro.  I was riding my slacked out Tallboy setup with the Fox 36 140 up front which works well for the smooth course.  

The first stage is the DH course, which is filled with built jumps.  I'm not a jumper so it's my "get through it" stage.  I just try to fly low and stay out of perma-xc-position my body defaults to.  But hitting the berms, clearing the jumps that aren't too big, and bombing down the ridge line is as sweet as it was 10 years ago.  At the start I realized I was starting 20 seconds ahead of Giant factory team rider Josh Carlson, who I knew would be in contention for the win (he got 2nd).  I wasn't going to be the guy that held him up so we discussed where he might catch me.  And since I'm about as fast as his teammate Carl Decker in these types of courses (out of our xc element), the prediction was spot on and he passed in the perfect spot, wide open on the paved crossing half way down.  

After a nice pedal over to stage 2, I was the first rider there.  I won the transfer, but unfortunately get nothing for it except a nice clear trail ahead with no dust.  Stages two and three are both on flowy singletrack, but relatively flat and pedally so the challenge is to carry as much speed through corners and be back on the power quick.  The legs didn't really feel like sprinting, not like they ever really do, but I felt pretty decent.  I had a few close calls from near washouts or my handlebars catching on bushes to keep things interesting.  

Speaking of interesting... I'm not sure what's going on here on the transfer to stage 3. "Stretching?"

Stage 4 is on the dual slalom course.  Again, totally out of my element but a blast to ride.  Each time I do it, I want the chance to ride it the rest of the day and try to perfect it.

One thing I really like about Enduro is that it brings us all together, even though we each focus on different areas of racing and rarely get to ride together.  Logan loved to be riding with the guys too.

Next up was Short Track on Friday.  It was the best short track course they've ever had at Sea Otter.  With no ridiculous choke points 100 yards after the start.  Still, starting at the back of 100 guys, it inevitably happens and you just have to wait.  We came to a stop in the gravel, briefly, about 200 yards into it but at least there was no turn.  And then again about half way through the course at the bridge over the track wall, where I had to get off and run it in the traffic.  But once the first lap sorting was done, I started to have a pretty good race.  I was making passes and whenever it was up to me, I was moving forward.  So that felt good.  A result of 75th and getting pulled doesn't, but whatever.  I got to race my bike,  and afterward we took Logan to his own short track where he raced too.

Saturday was my double day of XC and CX.  Jen and Logan geared up in the morning to head out from the campsite as I prepped the day's bikes.

XC was first with a field of 115 racers from all over the world.  It was a UCI HC race so the top guys were there chasing points for the Olympics.  And we would be racing a small 3.2 mile course that never left the venue.  It was a much better layout than the one four years ago, and actually had some mini rock gardens and fun stuff.  We started on the track and rode the pavement up the hill to the top of the corkscrew before dropping into the dirt.  I totally guessed the pace strategy wrong, figuring they would ease into the climb and wait for the steep part to push it.  So I was fighting to stay on the back from the get go.  But the choke point in the wall at the top brought us all back together.  Barry Wicks and Carl Decker were at the back with me, so I was doing my best to hang on their wheel and learn from even older and wiser-er racers working through the field.  We saved energy where everyone was pushing, and made passes where most rest.  They still managed to ride away from me by the third lap, but Jen and I nailed the bottle handoff (small victories).

Like short track, I was moving forward when I wasn't inhibited by course choke points.  And was actually starting to feel good about 40 minutes into it and getting faster.  But by then, the field is so strung out that the small course layout means you get pulled.  96th, ouch.  

So on to Cyclocross just a couple hours later.  My Stigmata SS was all set up and ready to rip.  And though you'd think I would be tired and the legs drained, I apparently needed a few days of hard riding in them before starting to feel good! I took the lead by the 2nd lap and thought had pulled a little gap on second place.  So I dialed back the pace a little to recover, only to be passed by a guy I hadn't accounted for!

He put in a strong dig right then as I needed to recover, so a pretty good gap formed.  I would gain ground on the power sections of the course but he was getting through the tech spots a little cleaner.  Especially the sand pit before the final turn.  On the final lap I gave it everything I had, and could tell I was reeling him in.  Coming out of the infield and onto the second to last straightaway, I was able to get a pull from a geared rider in the cat 5's we were racing with, passed him going up the hill towards the sand pit and just hammered through the sand with as much speed as I could carry.  It was the best I'd made it through the sand all race, and now the leader was right there on the final corner!  He looked back, and since I can't hide in bright yellow, he knew.  We were sprinting and spinning our single speeds like hamsters in a wheel for the final 200 yards!  I was gaining... gaining... the crowd was roaring... AHHHHHH!!!! 2nd by a bike length!  So close but what a great race!  The Stigmata was awesome and I was kind of bummed to not get the win, but stoked to be back up on a Sea Otter podium.

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