I’ve been on the road for the past few weeks to explore some new bike terrain (Reno, NV and Santa Cruz, CA), kick off my 2016 cross country race season and the grand finale of my travels was to Sea Otter Classic; and it was icing on the cake!
Sea Otter Classic is bike racing, bike showcase, bike silliness, bike inspiration, bike awe, bike bliss. There are races for all categories and ages in road, cyclocross, and mountain biking (cross country, enduro, DH and Dual Slalom). Thursday through Sunday from 7am to 6pm races are starting and finishing on the Laguna Seca race track that surrounds the festival venue and extends through the hillside and surrounding Monterey oceanfront. Constantly there is a racer zooming by in kit spandex or bright baggies to cheer on. The infield venue is a state fair for bikes: bike industry booths showing off their new goodies, clinics to dial in your Fox suspension, head out on the trails with your bike idols for some tips, samples of Clif Bars new nut butter filled riding snacks, eat the lunch Skratch Labs makes for their Grand Tour riders , yoga classes taught by trials rider pro Ryan Leach, meet and greet (and pound a beer) with Missy Giove, “bike side-shows” where you can race the pump track on a minibike, a business suit up commuter crit, and that is just the stuff on the program! There is something for all bike passions and you will have a hard time leaving not having found a new one.
But, I was there to race in the largest pro women’s field in the USA. This year Sea Otter Classic hosted the second stage of the Pro XC US Cup, a HC rated UCI cross country race (highest level of international racing except the World Cup) so the best of the best from all over the world (even Ren Changyuan, the Chinese National Champion, made the trip over the Pacific) were in town to crush. Pre-riding the course on Thursday was like a reunion; getting to catch up ladies far and wide I see only at races and big bike events. We discussed road tactics for the big speedway climb out of the stadium, merits of the high line exiting the rock garden, how to lose the least speed through the barrier s-turn as well as sharing news of pregnancies (yeah Joy!) and whose home town is building new trails. It was obvious the course would be very fast giving the advantage to a rider in peak fitness over a technically strong gal.
Friday morning was the short track race; an urban bike style mile long loop through the venue over bridges, gravel pits, and around cement barriers where we race for 20 minutes plus three laps. More than sixty women lined up to roller derby style race. This being my second ever short track race I wanted to get in the mix but stay safe and learn more about tactics for future races. My bars were smacked, my wheels rammed and my ribs shoved; only my hair was not pulled nor was I bit! I was caught up in a big crash over the bridge where ten more seasoned racers jumped over the pile of riders cyclocross style (clearly I have some new skills to hone). The race was exciting and just as quick as it started it was over. I was pretty pleased with my finishing position and now feel I understand short track racing well enough to really put the hurt on next time.
Saturday was my big event, the Pro XC! All nerves I went into the flower studded hillside and loosened up by doing a few loose gravel bike handling drills and slowly raising my heart rate. Once warmed up, I pedaled a chill lap on the course to see how the terrain had changed with a day of riders previewing it and the eBike race using part of it on Friday. Call ups felt like being at the Oscars with the top thirty girls getting their race pedigrees announced as they took the line. I took my position near the back of the pack knowing my job was to get to the front early on the race track climb to be clear of crashes that are inevitable in such a big field. I was too successful and halfway up the climb I found myself in the front row. In a rookie moment I panicked and let off the gas a quarter turn. That was all it took to be swarmed by twenty riders. Dough!!! That mistake marooned me between the two big groups of riders climbing into a headwind. I just regained the lead pack at the rock garden and was behind two girls who crashed. I was forced to stop and another ten girls went right by me. As the laps progressed I moved forward in position cheered on by spectators at every course twist and turn. On my fifth lap some guy tried to give me an ice cream cone; it was so hot out and looked so delicious I would have taken it if I wasn’t breathing so hard. Six laps in blazing speed. I was happy with my early season result and it will be a spring board for the rest of my season. I made a few tactical, mechanical and mental mistakes and my fitness is in it’s infancy as the snow is just starting to melt in Bend, OR. So there is much room for improvement. I can’t wait for the next US Cup race in June to see what I can do!
With my Sea Otter Classic race over I got to savor the show. I had a brawny WD-40 guy wash my bike, lounged at Fluid with ice cool recovery beverage, heard the race antics of some junior racers I work with (seriously check your hydration pack for rocks if you are racing DH) and spectated the Dual Slalom with my mouth agape. Fun. Sea Otter is a marriage of everything awesome bike and you want to be a part of all of it. I’ll be there again next year camping up on the hill with some amazing industry folks, so put it on your 2017 calendar and join me.