Northern California Bicycle Racing Community
The Sea Otter Classic in Monterey is the largest consumer bicycle show in the country. It also serves as a major race event for many disciplines of cycling, including XC. This year it was once again part of the Pro XCT series, which makes it the most competitive event that is this close to Marin. I travelled down Friday morning for two days of racing.
I would be racing my Santa Cruz Highball at under 19 lbs. I have been very happy with my XX1 1x11 drivetrain and I woulld be using a 34 tooth chainring in the front. Once change specifically for this course was my tire choice. I chose the 29.1 Bontrager tires at 27psi rear and 26psi front. These are narrow, light (475 grams) and fast rolling.
2013 brought a change to the short track race. Instead of the course on the hillside below the dual slalom, the short track course was a portion of the cyclocross race. This course ran on the pavement that is the start/finish for the XC race and then around and through part of the venue and back. There were many turns, some 360 degrees, and a long pea gravel section. We would be racing 20 minutes plus 3 laps.
About 75 pro riders lined up for the start. I was in good company, with national and world champions, as well as an olympic gold medalist. I took my place toward the back, not expecting too much but hoping to get some good intensity in to prime the legs for the XC race the next day. Of course the start was fast, but we didn't go far on pavement until we made a 360 degree turn onto dirt and met our first bottleneck. There was a pinch-point that forced most of the second half of the field to dismount, all the while the world-class guys at the front were blasting away. I ran up a short hill and got back on the bike as quickly as I could. It was full gas as I tried to move up as many positions as I could. The pea gravel section proved harder than I thought and I ended up dismounting and running around other racers on foot. There were two "hills" to climb, about a total of 9 feet of elevation gain, and a rocky section that ran about 8 feet in length. Otherwise, it was fast and straight sections to abrupt corners and more acceleration. I was enjoying the exertion and happy to see some high heartrates, but it ended all too soon. I was pulled as I finished my second lap, doomed to spend the rest of the race as a spectator. The pace slowed a little and there was a large group that stayed together at the front for most of the race. Of course, it ended with a sprint on the pavement. Kabush won, with 10 of the top 12 being from outside of the U.S. I could tell we were going to see a strong field in the XC the next day, so I headed back to the hotel to stay out of the sun and rest.
The forecast was for temperatures in the 70s on Saturday. It would be Sunny, but hopefully we would avoid the super hot temps we have faced here in the last few years. I slept in and rolled over to the venue in time to get a warm up for the noon start. There were many familiar faces at the start, both from national and local races. Pretty much everyone from Northern California makes it out to this one: Hosey, Claasen, Will Curtis, Alex Wild, Menso de Jong, Tony Smith, Riley Howard, and more of the usual suspects.
There were over 100 starters and we had the usual dangerous peleton of mountain bikers bunched together on the track. A dozen people went down in the front left 100 yards from the start. I rode in the middle for the first few corners before pulling out into the wind to move closer to the front. I began to feel the pace more as we cranked up the pavement to the sandy left that leads to the bottleneck. Once again, we were crowded together like cattle and off the bike while the first 30 or so were already onto the fireroads and cranking away.
I tried to make up as many places as I could on the fire road climbs and descents, pegged above threshold. I would gain a few and then lose one or two. A good amount of back and forth with some guys, but I held my position on the singletrack descents and on the singletrack climb up to the ridge. The heat wasn't too bad and I was regularly hitting the Osmo. Last year I had brought one bottle and it had fallen out in the first 10 minutes. That wasn't good. This year I brought two and drank them both.
As we dropped off the ridge and started down some sandy waterbars, I dropped into a cloud of dust to find a rider down on the trail. I narrowly missed him and the jam that then occurred behind me. Alex Wild and I rode together for awhile after that. He was climbing strong, but a little slow on the singletrack downhills. Adam Craig caught us as I was following Alex down and we let him by. I passed Alex on the fireroad and caught up to Craig on the start of more climbing. Alex joined us and we started overtaking some riders. We were about 50 minutes in, with a little over 30 minutes to go, and I was feeling pretty good. We climbed for awhile and I was overtaken by Ryan Trebon and a few others. They were just ahead and Alex was just behind when we made the right turn onto the rolling fireroads that signaled the last 15 minutes of the race. Trebon turned it on to catch Craig and another racer. I knew that I had to close the gap and get on that train, as we were now into the wind on the exposed fireroad. I dug pretty deep and closed the 50 foot distance. I was able to hold here, increasing my lead on Alex, until we started some of the steeper climbs on the fireroad. I fell off a little, but was feeling strong enough to stand and hammer the final hills. I was off the brakes for the singletrack that followed, hoping to catch the rider just ahead of me that had been faltering on the climbs. I smelled blood as I saw him slip and dismount on the sandy climb to the pavement finish, just as I heard a loud hissing sound from my rear tire. No! It was flat right away and I was off the bike, as well. He got away and another rider passed me as I ran up the hill and onto the pavement. I remounted and rode the downhill paved finish as quickly as I could with a completely flat rear tire. It got squirelly a few times and I worried a little about damaging my carbon rim, but I didn't lose any more places and finished the race 52nd. My time was just under 1:26, 10 minutes back from the winners. Not exactly what I had hoped, but mid pack is an okay result for my current fitness and this strong field.