Needless to say the Sea Otter Classic is one of the most competitive mountain bike events you can find in the Northern California area. It’s the crowd of out of town studs, roadies wanting to be mountain bikers and local hammers mixed with an un-technical course with long climbs, fast fire roads, and little single track creating more of a road race on dirt then an actual mountain bike race is what makes this race so competitive. Strong road riders thrive here for that very reason, having a lack of technical skills on this course will not hinder you enough especially if you have the power to spin hard and long. Not to mention due to the size of this event the category sizes even though broken down by small age groups can still get fairly large. I believe my group Cat2 25-29 had somewhere around 36 people. Ok well enough jibber jabber let’s get to the race.
I had planned on taking time to pre-ride the course the day before, but that got substituted with good friends, great beer ( Santa Cruz Ale Works ), and fun times but I did make sure however to get a good night’s rest. I showed up a bit early the next morning to do a few warm up runs up the track only to show up at what I thought was on time but actually ended up being early so I ended up sitting around for almost 20 minutes defeating any kind of warm up I had going. Waiting around I stretched a bit to stay loose and went over what little of a game plan I had. I remembered sections of the course from last year but knew they had changed it a bit so the plan was to head out strong and try and follow a strong group until the last fire road climb and attack if I needed or hold back and rest until it was time to do battle.
As we get the countdown I was feeling pretty un-motivated and wasn’t sure why, I knew however once this party got started that would all change. 3-2-1 Goooo… I had put myself right on the front line and knew we had a small track section on Laguna Seca that many treated like a road race with usually a conga line assembling right off the first corner. I wanted good position so I followed out and sat myself about 3 wheels back from the guy who put himself out front, but I guess he decided that’s not where he wanted to be along with the two others. Coming into the first corner the three in front of me all sit up and peel off leaving me to escort the conga line around the track, Thanks a lot I say to myself, now I am exactly where I didn’t want to be and at this point the mob was huge behind me and packed in tight so pulling off really wasn’t an option unless I wanted to fall to the back. At this point I just told myself to just pull the group and see what happens. I let up a bit to not kill myself off the front and no-one seemed to be pushing I had not remembered exactly where we got off the track and onto the dirt so I started scanning off to the left since I knew it was that way. I didn’t remember the track section being as long as it felt we were on it, but the huge group behind me assured me it was. It helps knowing these kind of things, because at that moment I got the they know something I don’t when 15-18 people all shot past me before I figured out it was time to pick up the pace. Two quick switch backs through some gates and it started to look familiar again as we started up the first of many fire road climbs.
As I took a second to reflect on what had happened I tried to get an idea of how many people had passed me. During the time everyone jumped passed me, getting herded through the gates and getting up the first fire road I could not see the lead guys which is exactly what I didn’t want. Nothing is worse than chasing a fast group on a coarse you don’t know, that’s how you blow yourself up. Knowing there was a lot of race left I had to tell myself to relax and my game plan went from hanging onto the lead group to playing catch up. I knew a good amount of people got by me so as I started picking people up I tried to keep count but this became useless around 3 miles in because I started catching other groups. I was making good time and passing a lot of people, but felt like my legs were still asleep for some reason and it wasn’t a good feeling at all; almost like when I show up for work but don’t really want to be there so you do as much as you have to in order to keep the boss happy, Yeah that’s where my legs where at.
The first ten or so miles went by fairly quick, I remember looking down at my GPS and it giving me an average MPH of around 15 which is exactly where I wanted to be so I knew I was making good time, but knew there was a lot of climbing yet to come which was going to drop it down a bit. There are good and bad sides to racing on a lot of open roads and trails (road, fire road, double track) one of the good things was there is plenty of room for passing, but on the opposite of that I knew the guys in front of me were not being held up at all due to that. I kept catching people and catching people and I honestly had no idea where I was in the pack since there were about 5 categories that had left in front of me, so other than I was making good time according to my GPS I knew nothing. It was the last 8 miles or so that was the most frustrating, by this time my legs had finally woke up out of there slumber and I actually felt pretty good. I had just made it through the aid station downed a cup of water and grabbed another one and threw it on my back…Refreshing… I settled in and was ready to pound, I felt good and started really pushing myself on a section of single track but this effort kept getting stalled by what seemed to be constant groups of Jr’s who all liked to ride in a conga line of around 5 WTF I kept thinking to myself. I would call out my position and ask to pass, but even passing one person in single track can be a bit tricky so trying to pass groups of 5-6 was not a very easy task. Instead of just getting over they would peel off one at a time wasting even more valuable time. Eventually I would make my way passed the group only to run into another one shortly after and it was becoming very frustrating, but hey it happens.
So as the last single track section pops out you have around 4 miles left and its more or less open fire road and all climbing. I knew two things, I was going to have to go hard from here on out and that if I did happen to catch anyone of importance they would be rested and ready to put up a fight. I had just hoped that maybe just maybe if I did start catching people it would be because they were burnt out not because they were saving it for a battle which is exactly what I was planning if I had made it there in good positioning. I started going hard and I was passing a lot of people, I could see far up the coming hills and it was just tons of people and I had no reference to who was who. Coming up with around two miles left I came up on 2 guys riding together, I am not going to lie I was leaving it all on the table and for sure was not ready to battle if it came to it. Well it did, I had no idea what was left or how much of it was climbing all I knew was mileage and that we had about 2 miles left. I came up on them hard and passed them hard in which both of them realizing they were in my category jumped and got on my rear wheel, I thought to myself great exactly what I was hoping wouldn’t happen. This is another situation in which you want to know your course so you know what to give where. Well I didn’t I just knew I didn’t want them on my rear wheel because it was never a good place to be attacked from. I had a quick conversation with myself and it went a little something like this. “ Hey Chris how you doing… Not so well my legs are burning… Well it’s almost over just fight…yeah yeah you say that… don’t be a panzy now, you’ve put in all this effort and you’re going to call it quits so close to the end…you are right I need to fight get your stuff together body because I’m going to throw some pain your way, alright let’s do this.”
I sit back in and the next short punchy hill section I push and I push hard, I don’t look back but I can see the shadows falling off from looking at the ground. Alright keep it up just keep pushing the top has to be here somewhere just don’t stop pushing I hit the next short punchy section and I keep pushing, but as I crest the top I see one shadow start to return to take my rear wheel. Nooooo I think to myself, fight him off don’t give him a line, we hit another false flat then another short punchy climb but this one is rutted and you have to have a good line and there is traffic on your left on your left I start to yell so that he will get out of my way, but instead of yield to the left he starts to move to the left. Damn I start to think to myself and at this exact moment I happen to notice the vacancy of the shadow behind me, maybe he is gone I think to myself, then I happen to notice a small section of trail raised to the right out of the rutted section that is nice and smooth stupid, stupid, stupid I think to myself you should be up there. Just my luck guess who happens to be taking the nice line my mysterious shadow man, (yet another great reason to have pre-rode the course). Now I am coming up fast on the doofus who instead of yielding to his left is moving to his left and I hear shadow man coming to pass me on the right on his yellow brick road so I try to make a move to block him off right around the crest of the climb, but he already had the momentum and I wasn’t able to slow his hunt so right as we crested he jumps in front of me. Great I think to myself now take his wheel and attack him the next climb upon which I hear out of a spectator your done no more climbs it’s all down here from here. Noooooooooo not now, we hammer across this short flat section not very long at all and it ducks into a single track section and I am still stuck behind him on his rear wheel. This is yet another time I wish I would have known the course because I could have possibly planned some kind of attack. We shoot out and it makes a left turn on a banked loose turn in which I could have taken advantage of if I would have known because he goes super wide and almost has to come off his bike, unfortunately I follow him and do the same. We make the last right u-turn and despite wanting to try and sprint there is no room at all within a few pedal strokes we are through the line and it’s over. I end up taking 4th by 3 seconds with a time of 1:32:58. After which the 3rd place finisher I just battled with came up and told me I came out of no-where and good race and told me that him as well as the other two in front of me are Pro/Cat 1 Road. So given the competition I did not feel that bad, I guess you could say it was a bit bitter sweet.