I lead this section every time, because it was packed with my family and friends cheering LOUDLY for me!

I lead this section every time, because it was packed with my family and friends cheering LOUDLY for me!

Event: Sea Otter Classic CX Race

Location: Laguna Seca Raceway
Date: 4.21.2013
Category: Masters 35 1-4
Teammates: Zack (45 1-4)
Place: 1st
Weather: Dry, dusty, 80 degrees
Tires: Challenge Fango 33/Zipp 303, 19/20 psi F/R

2013 is the second year for the Sea Otter Classic CX race, which is a late afternoon show for the spectators on Saturday afternoon of the 4 day race weekend at Laguna Seca.  I signed up because a) I needed an excuse to repair the drivetrain damaged back in January at Worlds and b) the race is really fun with the spectators as you run through a sea of bodies as the course winds through the beer garden.  So I threw on a new chain, derailleur hanger, derailleur pulleys, cable/housing and cranks on the bike, left my semi-mud tires on (I would pay dearly for this) and got ready to roll.

This was a fun little section with some ups-and-downs and a bumpy little rock section

This was a fun little section with some ups-and-downs and a bumpy little rock section

Weather was much kinder to the athletes this year with cooler temperatures and a good breeze to keep us from melting at our 4’o’clock start time.  The course was similar to last year’s but I was sad to see they removed many of the more interesting features of zig-zags, sweepers and other technical challenges that I really enjoy.  They left in the gravel pit and long stretches on the raceway that I would have been happy to see go away!  But since the races themselves are cat 1-4, I imagine they wanted to reduce the technicality of it to make it more accessible to people trying cross for the first time.

Being an off-season race, we didn’t get many locals like we did the first year, so when I looked around I didn’t know any of the riders so I had one goal in mind—holeshot so I could survive the first 180 sweeper that transitions from the racetrack to the sand.  From there, my only strategy was to try and manage my efforts so I could make 40 minutes of racing without detonating.  I was lucky to hit the race lead so I could pick my lines through the first lap of the race, but it also meant nobody wanted to come around me to pull in the windy sections.  As we got half-way through, one rider came around me and gapped me as we went from the sand-racetrack for the return leg.  This is a recurring nightmare for me—sitting 10 feet off a wheel into the wind where the space between is unbridgeable as the Grand Canyon.  The moment I saw it happening I immediately started to sprint and within 10 seconds I was back on his wheel, gassed but ready to make him work the whole return leg into the wind.  As it turned out, this was best move I made all day.

I had to be careful not to get crossed up and carry my speed without jumping here.

I had to be careful not to get crossed up and carry my speed without jumping here.

Coming through the first tight turns back into the Expo area I could tell he wasn’t as comfortable in the corners as I was, but I was sliding a lot on the hardpack and sand-over-concrete sections.  We came together into the “rodeo” park and I was treated to an amazing site: my own personal cheering section of kids, my wife, and teammates.  The chorus of cheers was a shot to the arm and I accelerated around to finish the rest of the lap.  Coming through the start/finish I wasn’t able to see anyone else within 15 seconds of us so I settled in to work with this guy for as long as I could.

Fans lined both sides of the beer garden in the Expo area, and the cheers were LOUD.

Fans lined both sides of the beer garden in the Expo area, and the cheers were LOUD.

After the first lap we established a gap and started to trade some pulls on the pavement and I would move to the front on the dirt sections. I was definitely rusty in picking lines and feathering the brakes, but I was loving every minute. My dismounts came back to me and all started flowing. 2 more laps go by and we are overtaken by another rider who by quick glance was from the 45s behind us, but I gave chase anyway since he wounded my pride.

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After so many long straights, you’d hit this little section of technical and really have to bring your field of vision back to what’s just in front of you.

Coming into the expo area I came in a bit aggressively and lost my front wheel on the transition from sand to asphalt in the slow speed 180. It was like the front wheel evaporated or slide on ball bearings. My hands never got off the bars so I stopped the fall with my face. The rider with me had the grace not to run me over and ask if I was ok, and I remounted and kept rolling. A quick check of my jaw told me it was still in one piece but bleeding freely, so thank you to whoever designed our kits to have black and red, it hides blood well!

Coming through the beer garden I had about 10 seconds to make up and I just buried myself and chased. Of course the sight of blood on me made the sharks in the crowd cheer even louder!  I fed that energy into my legs and caught the leader just after the start finish with 2 to go. I just kept it down and opened a small gap as we came into the gravel and I put in a hard pull on the pavement and a miracle occurred–I actually dropped him!  I had to try and calm down and not blow up but I pedaled through all the sections even harder as I knew he wasn’t able to match speed through there. On the last lap I had opened a gap of about 15 seconds and Jeromy and Erik were watching and ensuring me the gap was not coming back. I was closing in on the 45+ leader but I wasn’t able to catch back onto him before finishing.

This was just a small reward and encouragement to put into my back pocket to keep me motivated through the harder days.   It was fantastic to spend time with teammates new and old and see so many different athletes have success.  I’ve been away from racing for too long so thanks especially to Warrick, Clark, Jeromy and Erik who all made this weekend possible.

 

Standing on the top step

Standing on the top step

 

 

 

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