Sea Otter Race Report

Oops! I did a race in California, and then segued it into a full-fledged vacation and totally forgot to write about it! I've been hanging out in San Jose and riding for a week now. Meanwhile, my websites went down (internet! noooo!) and I am too busy pedaling, eating and sleeping to fix it.

Since Linnea got her PRO license we had to go to Sea Otter this year, because that's where PROs go in April. Like salmon returning to the stream from which they were born, only with fewer spawning opportunities, if the sausagefest that is the expo area was any indictator.

As I'm but a lowly Cat 1, I had to race Friday with the rest of the non-PRO folks, and instead of racing the new, absurd, 5k PRO course we were on the traditional (and also absurd) 19-mile course that they've been doing for years. And we were riding 2 laps of it. 38 miles? I haven't raced that far since the Darkhorse 40! No, wait, I DNF'ed the Darkhorse after 15 miles... so I haven't done 38 race-pace miles since the Vermont 50.

Oh, crap, that blog post I linked to is from 2007? This is gonna go well...

Sea Otter is actually quite a bit like the Vermont 50. You start in a big group on pavement, everything stays together for a few miles, there's a rush to the first singletrack, and then you loop all over the countryside stringing together a few good sections of trail via a ton of lame doubletrack and tons of climbing.

Well, let's see, what did I think of the Vermont 50 a few years ago?

Spending 20 minutes churning away in the middle ring on something I could ride my road bike on isn't really my idea of fun.

Ouch. That quote could actually apply to Sea Otter as well. The course is only 30% singletrack and only 5% unlock-your-rear-suspension-technical, so it mainly comes down to who can climb long doubletrack hills the fastest. If I wanted to compete in steady-state power-to-weight contests I'd do indoor TTs. Bah.

Ok. Bitching is over. Sea Otter makes me appreciate every course we race in New England, so it's a good race to do for that reason alone. I'll probably go back next year, and complain again. Race report, onward!

So we start on the track. A car racing track. Really. 25 guys and it's a solid mile of riding on the track until we hit the dirt. I have no idea why. I sit in along with everyone else as we buzz along at 20 mph, and then promptly go to the back when everyone sprints for the dirt. We exit through a narrow gap in the fence and of course, as the tailgunner I have no chance of riding it. I'm totally ok with that because we have 38 miles left to ride.

After the fence we go back onto pavement because it's a sweet mountain bike race!
True quote from this picture: "this start is retarded"

Then we bomb down across a ridgeline at 9000 miles an hour on a work road, which is not technical at all but terrifying nonetheless in traffic.

Eventually we get to the one awesome singletrack downhill, made slightly less awesome by not being able to see the trail because I'm tailgating a guy like a total moron. But then made slightly more awesome by not running him over when he crashes!

Later in the lap, I was flying down a paved downhill (because it's a sweet mountain bike race!) and the guy ahead of me decided to slow down to 10 mph to navigate a 15 degree bend onto a dirt road. I was not expecting this and nearly killed both of us while screaming "inside! inside!" at him. Before I could finish feeling superior due to my "mad cornering skills," we headed up a double track climb and he dropped me like a rock.

There was some interesting and even moderately challenging singletrack near the end of the lap so of course I don't want to talk about that, it wouldn't fit the narrative! Plus, I was lonely, although I was able to use the silence to determine that my cassette was loose. Like, really loose. It sounded like I was being chased by panhandlers.

The lap ends with the "legendary" 800 foot climb back to Laguna Seca. It starts on pavement (again, because this course is so awesome) and I made the mistake of looking at my watch. 25 minutes later I was still climbing. And still not halfway done with the race. Or happy.

Spectators watching in awe as I clean this uber-technical section of the climb.

Linnea was faithfully waiting in the feed zone with a new bottle for me, so I had to pick it up and ride hard so that she didn't realize the 4 guys ahead of me were actually some age 30-34 dudes who'd made up five minutes on me on lap one. No baby, I'm totally racing head-to-head with these guys, look at how awesome I am! We are going really fast, you should be impressed, just try to forget everyone who already came through the feed zone ahead of us.
Taking a picture while handing off a bottle is how you get your pro upgrade.

Needless to say this head-to-head racing did not continue very far onto lap two. In fact, there's not much to say about lap two, except that it was like lap one but with fewer guys from my category around and more guys from the later categories trickling through. After 2:25 of racing, I was back to the bottom of the heinous finish climb, racing entirely against guys who had started five to fifteen minutes behind me. Oh, this is going to go WELL.

Well, at least I didn't hit anyone with my parachute. My fried legs spun as best they could up the hill, and while the ten guys that passed me were racing quite impressively, I wasn't anywhere close to the most toasted person on the hill. So that was invigorating. I wanted to think that the guys who could barely pedal were Californians who had been training for Sea Otter since January, instead of early-season Easterners like myself, but their skin tone suggested otherwise.

In related news, I have some SICK tan lines now. I look like Michael Rasmussen, but skinnier.

So anyway, the course eventually put me out of my misery after 3 hours and 1 minute, 39 miles and 4000 vertical feet of brutality. I ended up somewhere around the middle of the pack for all experts overall and 8th/21 in my class, which was pretty disappointing coming from racing the Pro/1 New England races. After some intensive time with my coach we decided that midpack Cat 1 was just fine for an Easterner, and I should shut the hell up. So I will!
My coach and I, relaxing on the floor post-race.

Then I spent two days running around the venue yelling at Linnea while she tried not to get killed by Olympians. It mostly worked. She wrote about it.


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