I had heard good things about this race and that it was definitely one I should do. As it got closer I actually debated whether we should actually go up there this time. Well, we did decide to go and camp and a have a fun family adventure. So glad we did!
Got up and ready and made it over to the other side of the lake where it was much colder with winds at the race start! It was chilly and then I realized I didn’t even bring my arm warmers! I knew I probably wouldn’t need them once going, but before the race I was downright cold. Also, we somehow managed to be running a little late even though I thought we had plenty of time. Mostly because of the racer meeting 30 minutes before start. Anyway, I didn’t get much of a warmup and just got over onto the massive start. Kind of crazy, I didn’t hear anybody saying anything just some clicking pedals in the front and the whole pack started going. I guess that is how we roll here!
I really didn’t know much of anything of the course except that we started with a long climb and there was going to be another big climb later with a bunch of fun singletrack in between! We started the climb and teammate, Craig told me to settle in because it went for a ways. I took his advice and got into a good climbing pace. I knew there was at least a couple girls up ahead, one I recognized from Big Sandy and another that passed and was climbing just in front of me. Soon we came down and raced on the road across the damn and onto the first singletrack, this is where it got fun! I passed the girl that was right in front of me off that first single track and then heard reports that I was the second female. I soon caught Tracie and passed around mile 9 when she bobbled and had to come off on a climb. This was right before a fun flume section of the course where my new 27.5s really shine. I was able to put in a little gap there! I love the speedy acceleration of the my Obsess 27.5 in the corners and punchy climbs! Somewhere along the way, a guy I passed told me there was one more girl up ahead. I was confused but figured I needed to catch her if he was right. So I kept pushing. I have to say all the guys I was riding by were great gentlemen, even calling up to the others to let the lead female through. I have to note this because that is not always the case when passing men. Soon, the one who told me there was another girl caught me again and informed me that he gave me bad information, it was actually a guy and I already passed him 🙂
Then we hit the really long climb. Not knowing the course, I had no idea how long this went. I was good for a long ways pushing a good pace and then it just kept going and then finally got steeper with dry pine needles and we had to come off. I wasn’t sure I wanted to use these different muscles! Soon, though we finally finished and were rewarded with a great trail that descended through the forest. There were some great little sections through the end of the race.
I crossed the line as the first female by over 3 minutes. I really enjoyed the course even though I had very little idea what to expect. The race experience was made even better by an awesome post race meal, huge burritos! We made our family trade and Ashlyn and I hung out for burritos and awards while Drew headed out to try and ride at least some of the course!
We finished out the weekend enjoying the afternoon at our campsite and one more night of camping.
I am definitely glad we didn’t miss out on this one. That was some great riding and the rain the day before made the track perfect!
This last weekend was my favorite race/event of the year… the Sea Otter Classic. For months I have been looking forward to and training for this race. As one of my “A” races of the year, I was really hoping for a good result! The weekend went really well and came Sunday I felt very prepared both mentally and physically. The day started off early, 4:30 AM to be exact. After a breakfast of eggs and a bagel I propped my legs up and popped my ear buds in to get my mind off the race. I got to the race track at around 6:30 and began to warmup. I met up with teammate (Ron Shevock) and spun around behind the start line.
Ten minutes before the start I worked my way to the line and settled in. I was sitting in the second row and began looking at my competition…never a good thing! I noticed nearly 70 people and a number of very fast competitors from all over the country and I knew then that this was not going to be an easy race; I had my work cut out for me.
“5, 4, 3, 2, 1.” The pack surged forward and we were off! From the start I knew I had to get into the top position before the fire road or I would get caught up in all the dust and lose time. Within the first few seconds I was able to maneuver around a few guys and get in with the front group. However, people began riding up along side us and I soon found myself in the “middle.” There is nothing scarier than people bumping your bars and wheels while going 25mph and not being able to do anything about it.
Finally a gap opened up and I lunged for it and broke away from the crowd trying to avoid a crash at any cost. By the time we got off the racetrack and onto the fire road I was in second position. A couple guys jumped in front of us and I felt comfortable sitting in this top group. Unfortunately I ran into trouble at the top of the climb. A kid next to me bumped into the track marker post on the side of the trail with his bars and veered into me. I got pushed sideways and had to hop off the bike and sprint the next 15 feet to the top of the hill. This really set me back since I got passed by nearly 10 other kids and was now sitting in about 16th place. I really pushed down the next fire road but I could not see anything through the wall of dust in front of me and it was all I could do to hold my line.
After passing a few guys in the next fire road climb I was able to get into the top 12 by the single track. Our whole group seemed to surge together single file on the trail which made passing nearly impossible. Knowing that I wouldn’t be able to gain any time/ positions I settled in and let my heart rate lower. We made it through the single track and out onto a long road decent. This section ruined me! I hadn’t noticed this during my preride since my speed was much slower but the 32 tooth chainring I had in the front was doing nothing but “spinnnnin.” Without being able to pedal I tucked into the most aerodynamic position I could and watched as 6-7 guys passed me. I tried not to get to frustrated and made up for it on the single track by passing all of them and catching up to the front group. We soon came to another road section however it was much more flat so I had more pedaling power. I jumped onto what I thought were the top 10 guys who had slowed the pace a bit. I didn’t know that there were 3 kids who had broken off of the group and were out of sight. A few more guys came up behind me and settled in.
With about 200 feet till the next single track section I heard a terrible scraping sound behind me and a yell. I turned my head in time to see a “specialized epic” flipping through the air and parts flying in every direction. I didn’t get a chance to see who the rider was but later found out he was hauled off in an ambulance. Much of the middle of my race was spent in a group of about 5 guys including Bryce Lewis, Alec pascaleni, and a few kids from the Canadian pivot team. The final part of the race and the part I was dreading the most came quick. With 5 miles to go I had a 3 mile fire road climb and a couple miles of single track left.
The climb was nothing less than painful. My group of five pushed hard on the climb with the next group in sight. After a few attacks on the steepest parts of the climb I bridged the gap solo and jumped onto the back. With a few major climbs to go the group really started to push. Two kids jumped out front and broke away from the group. I gave a couple hard pedal strokes and decided I didn’t have it in me to stay with them. By the time we got to the single track I had been passed by a few guys and decided to really push it to make up time. I got passed this little bit of trail and was surprised how much time I had made up. I was on a long stretch of fire road and could see a group of about six guys not too far in front of me. After a few more hard attacks on the hills I had caught up to the group right before the last section of single track. This was my last chance to push and I had to give it my all! I made a couple of sketchy passes on the downhill and was feeling strong. As soon as we hit the last mile of climbing I made my move. I surged passed the whole group and laid down the power. After a little ways I glanced over my shoulder and was surprised to see that only one guy had jumped on my tail. I kept this power on and was happy to see I was catching a few more guys. Bryce Lewis jumped in front of me on the last steep climb and I sat on his wheel. The climb ended and I knew I had only a couple more turns till the line. With a burst of power I squeezed by Bryce and pushed through the last few turns to the line. I crossed the finish proud and relieved. At that point I had no idea what my position was but knew that I had given it my all. I soon found out I had gotten 5th place in a very stacked and competitive field of category 1 17-18 year olds.
Looking back now, there were a few things I know I could have done to save time and most likely position better but there’s no such thing as a perfect race and I am happy with my results!
Sea Otter was a race that I penciled in a few months ago as one that I wanted to focus on this year. I have raced the Pro/Cat 1 Single Speed race several times over the years, and never really did all that well until last year, when I made the podium with a 3rd Place. That surprise placing gave me a shot of confidence and put the faint idea in my head that perhaps with a little luck I could even improve upon that. So I came into this year’s race with a clear goal and I sacrificed some early season form in my local region’s winter races, so I could build up better toward Sea Otter, and perhaps come into it a bit more rested, and thus even faster than I had last year.
The Sea Otter single speed race is always extremely strong pulling in a National level field. Last year’s race was won by multi time national champion Evan Plews. In another recent year, it was won by Aaron Bradford who also has several national championship titles to his name. Every year, there are pro level MTB’ers, cyclocrossers (i.e. Craig Etheridge this year), and even roadies (i.e. Andy Jaques-Maynes finished just off the podium last year) in the field from CA, OR, CO, AZ, OR, and WA. It’s a great competitive (yet still FUN) atmosphere and some of the best competition a single speed racer can find in a single day traditional distance XC race outside of a National Championship.
The race was about 24 miles with 3,500 vert of climbing. I did a pre-ride the day before to confirm my gear choice, and at a relaxed pace my riding time was a few minutes under 2 hours. So with that in mind, I figured at race pace (i.e. going ALL OUT the entire time), winning times would be about an hour and half.
Thirty of us toed the start line at 7:30 AM on Sunday and we blasted off. The first mile or so of the race is on the Laguna Seca racetrack and since there is only so much top end speed that a single speed rider can sustain, I was surprised at how fast our pace was right off the start. I’m guessing this is because in year’s past this race was much longer…nearly twice as long as we were racing today (i.e. a 3 hour race vs. a 1.5 hour race) so historically there was never any need to go like mad from the gun. But within a minute, I was already riding at close to threshold as I spun my gear like a crazy person to stay in a decent position to attack and move to the front when we eventually hit the dirt.
We hit the dirt and a bit of an incline and I sensed a slight slowing in the field so I stayed on top of my gear to hold my momentum. Before I knew it I went from about 6th right to the front and began driving the pace up the first small dirt incline that led us to the fireroad along Pilarcitos Canyon Road.
As I started descending the washboard like fireroad of Pilarcitos, I took a glance over my shoulder and noticed that the field was now entirely strung out, and it looked as though just 2 or 3 others had followed my lead. These guys were Kurt Wolfgang from San Francisco, CA and Matt Russell from Bend, OR. Kurt and Matt eventually bridged up to me, and the three of us jammed, hammered, and spun our brains and hearts out and up and down the rollers of this ridgeline fireroad.
We dipped into the first “downhill” of the day together….a steep, kinda un-fun totally off-camber plunge, down to a paved road…with a chase group not far back at what I guessed was maybe 10 seconds. We hit the pavement and were faced with a “false downhill” cruise to the next section of singletrack that was to be a climb TR 49. As easy as this pavement section should have been, it actually destroyed my hamstrings as the cadence you need to hold to maintain 25 mph with a “spinny” single speed gear is out of this world. It might sound backwards, but high cadence downhill fast sections like that should be a recovery zone, take more out of my legs than climbing does. Such is the nature of a single speed race….
Off the pavement, and onto the twisty turny singletrack climb that is TR49. Matt Russell set the pace, with Kurt Wolfgang on his heels, and me, right on Kurt’s tires. We pushed on at a fast but sustainable pace and as we neared the top, we were joined by a 4th racer who had bridged up to us, Ryan Steers from Los Angeles. All four of us crested together, someone said “ouch”, and I made a move around and into 2nd place, then we hit the gas HARD with Matt leading us out.
After about 2 miles of descending a mixture of pavement, loose sketchy gravel roads, and other more “non-recovery, recovery” downhill sections and with my heart beating up and through my throat, we hit the second singletrack climb of the day, TR 82. I knew from my preride that was one of the steeper climbs of the day so I knew it would be hard….but dear lord it really hurt. I harbored no delusions of attacking or trying to create gaps on this section, so my goal was just stay in position, and hold onto Matt Russell’s wheel as he set the pace up the climb. About five and half minutes of painful wattage later, the 4 of us once again crested this climb together, someone from behind me said “i can taste blood. in my mouth”, and we all bit down and hit the gas HARD again along some fun singletrack and toward the neutral feed zone.
The four us rode through the neutral feed zone all together and made the next left onto yet another hard singletrack climb (TR 42). I stole a quick glance over my shoulder back toward the feed zone, and didn’t immediately see any chasers, but we all knew that they were not far behind and if we made a mistake or let up off the gas at all, they’d be on us in an instant. So once again, Matt Russel led the charge up the climb, with me right on his tire, then Kurt, then Ryan (99% sure that was our ordering).
At this point we were nearly exactly halfway through, with my legs and lungs burning more and working harder than they have yet all season, I began to let my mind wander and already started visualizing the rest of the course and how this race might play out for the four of us. I was trying to gauge the other’s strengths and weaknesses based on who seemed to have the ‘harder’ vs the ‘spinnier’ gearing on the climbs vs. the flats and downhills and how all of this and all of us might either come together or get ripped apart in the final few miles as we dished this course and each other every ounce of power and watts and ability that we had.
And then I crashed. And then my face went over the handlebars and careened toward Matt’s back tire then turned away to look back up at Kurt and Ryan making split second evasive maneuvers to avoid running me over. And then I rolled on the ground and they were gone and I was left with just a whole lot of quiet, a cloud of dust and breathing and WTF’s.
My BarFly Garmin mount had broken from auguring into the trail and my chain had dropped off it’s cog. I grabbed my Garmin, messed with my chain for a few moments to get it back on and started doing more damage assessment. I was fine. Everything else seemed fine. Those three other guys had disappeared. And here along comes Arizona State XC Champion, Hunter Keating, asking “Everything alright? What’s the time gap?”…”Yes. I dunno, not far”. I started pedaling and god my legs hurt. And here along comes Cesar Chavez. “Everything all right? You ok?”…”Yes. I dunno.”. Then along comes my buddy Justin Paulson (who I was glad to see doing so well). “Dude! What happened?! You ok?”….”Yes I dunno. You’re now in 5th!”…then comes my other buddy Mason Marlow who I was also glad to see was doing well….”You’re now in 6th”. Then Scotty Carlisle from Oregon who got second last year…”What happened?”. Then a train of geared riders. Maybe there was another single speeder mixed in there. I dunno. I was pissed. I pedaled a whole lot of a little and I swore a whole bunch of a lot. What a moment ago was fast, was now maddeningly slow.
I bounced down the Goat downhill trail and was mentally checked out of the race. A few more squadrons of geared riders caught and passed and rolled by. I was at about mile 16 or so and faced with a steady uphill slog of 8 miles or so to the finish. Another single speeder caught me….Steven Mills from Redding, CA who had just won the Napa Valley Dirt Classic single speed race the week prior. We were chatting, not racing, and I was fuming at how I could let my mind wander and lose attention to the point where my bar end would snag a branch and flip me over the bars.
The trail kicked up steeply at about mile 17 and my angry legs began to waken back up again. I said goodbye to Mills and figured I might as well get this over with. Putting out some power again, I latched on to a few geared riders so they could pull me on the flat bits, then I’d pass on the uphills rollers as they downshifted, then make my way up the next group of geared riders to repeat. After a few intervals of that, at the top of one of the rollers I saw the outline of a rider rocking his bike back and worth like a metronome in that distinct over-torqued single speed style maybe a minute up ahead. I didn’t know who it was, but the only race I had left at this point was to try and catch the rider in the last few miles that we had left.
I tried not to kill myself, but ratcheted up my effort and ratcheted it up the climbs and kept a steady, but yet increasing pace. I was reeling him in. What once a minute was now 30 seconds. What was 3 miles to the finish was now 2. And what was an unknown single speed rider was now clearly the orange kit of Mason and I didn’t think he saw me coming yet, so I picked up the pace a bit more.
The last mile or so of the course is some of the steepest climbing, and it was here, just before we topped out and started the short descent to the finish that I sort of, but not really, oh-so-close, got to within 3 seconds of his wheel caught Mason. But at some point before that he saw me coming and upped his pace and crested the top just before I could put in a final dig to close that gap. He crested a few seconds before me and my chase was done. I let up and cruised into the finish in 9th.
In the end, the guys I raced with for the first half, all ended up staying together and finished top 3 (“together” in this case meaning seconds apart) with Kurt Wolfgang taking the win, Matt Russell in second, and Ryan Steers in 3rd. Local single speed studs Justin Paulson ended up just outside of the top 5 in 6th and Mason of course finished just ahead of me in 8th.
I was there. Then I wasn’t. Time to regroup and figure out what I want to do next.
Congratulations to Folsom Bike Elite MTB Team Member Tofor Lewis, who recently placed first in the Cat 1 18 & Under category at the 2014 Napa Valley Dirt Classic MTB Race.
In addition to the Cat 1 18 & Under victory, Tofor also posted the fastest time from ANY Cat 1 age group. Congratulations Tofor!