Thursday, April 17, 2014

Race Report: Sea Otter Classic

Women's Cat 1 30-39 podium, left to right:
Amber Broch 2nd, Kris Gross 1st, Naomi Haverlick 3rd
(Darryl Sykes Photo)

At last, the day arrived and my first Sea Otter adventure began. Though I have always been hyper aware of this annual event in the cycling world, it was never within reach back in my old life, given work and all the rest. So now that I'm living just down the road, I made it a point to attend this meeting of cyclists from every discipline, and enjoy the opulence of the upcoming shiny bits on display for their first time.

Even better, I teamed up with fellow she-ninja Paula and we road tripped the whole thing together, sharing transportation, hotels and a lot of laughs.


Ocean Weasel spotting
Our first day of Sea Ottering was Friday afternoon and we did some laps of the grounds as things wound down saying hello to people and making mental notes of where we'd like to spend more time the next day. Then it was off for a mini team dinner with Michael Henry before hitting the hay.


Preriding turned out to be a huge headache. The venue was so big, we could barely figure out how to even get on the start line. Plus, since it's held at Laguna Raceway, the first mile or so of the course is on the race track so we didn't feel like we needed to practice that. We finally asked enough people so we could get on the course and get preriding ... but with only about 10 minutes until the pro races started. So we just beelined across the valley on some off-course singletrack to connect with the end of the course, crossing our fingers we didn't end up run over by the pro men's field. We almost outran them but not quite, leaving us a moment or two to cheer on the men including honorary Ninja Stephane Roch as they came through. So with our "lap" under our belts, we had an idea of what the first mile and last five miles of the 24 mile course looked like ...


Something went horribly wrong with the communication of start times at Sea Otter this year. I know I am partially to blame, but I can't take ALL the credit for this next blunder. I had internalized a start time of 9:31am for my category but I couldn't remember where in blazes I'd seen that time so I couldn't confirm it. All the website said was that ALL CAT 1 would be staging at 7:30am.

A blow for sure. The venue was about 30 minutes from our hotel, I need to eat about two hours before I race plus get dressed and double check I have all the things ... you do the math. It was a god awful early morning. Coach Richard picked me up so Paula could soak up a few more zzzs before her race.

Got to the venue and started eating as much as I could get down at 5:30am. I kitted up, shivering the whole time in the dark. Did my warm up, hit the loo once more, then headed to the start line. But there was no place for Cat 1 women to stage. Hmmm.

Finally tracked down an official to ask him about it and he showed me his start times sheet. The good news is, I hadn't *missed* my race, which was the case for a number of other people. The bad news was that my race wasn't for another two hours ... 9:31am just as I'd thought the first time.

Aaaaaand, repeat.

Fast forward to 9:28am and I find my category and start to feel my horses pawing the dirt -- sure sign of a good warm up. Coach Richard was close by to offer some final words of advice/encouragement, and then we were off!! The track start was a bit of a trip (including me, missing my pedal ... pshaw!), and watching all the other categories make their start I figured we'd do the same: stick together to minimize work until we hit the dirt.

We did our time on the track, and then we were on a paved service road before finally we turned onto the gravel double track of our first descent. It was fast and loose and it was also about this time I started to feel like I was on the set of some kind of action movie. There was an ambulance flashing at the bottom of the hill, sirens and even a helicopter hovering --- and no, Red Bull wasn't at the stick. People were going down on the high-speed descents and we were soberly reminded not to be one of them. Fingers on the brakes!

Girls started testing the field on the first rollers, breaking off the front, then getting caught back up. I tried one too for the fun of it and to see who would hang. Amber quickly made an impression. She was climbing strong, and closing every gap on the descents. So I hopped on her wheel for the next paved section.

At last, we seemed to have some distance on "civilization" and the trails started to develop some flow and elevation. I saw an opportunity and jumped on the gas for a punchy climb, gapping Amber. She closed on the descent again. But then we hit traffic and singletrack with a slightly steeper pitch. This time, I slowly increased my cadence/power and tightened the screws bit by bit, working my way through traffic and listening for Amber.

At the top, I had my gap, and I let myself get a little bit stoked. Now it was only a matter of racing clean and consistent and of course, a matter of luck. It all seemed to be on my side though. Despite a few near calamities -- mechanical and racing-a-course-blind-and-screwing-up-corners-handling-wise -- I held on to a smooth ride and crossed the line in first place to the sounds of cheering spectators and cow bells. Amazing feeling. Full results here.
She-Ninjas + beers at the Hutchinson booth: Paula, me and Regina

I want to thank Richard who helped me put together a winning strategy as well as the nitty gritty like driving my whiny butt to the venue before the crack of dawn (and to everyone's favorite registration guru, Sam from Big Bear Events, for coming with him WITH COFFEE!!). Thanks to Michael Henry, Regina Jeffries and Paula Evenson for the fun hangs. Thanks to all the organizers and volunteers for wrangling this crazy event - wow. And thanks to all the women who came from as far as Montreal(!!) to race the Sea Otter. Looking forward to next year already.

Winner Winner Chicken Dinner:
Gourmet meal at Pebble Beach's famous 18th hole