Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Race Report: Sea Otter

Hunting. Photo by Jake Orness (JPoV)

There was no way I was going to do well at this race. Covering Sea Otter for MTBR meant that from the beginning of the week, it was go go go. Not a lot of sleep, a ton of standing and walking, countless missed meals, a few added wobbly pops, and a serious case of scatter brain. But going fast on bikes is fun no matter what the outcome on the results sheet, so I was still excited to line up with the amazing women of the pro field.

#TrailVision: PreRiding the course on Friday 
I love warming up at Laguna Seca. And I love having so many friends around, thanks to the expo. Morning of, I did a quick lap of some booths, including sponsors' Rocky Mountain and GU, to get good luck high fives and then hit the track for my warm up. 

Everyone was up there doing the same thing but the energy was a little more relaxed. Sea Otter is such a different event. There is a lot going on besides the racing, and the course itself is better with an ally or two. 

The start had another level of excitement as the "Little Bellas" young ladies' mountain bike club cheered like maniacs for us, the "Big Bellas." It is so amazing to see all those girls stoked on bikes and the perfect note to head out on. 

The whistle went, and we LAUNCHED into action. It was an exciting start as we powered through the first straight away and then settled into "track speed" (there is no point charging on the asphalt) for a lap of the raceway. Just before the dirt, something happened (tire rub? brake check?) and the pack scattered in squealing tires and sharp intakes of breath. I watched Catharine Pendrel sway violently before riding away clean in just a couple pedal strokes. A close call, and the nerves now ruled. 

RinseKit + WD40 Bike = Race Ready at Laguna Seca
As soon as we left the track, the attacks began, and we all jockeyed for position, taking up both lanes of the road out, much to the surprise of oncoming Gran Fondo riders. They surely didn't expect to be faced with the World Champion and her friends, National Champions and Olympians. Heck, it's still a shock to me every race. 

And speaking of me, my start was as expected: legs were flat, I was slow to respond, and my brain was in about three other places. Once tires finally hit the dirt, I was able to bring back the focus and come up with some kind of strategy (get to the front, get to the front, and get to the front) and even my legs were beginning to wise up. But then, CRASH. 

The loosest, finest sand of the day is on a moderately steep descent down to the final asphalt section of the lap. The gal in the front of our four-woman train went over then bars, causing a chain reaction through our group, ending with me. 

So here is my Ninja Mountain Bike Skills approved, step-by-step guide to crashing: 

1) Try to ride out ... 
2) But if you can't, crash sooner rather than later. 
3) Dust yourself off and check you, the bike, and that you have all your bits (Garmin, bottle), in that order. 
4) Get back on the bike!

Riding out was quickly ruled out as my options became lay down the bike or run over a racer. So I just put it down in the gravel and carried on with steps three and four. A couple raspberries on my elbow and knee, but otherwise, everything seemed to be fine. 

And to be honest, I think crashing was the best thing that could have happened in this race. 

Sometimes after a crash, I get timid, but in a race, usually the opposite happens and Saturday was no exception. The adrenaline flooded in, and my brain was instantly back from its daydreamy tour of new bikes, parts and apparel found at the expo and screaming just one thing: Get back on the group!! I rode that "fight" response for a good 1.5 hours. 

Through the feed zone I had the pleasure to be assisted by Scott from Rocky Mountain Bicycles who I'd Shanghai'd into the gig just that morning once I realized, wow, this is going to be a long race. So thank you to Scott, I heard about racers who missed their feed or lost their bottle and they suffered a much different second lap, so I am hugely appreciative I didn't have to cut any hydration corners.

Lap two was tough. I'd burned out all of the adrenaline from the crash, I was tired of sucking wind on the open sections, and my legs were pretty much over climbing. No amount of beautiful scenery could convince me I wasn't ready to be off the bike. I was still racing, chasing down girls and passing, but I also got caught once or twice, and my mind was back to writing stories for MTBR. 

We got to the final long climb on the way back up to the track, and its punky little sister, that final left turn, and my quads felt like they were melting but the the finish line was in sight, and the next girl back didn't have a chance to catch me. Is there a better feeling than cruising into the finish on a race car track, with your nobby tires screaming down the asphalt? Not after almost three hours of racing, there isn't. 

Results: Made the top 31 ;) 
When all was said and done, I pulled out a 31st place finish, and was feeling like I'd had an unexpectedly great race! 

I have lots of people to thank for that, including Drew, Chris, and Julie for fielding pre-race nerves.

Rocky Mountain Bicycles not only for an amazing rig but also for being a super fun group of Canucks to visit with all weekend--not to mention for adding my bottles to the pile in the feed zone.

GU for much-needed energy in the form of delicious Roctane and of course my go-to Salted Caramel -- so great to finally meet the rest of the #GUCrew and our fearless leader, Yuri. 

Eliel Cycling for making the most head-turningest kits out there, which are also apparently pretty tough! Survived the crash no problem.

Thanks to Team Ninja, especially Shelly, Paula and Regina for appearing at the start line for high fives, and Coach Richard for helping me with last minute tweaks. He definitely unlocked at least another 10 watts--amazing to feel the difference, thank you!

RIDE Cyclery and the crew there -- thanks for all the support, always.

ZOIC, thanks so much for your energy all weekend ... your booth was the best one there, who else has JENGA?!

Sea Otter is done for another year, and once again, it was the best weekend ever. So much more to share about it but for starters, be sure to check out what I was up to with MTBR here. I'll have more articles to share all week. Thanks Ocean Weasel!