The Sea Otter is a pretty unique racing experience. The whole event is pretty awesome. Thousand of racers, thousands more spectators, and every bike company you can or cant think of is there.
We got to Monterrey on Thursday about noon and headed straight for Laguna Seca to get some preriding done and loosen up the legs from the flight and drive down from SanJose. After hitting the registration building we walked down the hill and across the pedestrian bridge as a pack of Tour de France caliber road riders are rushing underneath in their crit. At the other side of the pedestrian bridge, still walking, my rear tire suddenly has a puncture in the sidewall. I head over to the Shimano tent to borrow a pump and it seals back up. Go on to preride a whole bunch of laps of the xc course and the tire seems good to go. After the preride my dad and I walk around the venue a bit more, checking out all the vendors. Its pretty fun place if you like bikes at all.
Friday morning rolls around and I check my rear tire first thing. Hasnt leaked at all, its fine. Sea Otter short track is pretty tough. Its a 1/4 mile lap with only a few places to pass and about 100 pro men. We get to the course just as the women are lining up for their race so we start in about 30 minutes. I am watching the first lap of the women, and pinning on my numbers when I hear the distinct sound of all the air rushing out of the rear tire again. Now its a little more of a panic. I had left my extra tires at the hotel and I needed to be warming up. I head into the venue, air it up, its not holding at all. I stop off at the Focus bikes trailer as the mechanics there arent doing anything. Karl from Focus goes to work on this little pin hole in my tire. He tapes, superglues, shoe glues, airs it up...nothing. The womens race is over and the men are preriding now. He throws a tube in and I sprint up the hill to the short track. I get there and the announcer is calling riders to staging. I make a dumb move of sneaking by and getting one lap of preriding in. They only call up the top 30 from the PROXCT shorttracks in California the weeks prior so I dont get called up and am standing at the very back.
So the race starts, I am in the back row, but right behind Carl Decker. I think to myself, he is really fast, Ill just stay behind him as long as possible. The first corner comes, everyone is off their bikes running. I make some evasive manuevers and pass a bunch of guys. Then sprint really hard the rest of the lap, passing a few more. Next thing you know, the race is strung out, everyone sprints full on in the sections where you could pass so passing is about impossible and I start thinking there is no reason to kill myself in the short track for a few laps. Ride around in 50 something position for awhile before getting pulled. Time to change the tires.
Sea Otter XC.... Its not like any other xc race. Its basically a road race with a little trail thrown in. I dont do any road racing and rarely do any thinking of racing tactics. I had one plan before the start, get into the singletrack in a good position. Before our race started, I was given a bucket load of other advice and tried to remember as much as possible, but its easier said than done. Called up 41st out of a hundred and some pro men and away we went. Through the feed zone a few guys decided to run into a fence and a little later a few more crashed into each other, i was safe and sound. We left the road and entered the trail and I was probably around 20th, just behind some Kona guys. The race started splitting up a little. The next tactic I remembered from last year, was dont let a gap open up. I clung to the wheel in front of me all lap, focused on not losing it. Through the feed zone on lap two I was squarely in the middle of a 10 man group and inside the top 30. Perfect.
This is where the tactics ended. By the time we entered the singletrack again I had lost focus and was at the back of the group. When 10+ guys are on the road, its a small group. When you spread out into singletrack, suddenly you are way behind the front of the group and if any gaps open the resst of the group is in some trouble. On the fireroad section we came up quick on a fading Russel Finsterwald of Subaru Trek who must have gone out too hard. The whole group went around him but for some reason I just sat on his wheel and watched as the group got a gap. We chased too hard on the road to catch back on. Halfway through the next lap a group led by Ned Overend and TJ Woodruff was on my wheel. I knew I could ride with these guys, so I refocused and stayed on Neds wheel the rest of the lap. Back onto the road and through the feed zone I was in the middle of that group (40ish) and by the time we hit the singletrack I again was at the back. Again, not due to fitness, just wasnt thinking about how dumb it is to be the last guy into the trail each lap. This continued in one form or another the rest of the race. I was just in a slow fade backwards. Its pretty hard to move forward on this course much as everyone hammers hard on the trail and rides in huge groups on the road. In my case it made matters worse that I literally only got passed about 3 times all race, but by 10 guys each time. 64th.