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Marianne Vos (Rabobank) was following every move in the XC race, followed closely by Trek's Annie Last.
Dutch rider welcomed into off-road peloton
It should come as no surprise that Olympic, road and cyclo-cross world champion Marianne Vos (Rabo-LivGiant) would have no trouble with her transition into mountain bike racing, but after taking back-to-back wins in the short track and cross country against a strong field at the Sea Otter Classic, the Dutch rider said her fat tire debut has gone "better than I expected, and better than everybody expected I guess."
Vos is no stranger to off-road pursuits: she's won five straight world titles in 'cross, but more importantly raced mountain bikes successfully as a junior - winning her national title and a medal at the European championships at a young age before choosing to focus on road and 'cross.
After a highly successful but stressful Olympic year, Vos is taking a more relaxed approach to racing this season, and is enjoying the laid-back mountain bike scene.
"Mountain bike is more freestyle, it's more relaxed, and more individual. If you're good and have no technical problems you finish in front. On the road, you play tactics and you're in a team. With these tactics it's not always the best who wins, and then you have this tension around the races all the time that you don't have in mountain bike.
"In mountain biking it's just racing, you get in your rhythm and you're good. It's a nice world. Especially here in America, it's a good atmosphere. I wanted to come here for the Sea Otter Classic - it didn't matter it was right after Flèche Wallonne and that I have a race next week. It might not be the perfect preparation and I might mess up one of these races, but I don't care. Of course, I want to do good, but if I don't feel well in one of these races then there's the next race."
Vos was pleased to find that her competitors weren't particularly bitter about her sudden arrival at the top of the podium. Canadian champion and former world champion Catharine Pendrel isn't worried about seeing Vos at the World Cup when it starts in Albstadt, Germany next month with a technically demanding circuit.
"She's obviously at a different point in her racing, where she's been winning several international competitions already," Pendrel said after the cross country race in Monterey. "For myself, it was the first race. I'm hoping by mid-summer we'll be really pushing each other. Every fast woman comes is only going to raise our game. [Vos] is amazing but she's human. I felt pretty good on the climbing, and I think when I'm on my A-game, it will be fun to mix it up.
"She has phenomenal leg speed and acceleration on steep climbs. That's where she got me today, but Annika [Langvad] was keeping her honest. [From] doing 'cross and road she has different skill sets. The more we can see of great skill around us, the more we're going to pick up as racers. There are things I saw out there like how to hammer through a sand pit. There are some specific 'cross skills she was using that I could see. She'll help us raise our game and it's always about finding the little details to gain that one per cent every year, and she will help us continue to do that."
Vos intends to keep circling the globe bouncing between mountain bike racing and road racing this season, but also mixing in her favorite pursuit: sightseeing. It's handy that travel is one of Vos's hobbies, and even after her intense build-up to London she said she doesn't feel like she has had to sacrifice that much for her success. "I see a lot of the world, and my daily job is to ride a bike for a few hours - that's not really too bad. If I go somewhere, I'm not going to just stay in my hotel. I am going to go see something. When I was in Rome, I saw the Coliseum, here I want to see the sea otters, the aquarium in Monterey and the Golden Gate Bridge."
Vos also revealed that an English translation of her book, "Op de Troon", about her experiences in the Olympic year, is in the works. "I'm really happy with the book, it tells my story, not only the success but how it is for me to race. I wanted to tell that story more than just the one where I raise my arms in the air."