The Sea Otter Classic is always a spectacle. It's the only time the roadies and the mountain bikers mix at the same venue. It always feels like the Laguna Seca Raceway is THE place to be on this particular weekend. There's a huge expo area with the industry's greatest sponsors, which gives our team a chance to meet the actual people behind all our fantastic gear and equipment. Our sponsors Giant, Pearl Izumi, and Clif Bar all had tents in the expo area. We got a chance to sign team posters at Giant one day, visit with Josh at Pearl the next, and take part in the big Clif party after the road race. It was like being at a frat party!
Oh yes...the racing. It started out with a bang. Day one was a short, but exciting 3km prologue. It started at the top of the raceway corkscrew and wound down and around to the start/finish line at the bottom of the track. Once leaving the starting gate, the riders had about six pedal strokes before plummeting down the corkscrew. The challenge was to see if anyone would stay in their aerobars through out the entire downhill section. I'm pretty sure none of the girls did. With windy conditions and a rear disc wheel, it felt a bit treacherous already shooting down a twisty descent.
I read later that the men's winner, Gord Fraser, was the only one with enough balls to stay in his aerobars the entire descent. I think if I had tried that, I would have ended upside down on the dual slalom track. Luckily, I have brave teammates to balance out my timidness. After Ina finished her prologue, she came back to the car mad at herself for braking in the corners. I reminded her that it was most likely because she had gone into the corners faster than anyone that she had to brake! Kristin and Ina finished 1-2 for the prologue. But they and three other girls were only separated by a few tenths of a second. I think five girls finished in 3:04 or something like that, including Candice Blickem and Tina Pic from Quark. Kori, myself, and Mari finished eighth-ninth-tenth, all with 3:09. So with five in the top ten and only seconds separating us, the overall GC was far from decided.
The next day when we lined up for the circuit race, Kristin was in the leader's jersey, Ina was in the points jersey, and Candice was in the 'Rebel without a contract' jersey. I didn't quite understand this one. It said in the race bible that this black jersey was awarded to the top non-UCI registered team rider. Seeing that T-Mobile is the only UCI-registered women's team in the States, this meant that basically the jersey was awarded to the top non-T-Mobile rider. Whatever. Last time I checked, the women on Quark, Webcor, and Colovita all have contracts too.
This year's circuit race consisted of 17 laps around the raceway, making for a 38 mile race. It doesn't sound very long, but that doesn't mean it wasn't hard. Seventeen times up that climb definitely wears on the legs. But honestly, I think I waited too long to write this race report because after Saturday's long, incredibly hard 84 mile road race stage, I can't even remember what actually happened in the circuit race. I feel like my mind is warped. Maybe I'll just go to the road race and work backwards.
Thankfully, the race organisers had changed the plan for the road race a week prior to the start. It was originally supposed to be this 100 mile slog out through Salinas and around, back through Kansas, in a headwind the entire way, before finally coming back into Fort Ord and Laguna Seca for the finish. I had raced that course two years ago and disliked it very much. I heard that last year, the winds were even stronger, and the women's race took an hour longer than it had the year before. So when we heard the course had been changed to a tough 10 mile circuit all within Fort Ord, we were really excited. That was much more to our liking! We started on the race track and climbed up and out into the Fort Ord army base. We raced the circuit seven times with 920 feet of climbing per lap, then climbed up out of there for 4km back to the race track. Then to add insult to injury, they had us do another 1.5 laps around the race track. I think the total climbing was 7500 feet. It was a good day...
The road race was really tough but we rode it well and raced as a team. We went into the race with Kristin in second place behind Tina Pic of Quark. Christine Thorburn was not far behind in GC either and was a big threat. So we knew we had to try and work these teams over. On lap one of the circuits, Mari attacked and a good break formed with Grace Fleury (Quark), Felicia Greet (Webcor), Rebecca Larson (Colovita) Lynn Gaggioli (Monex), and Nicole Demars (Victory Brewing). The peloton seemed content to let them go, knowing it was early and the course itself would take its toll. I think the break got up to a three minute gap at one point.
Finally, by about lap four, Quark started to worry and put their girls at the front to rotate and start bringing back the break for Tina. My memory is still a bit fuzzy. As we were getting closer, we started trying to attack and get another one of our girls up to the break. This got other teams moving as well and the action started flying thick and fast. I seem to remember the fifth or sixth time up the wall of the circuit REALLY hurting because of attacks. A small group formed at the top of the wall after this particular painful climb with Kristin, myself, Erin Willock and Christine, Kim Andersen and Dotsie Cowden from Colovita. But just as we started on the descent, Ina came flying around us and shot by like a bullet. She actually got away on the descent. No one could catch her. She had just told me she wasn't feeling good, that she didn't have it today. So her plan was to attack, and then I was to counter off of her. Well, I never saw her the rest of the day...so I guess I didn't have to counter!
Ina quickly bridged up to the remainder of the break and had Mari drive it as far as she could on her last bit of energy. This really worried Webcor and Quark. About half a lap later, Christine attacked and Kristin and Tina soon followed. Seeing that they were the top three in GC, the rest seemed content to let them go - the action was up the road the rest of the day. With Ina up the road, Kristin could just sit on Tina and Christine, letting them do all the chasing. When they did finally reach Ina, Kristin threw in a great attack and stayed solo the remainder of the race, winning the stage and the overall GC. It was a great win for us and put the biggest smile on the face of our director, Andrzej Bek. Just seeing his smile made all the effort so worth it. It was a great end to a successful California spring racing campaign. Now I cannot wait to go home tomorrow for a bit of rest. I've been on the road for over a month, and although I have had amazing homestays and some pretty good hotels along the way, nothing beats home. Even if it is supposed to rain and snow this week.
See you at the next race!
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