Fun with the Little Bellas in California

The Sea Otter Classic always proves to be one of the most exciting and busiest race weekends of the year. It is North America's biggest cycling festival packed with mountain bike races, road races, fun rides, clinics, and 50,000-plus spectators. It's a blast to see and talk with all of my sponsors and friends in the bike world. For me, this year's Sea Otter Classic was particularly exciting and busy.

The weekend kicked off with the Bicycle Leadership Conference. I was truly honored to speak about the Little Bellas, a nonprofit "mentoring on mountain bikes" program that my sister, Sabra, and I co-founded five years ago. I had the opportunity to speak to 200 of the industry's leaders about the importance of getting kids riding bikes, and, in particular, how to get more girls on bikes.

The motive of our youth panel, led by Giant Bicycle's Elysa Walk, was to wake up the industry and inspire them to be proactive in encouraging more kids to ride bikes, and in turn, invest in the future of their companies. Leading up to the event, Sabra and I boiled down our Little Bellas experience, and the many lessons learned, into potent messages to the industry. We hope the industry walked away with some different perspectives about the future of kids riding bikes. This conference is a dynamic and inspiring exchange about all things bicycles and business, and I am so grateful that I was able to be a part of it.

After speaking so much about the Little Bellas at the conference, it was great to take that momentum into the next day and get to work on our three day Little Bellas Sea Otter Camp. With the help and support from Specialized and the amazingly successful fundraising effort from First Gear, the camp was a huge success this year.

Because of the all of the generous donations, the hard work from tireless fundraisers, and local Monterey school presentations that spread the word about our program, 15 girls were able to participate in our camp on scholarships. We had a total of thirty 30 Bellas over the course of the weekend honing in their skills, having lunch with the pros, grabbing as much schwag as they could in our venue scavenger hunt, and, hopefully, catching the mountain bike bug for life.

My sister, Sabe, who is also the Little Bellas co-founder and co-director, directed the camp and we brought three other tried and true mentors from our bustling Vermont program to help run the camp. With Sabe at the helm of Little Bellas, I could focus on racing.

First up was the short track. In the week or so leading up to Sea Otter, I had to take some time off the bike because of a tweak in my calf. I was a little apprehensive because I felt completely shut down from the week off, but like every time I toe the start line; I was just going to go as hard as I could. I was especially pumped to give the slew of screaming Little Bellas a good show. Georgia and I had a great lead on a group of chasers for about a third of the race. Then, I took a little spill on a 180-degree corner, of course, right in front of the Little Bellas, and this crash took me from riding alone in front of the chase group to riding alone behind the chase group.

My sister is as enthusiastic as I am, so I was surprised she didn't jump over the barriers, pick my bike up for me, and ride away when I crashed. I held onto my spot for sixth and my fall hopefully taught the Little Bellas the important lesson that EVERYONE crashes, even the pros. It is important to get up and get back on the bike.

Next up was the cross country and the majority of the race was on the windy race track or fireroad which made for a particularly tactical mountain bike race. I had polished my tactics in the Redlands Road Race a couple of weeks before so I was ready for any road trickery.

The lead group of six women splintered on the end of the first lap, and I became one of the solo stragglers behind the lead trio. Heather Irmiger caught up to me and we both declared that Trek and Specialized were going to be friends for the day, and we worked together. Then, Kelli Emmett and Pua Sawicki joined the party and the four of us battled for the remainder of the race.

As we approached the finish line, I made sure that I was first in the group climbing through the sandpit onto the track because I didn't want to be stuck behind a mistake. But this move also put me in the precarious position of leading coming into the sprint. So, once we hit the pavement, I sat up ready to react to any attacks. Sure enough, Pua jumped, and I glued myself to her wheel. We came around the bend with 200 meters to go and I jumped and sprinted like a mad woman to capture fourth place.

All in all, I was excited to walk away from Sea Otter with solid races under my belt, and I hopped on a plane home to Vermont with a huge smile on my face. Next up are my first World Cup races back in Dalby Forest, England, and Offenburg, Germany.

Send the fast vibes as I test myself against the best in the world.

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American cross country mountain biker Lea Davison returned to the race scene in 2011 after most of a year off competition due to a hip injury, surgery and subsequent recovery. The 27-year-old American made her comeback with Team Specialized.

The Vermont resident will again race domestically and internationally in 2012 including events such as the US Cup Triple Crown, US Pro XCT races and the World Cup.  As a member of the US Olympic Long Team, she'll be vying for a spot on the final squad headed to London.

Davison will document her competition and travel in a blog on Cyclingnews this season. Stay tuned to follow all her adventures.