Wells rides to his first Sea Otter cross country victory

Todd Wells (Specialized) rode to his first ever Sea Otter cross country win on Saturday afternoon at the Laguna Seca Raceway in Monterey, California. Wells' teammate Max Plaxton finished in second place ahead of Jeremiah Bishop in third. Adam Craig (Rabobank-Giant) rode a long, lonely race to finish fourth while Sam Schultz (Subaru-Trek) took the sprint for the final podium spot, fifth.

"It was a hard, tactical race. It's my first win this year, and I've never won the Sea Otter cross country, although I've been coming here for about 15 years," said Wells. "I'm glad to finally get a win."

From the start, Wells went to the front and pushed the pace. Bishop and Sid Taberlay (H2O Overdrive) went with him to form a three-man lead group by lap two of eight, but Bishop was the only one who could handle the pace and Taberlay started to fade backward through the long line of fast men.

"It was a benefit to be with someone on the track because there was quite a bit of drafting with the wind," said Wells. "But if you get too many people in a group, nobody wants to work and it's ends up being too much of a burden."

Racing on an open, windy course meant it was a disadvantage for riders to be on their own. Riders tended to group up, particularly on the paved and dirt road sections of the course before stringing out on the singletrack, grassy hillside climb.

Wells and Bishop spent a majority of the race working together at the front. Based on body language, Wells looked stronger, but both riders traded turns fairly for awhile.

The chase group, at about 45 seconds around the halfway point of the race, included riders like Craig, Plaxton, Schultz, Jeremy Horgan-Kobelski (Subaru-Trek), Adam Morka (Trek Canada), Barry Wicks (Kona), Stephen Ettinger (BMC), Troy Wells (Clif), Taberlay and Ryan Trebon at various times. From that group, Craig and Plaxton emerged the strongest and pulled away from the rest.

Plaxton seemed to turn on the boosters and bridged up to Wells and Bishop. It was a noteworthy solo effort on a windy, unforgiving day.

"That was an interesting race - like no other race in the season. I had a problem early on and got gapped, but I wasn't going to pull the rest of the guys up, so I just sat back and let everyone else try to reel them in," said Plaxton. "But no one else was strong enough to bring them back."

"Sitting in a pack is not my kind of racing," said Plaxton, who is now leading the US Pro XCT series. "It was tough to catch up to the leaders, but my plan worked. I thought if I got up there the worst that could happen was I would get third and it's not any fun sitting in a group and waiting until the end to see what will happen."

Once Wells got word that help was on the way from Plaxton, he reduced his work in the break and let Bishop shoulder more of it. By two laps to go, he was up with the leaders.

"With Plaxton coming across, it played to my benefit," said Wells. "Bishop had to do most of the work and when Plaxton joined us, we started attacking him. That was it."

"As soon as Max was within 25 seconds, Wells totally shut it off," said Bishop. "He would take some courtesy pulls, but he knew that once Max got there, he'd have help. He sat on my wheel for a lap and then started attacking me."

Behind the lead trio, Craig rode alone for much of the race. He hadn't planned it that way, but it seemed to be his destiny for the day, and the only question was whether the group of Ettinger, Schultz and Horgan-Kobelski might catch him for that fourth place spot on the podium.

"Plaxton shed me pretty quickly because he was strong as hell on the climbs," said Craig. "He was stretching me over the top and one lap he waited and one lap, he didn't."

"Finding myself alone, I was partially annoyed that I was having to work harder than I'd planned today and partially happy because I could work that hard and felt decent. I don't quite have the mid-summer snap, but at least I won't feel totally stupid at the World Cup next weekend."

Once Wells and Plaxton got together, they showed no mercy on the outnumbered Bishop and took turns pushing the pace to keep the pressure on Bishop.

"I was suprised Jeremiah would chase me so much because he and Plaxton were in a battle for the number one spot in the US Pro XCT," said Wells. "It didn't make sense to me, but it worked out for us since we went one-two."

The tactic worked because Bishop was so at his limit at one point while chasing Wells and leading Plaxton that he crashed hard - hard enough that he took some time on the ground to evaluate his condition before continuing.

"I was laying it all out there. Sometimes when you're anaerobic, you're not totally on point. I kind of knew I was on the wrong line when I was taking it, but then it was too late," said Bishop. "There were a bunch of motor ruts. I went a little low and I went down real quick. I think I broke my finger."

"I got up and my hanger was bent, and then I figured I was strong enough to ride a whole lap with Todd on my wheel so I could go ride a whole lap with nobody on my wheel and hold off Adam."

During the time Bishop was pulling himself back together, Wells secured his gap and Plaxton overtook Bishop. Wells would ride solo to the finish, and Plaxton would come in on his own 53 seconds back for second place.

"I'm happy and it's great to see Todd win - I look up to him," said Plaxton. "We got a win yesterday and a win today."

Bishop managed to pull himself together enough to get back on his bike and ride the rest of the race on his own to finish third at 1:49. After the race, he was bleeding from his crash and looking for ice for his finger.

"To salvage a hard crash with a lap and a half to go and get third at Sea Otter is good," said Bishop, who now has a first, second and third in the first three US Pro XCTs.

The lonesome Craig was fourth at 2:07 while Schultz outsprinted Horgan-Kobelski and Ettinger for the finish.

The two Subaru-Trek riders were worried about being upstaged by the young Ettinger, in his best cross country race to date, but a bobble near the end of the trail before the final racetrack section cost Ettinger a chance to go for his first ever cross country national podium.

"I had the worst first two laps ever. I bobbled on a sand section and had to run and I got way back," said Horgan-Kobelski. "I had to pay for missing that first split. I wanted to make sure Sam and I tactically made it so we'd get to the front of that group first. We traded off attacking to make sure one of us was always up there."

"It was so road race-esque with so much drafting," said Schultz. "It was interesting - different than normal. It was fun to try to mix it up. I didn't feel that good until the last lap. I wanted to make sure Jeremy and I didn't look too dumb - getting beat by the up and comer Stephen. But he worked himself over on the last move. He bobbled that last section before the racetrack and made it easy on Jeremy and me."

Bobbling or not, Ettinger logged his best ever cross country finish at a national-level race. "I didn't really know what to do," said Ettinger. "We were racing for fifth place and I've never been in that position before." His previous best was 10th at the Bonelli Park US Pro XCT two weeks ago.

"I tried to play it as smart as I could. We worked together well until the last lap. I sat up on the last lap and let them do the work since there were two of them. They kept trying to break it up at the end, and I put in a couple of digs, but it never broke up. I'm not sure I had the legs to attack those guys anyway."

Race notes

Plaxton was on a hardtail 29er. "I don't think I've ridden a hardtail in years. It was a bit of a shock to my back."

Riders weren't too excited about the open course with lots of paved and dirt road. "I wish it was more of a mountain bike race. This was more pavement than a 'cross race," said Bishop. "Hopefully next year, we'll get back some of the trail on the front side."

"It was a silly race," said Horgan-Kobelski. "It was like mountain bike road racing. It's not mountain biking."

Full Results

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#Rider Name (Country) TeamResult
1Todd Wells (USA) Specialized Factory Racing1:40:00
2Max Plaxton (Can) Specialized Factory Racing0:00:53
3Jeremiah Bishop (USA) Cannondale Factory Racing0:01:49
4Adam Craig (USA) Gian Factory Off-Road Team0:02:07
5Sam Schultz (USA) Subaru - Trek0:02:54
6Jeremy Horgan-Kobel (USA) Subaru - Trek0:02:55
7Stephen Ettinger (USA) BMC Mountainbike Development0:03:04
8Lachlan Norris (Aus) Giant Factory Off-Road Team0:04:06
9Adam Morka (Can) Trek Canada0:04:08
10Kerry Werner (USA) BMC Mountainbike DevelopmentRow 9 - Cell 2
11Barry Wicks (USA) Kona0:04:19
12Ryan Trebon (USA) L&T Sports/Felt Bicycle0:04:27
13Thomas Turner (USA) Jamis Factory Team0:04:38
14Sid Taberlay (Aus) Kenda / H2O Overdrive0:04:53
15Benjamin Sonntag (Ger) Team Jamis0:04:57
16Jason Sager (USA) Team Jamis0:05:22
17Rotem Ishay (Isr) Team Jamis0:05:28
18Spencer Paxson (USA) Kona Factory0:05:30
19Peter Glassford (Can) Trek Canada0:05:46
20Ryan Woodall (USA) Brick City Bicycles0:07:07
21Jack Hinkens (USA) BMC Mountainbike Development0:07:17
22Bryson Perry (USA) Life Time FitnessRow 21 - Cell 2
23Colin Cares (USA) Kenda/FeltRow 22 - Cell 2
24Troy Wells (USA) Team Clif Bar0:07:25
25Justin Lindine (USA) Bikereg.Com0:07:47
26Lukas Buchli (Swi) Bixs - Ixs Pro Team0:08:16
27Bernard Van Ulden (USA) Jelly Belly pb KendaRow 26 - Cell 2
28Kris Sneddon (Can) Kona0:08:21
29Brady Kappius (USA) Team Clif Bar0:08:53
30Vincent Lombardi (USA) Steven K Pro Team0:08:57
31David Tinker Juarez (USA)0:09:03
32Carl Decker (USA) Giant Factory Off-Road Racing0:09:07
33Kalan Beisel (USA) Yeti-SRAM0:09:09
34Joshua Carlson (Aus) Rockstar Racing/GiantRow 33 - Cell 2
35Eric Batty (Can) Trek Canada MountainRow 34 - Cell 2
36Mitchell Hoke (USA) Tokyo Joe's0:09:39
37Tj Woodruff (USA) Trek - Boulder0:10:09
38Ned Overend (USA)0:10:37
39Dana Weber (USA) Trek - Jax Bicycles0:10:43
40Zachary Valdez (USA) Whole Athlete - Specialized0:10:53
41Tristan Uhl (USA)0:11:01
42Jason Siegle (USA) SDG/Felt0:11:08
43Nathan Guerra (USA) Wheel & Sprocket0:11:15
44Adam Snyder (USA) Team Jamis0:11:29
45Alexander Sanchez (CRc) Team Specialized0:11:36
46Bradford Perley (USA) Champion System0:11:49
47Ben Bostrom (USA) Team Sho-Air/SpecializedRow 46 - Cell 2
48Alex Grant (USA) Cannondale0:12:10
49Seamus Powell (USA) Giant- Mid AtlanticRow 48 - Cell 2
50Brad Bingham (USA) Moots Cycles0:12:14
51Will Curtis (USA) Whole Athlete-Specialized0:12:15
52Ken Onodera (Jpn) Team Specialized0:12:18
53Jon Stierwalt (USA) Ride Giant / Ride North0:12:21
54Russell Finsterwald (USA) Subaru - Trek0:12:28
55John Nobil (USA) Bear Valley Bikes0:13:15
56Nicholas Weighall (USA) Cal Giant/Specialized0:13:42
57Yuki Ikeda (Jpn) Topeak Ergon Racing0:13:52
58Jim Hewett (USA) Summit Bicycles0:15:02
59Cody Kaiser (USA) Cal Giant/Specialized0:16:19
60Andy Schultz (USA) Kenda-Felt0:16:27
61Mitchell Peterson (USA) Life Time Fitness0:18:36
-2 lapsMichael Mccalla (USA) Magura DirectRow 61 - Cell 2
-2 lapsMitchell Bailey (Can) Trek Canada MountainRow 62 - Cell 2
-2 lapsAaron Elwell (USA) Highgear/TrekRow 63 - Cell 2
-2 lapsGarrett Gibson (USA)Row 64 - Cell 2
-2 lapsSean Babcock (USA) Sellwood Cycle RepairRow 65 - Cell 2
-2 lapsJim Thijs (Bel) Team BarracudaRow 66 - Cell 2
-2 lapsKevin Smallman (USA) Kevin SmallmanRow 67 - Cell 2
-2 lapsMichael Hosey (USA)Row 68 - Cell 2
-2 lapsSkyler Trujillo (USA) Niner/Stans/ErgonRow 69 - Cell 2
-2 lapsChristopher Hurst (USA) Stan's Notubes/AxaRow 70 - Cell 2
-2 lapsNate Whitman (USA)Row 71 - Cell 2
-2 lapsSean Donovan (USA) Cytomax/KHSRow 72 - Cell 2
-2 lapsCharles Jenkins (USA) Cytomax/KHSRow 73 - Cell 2
-2 lapsNick Truitt (USA)Row 74 - Cell 2
-2 lapsZachary Keller (USA) Focus/BMC U23Row 75 - Cell 2
-3 lapsAnthony Sinyard (USA) SpecializedRow 76 - Cell 2
-3 lapsChristopher Michael (USA) American Classic/KendaRow 77 - Cell 2
-3 lapsJason Holbrook (USA) Yeti/Jett Pro XCRow 78 - Cell 2
-3 lapsHal Helbock (USA)Row 79 - Cell 2
-3 lapsHansueli Stauffer (Swi) IXS-Swiss Wheeler TeamRow 80 - Cell 2
-3 lapsJason Young (USA) Feedback Sports RacingRow 81 - Cell 2
-3 lapsScott Tietzel (USA) Specialzied BicyclesRow 82 - Cell 2
-3 lapsKevin Bradford-Paris (USA) Emdesports/ SpecializedRow 83 - Cell 2
-3 lapsPeter Odonnell (USA) GT BicyclesRow 84 - Cell 2
-3 lapsBrent Steinberg (USA) Livetrainrace.comRow 85 - Cell 2
-3 lapsAlex Boone (USA) Trek 29Er CrewRow 86 - Cell 2
-3 lapsJason Moeschler (USA) WTB/CannondaleRow 87 - Cell 2
-3 lapsMatthew Paziuk (Can) Trek Store TorontoRow 88 - Cell 2
-3 lapsRobert Marion (USA) American ClassicRow 89 - Cell 2
-3 lapsLewis Gaffney (USA) Team F.I.TaosRow 90 - Cell 2
-3 lapsBlake Harlan (USA) Team JamisRow 91 - Cell 2
-3 lapsRichard Schoenfelde (USA) Gas/Intrisik ArchitectRow 92 - Cell 2
-4 lapsGregory Carpenter (USA) Team Edge - OakleyRow 93 - Cell 2
-4 lapsPhilipp Gerber (Swi) Swiss BixsRow 94 - Cell 2
-4 lapsTsering Alleyne (USA)Row 95 - Cell 2
-4 lapsKendal Johnson (USA) Sagebrush CyclesRow 96 - Cell 2
-4 lapsRob Anderson (Can)Row 97 - Cell 2
-4 lapsWill Patterson (USA) Whole Athlete/SpecializedRow 98 - Cell 2
-4 lapsRiley Predum (USA) Whole Athlete SpecializedRow 99 - Cell 2
-5 lapsDean Poshard (USA) Rock LobsterRow 100 - Cell 2
-5 lapsDaniel Munoz (USA) Cyclery USARow 101 - Cell 2
-5 lapsCampbell Levy (USA) Yeti Cycles/JettRow 102 - Cell 2
-6 lapsBrian Trader (USA) Sun 'N' Spokes/GiantRow 103 - Cell 2
DNFNitish Nag (USA) Team IMBARow 104 - Cell 2
DNFMiguel Valadez (Mex)Row 105 - Cell 2
DNFGraham Aldredge (USA) CTS/Boulder CyclesportRow 106 - Cell 2
DNFChris Sheppard (Can) Rocky Mountain BicycleRow 107 - Cell 2
DNFBrian Astell (USA) Lost Coast BreweryRow 108 - Cell 2
DNFKeisuke Goda (Jpn) Team SpecializedRow 109 - Cell 2
DNFNate Byrom (USA) Northstar-At-TahoeRow 110 - Cell 2
DNFKevin Fish (USA) Bicycle Sport ShopRow 111 - Cell 2


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Sue George is an editor at Cyclingnews.  She coordinates all of the site's mountain bike race coverage and assists with the road, 'cross and track coverage.

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