Georgia Gould (Luna) went to the front from the gun and never looked back as she soloed her way to victory in the short track race at the Sea Otter Classic. Behind her, four chasers battled much of the race for the remaining podium spots. Katerina Nash (Luna) won the contest for second ahead of Emily Batty (Subaru-Trek). Catharine Pendrel (Luna) finished fourth ahead of Katie Compton (Rabobank-Giant) in fifth.
"That was hard," said Gould as she struggled to catch her breath after the finish. "My perception of time was very different than how it was actually passing. One minute felt like two minutes. I was starting to get tired and I heard the announcer say, 'eight minutes in and they're not even halfway done'."
For several laps after the start, Gould had the company of Lea Davison (Specialized), but Davison eventually faded back to the chasers and then fell slightly behind them. Gould was left on her own for the duration of the 20-minute-plus-three-laps race.
"I wanted to be out in front from the start because I knew the first turn would be a cluster," said US cross country national champion Gould. "I wanted to get the hole shot. I saw that I was opening it up a little and I decided to ride steady, but then you kind of have to go all out on those two steep climbs."
Davison, who was delighted to be racing in front of her Little Bellas, surprised herself by slipping away with Gould. "I had no idea I was off the front with Georgia, but then on the second lap, I thought 'It's kind of quiet,'" said Davison. "I was super psyched, but at one point I took a different line on a corner and she got a bit of a gap and then I couldn't close it."
Davison faded from Gould's wheel and was caught by the chasers including Nash, Batty, and Pendrel. An untimely crash on a corner then cost Davison some more time and she was gapped by the chasers
As Davison was slipping backward, US short track national champion Compton was working her way forward through the strung out women's field.
"My start was ok, but there was a crash on the first techy, rooty turn," said Compton. "I was behind that and in a big gear. I had to come to a stop and then muscle up it. There wasn't a lot of passing, but I finally got to the front. Then I made an effort, but I couldn't follow through - I don't have the recovery yet. Katerina and Catharine were letting Georgia get up the road a bit. It was a hard effort - now that's out of the way."
With Gould well off the front, the pressure was off Nash and Pendrel, who were able to play the tactics.
"Georgia got away so there was no need to push the pace," said Nash, in her first major race of the 2011 season. "I focused on staying in the group there and saving a little for the last lap. It was a strong group, and when Katie bridged up the pace went up."
"We didn't have a plan. We all wanted to set a hard pace, and Georgia was the best one of us to do it," said Pendrel. "In our chase group, we were trying to stay there and make it hurt. I knew if wanted to finish up any higher, I'd have to go solo, but I didn't have that today."
After Compton caught the other chasers, she surged to the front, but wasn't able to hold the lifted pace. Batty and Nash proved the stronger of the chasers and rode away from Compton and Pendrel in the final laps.
"It came down to tactics at the end," said Batty, who was delighted to be racing her 29er hardtail. 2011 is the first year Batty has had a chance to race 29ers.
Nash won that tactical battle against Batty and ended up second. "I attacked on the last lap to get ahead of Emily, who was leading me. I knew that if I could sneak by her at the top of the hill, there'd be nowhere left for her to pass me."
Nonetheless, Batty was pleased with her podium result. "I felt awesome and it was a great race. A top five today in the short track was good - I'm racing some of the top women in the World Cup today."
The short track course was shorter than in previous years, with the effect that there was one less climb per lap and more people got lapped sooner in the race. Passing got crazy for the lead women as they lapped the slower racers.
"There are not many places to pass safely. The people I was passing were racing too and they don't want to get pulled," said Gould. "I think maybe a little longer course would be better. It used to have another uphill in which gave more places to pass."
Saturday's cross country race should be a longer battle among the same top women. "It's going to be a cat fight, and and it will come down to a lot of team tactics," said Batty. "They've shortened the cross country course and in a way, it's like a giant short track. It will be a fun race."
|#||Rider Name (Country) Team|
|1||Georgia Gould (USA) Luna Pro Team|
|2||Katerina Nash (Cze) Luna Pro Team|
|3||Emily Batty (Can) Subaru-Trek|
|4||Catharine Pendrel (Can) Luna Pro Tream|
|5||Katie Compton (USA) Rabobank-Giant Off Road Team|
|6||Lea Davison (USA) Specialized|
|7||Heather Irmiger (USA) Subaru-Trek|
|-1lap||Chloe Forsman (USA) BMC Mountainbike Development Team|
|-1lap||Kelli Emmett (USA) Giant Factory Off-Road Team|
|-1lap||Mical Dyck (Can) Pro City Racing|
|-1lap||Judy Freeman (USA) Kenda / Felt|
|-1lap||Zephanie Blasi (USA) Notubes Elite|
|-1lap||Kathy Sherwin (USA) Notubes Elite|
|-1lap||Amy Dombroski (USA) Crankbrothers Race Club|
|Pulled||Brandi Hesiterman (Can)|
|Pulled||Amanda Carey (USA) Kenda/Felt|
|Pulled||Sarah Kaufmann (USA) Elete Electrolytes|
|Pulled||Pua Mata (USA)|
|Pulled||Erica Zaveta (USA) BMC Mountainbike Development Team|
|Pulled||Kelsy Bingham (USA) Team Jamis|
|Pulled||Krista Park (USA) Notubes Elite|
|Pulled||Shannon Gibson (USA) Notubes Elite|
|Pulled||Sarah Maile (USA) Ventana Mountain Bikes|
|Pulled||Nina Baum (USA) Notubes Elite|
|Pulled||Carolyn Popovic (USA) Team CF|
|Pulled||Kaila Hart (USA)|
|Pulled||Cayley Brooks (USA) Trek Canada|
|Pulled||Laura Winberry (USA)|
|DNF||Lydia Tanner (USA) Tokyo Joes|
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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.