Sea Otter Classic CX
Cross in April?
Last time I went to the Sea Otter Classic was 3 years ago. It was my first time getting on a plane because bikes. I had a sense of feeling like I was finally making it as a cyclist. After a successful crit, I crashed in the road race and had to be taken to the hospital with a fractured T8 vertebrae. The rest of my Sea Otter was spent in a neck brace, hobbling around while my teammates raced. Sea Otter left its mark on me and I didnt leave on my own terms.
This year was TOTALLY different. After an incredible week in Portland OR (thanks Andrew and Dave), I hopped in the van with the PDX Devo team and hit the 12 hour drive down to Monterey. I had big goals both as a team owner and rider. The owner wanted to meet as many people as possible, make connections and get the beyondCX name on everyones lips. The rider wanted to make good on the offseason work and show the current sponsors that their investment was a good one.
Balance was very challenging for this trip. First, the temptation to just ride and ride and ride because its the coast of California was real. Seeing harbor seals on the beach while the pacific ocean smashes the rocks is so incredible. But smashing 5 hour ride days before a cross race isnt the best idea. Then there were sponsor obligations to balance as well. Ritchey Logic has been incredible and they were a big part of making the trip possible. So, absolutely I will go out and do a photo shoot on the Timberwolf. And you want me to ride with Tom Ritchey?! The guy who's name is on the bike? The guy who invented mountain biking? I can make that work.
Shredding on mtb trails and doing a 3 hour ride on gravel in the hills around Laguna Seca with a legend isnt the best way to open up for a CX race. That, combined with being on my feet at the venue (I blame my team owner) and not racing since Cyclocross Nationals had a lot of question marks on what was in store for the race. The Pro MTB race was using part of our course, so we only had a single lap pre ride. The course lacked elevation but there was deep gravel off the start, 3 fly over's in a minute and a deep downhill sand section.
Call up's were done based on registration order, UCI points be damned, so riders like Anthony Clark were stuck in the back row, and I barely made the front row. The familiar feelings of nerves, focus and excitement flooded in in the minutes leading to the start. I'm a bike racer, and FINALLY I could do what I love best. The stress of sponsors, being on my feet, missing family and friends disappeared. Focus. Vibrating. 4 months of pent up energy ready to unleash.
The gun goes off, Tobin Ortonblad (Donkey Label and defending champion) and I playing chicken for the holeshot. Like lemmings we hit the first gravel section at 30 mph. Chaos behind, we managed to get a gap while the rest of the field hit the bottleneck. I followed Tobin for the first lap and a half. He was motivated to keep the pace high. Before the technical, twisty fly-over section, I went around Tobin because Lance Hadet, Jamie Driscoll (Raleigh/Clement) and Anthony Clark (Squid Bikes) were closing the gap. Coming off the last fly over, I had a gap and kept the pressure on. Up the climb, down the sand, and the gap expanded so I decided to roll with it. Keeping my effort steady, it looked better and better that I could hold on. Seeing 4 to go, it was time to go all in, this was the move. Fully committed.
But going into 3 to go, I hit lap traffic going through the sand section. Unable to avoid them, I came to a complete stop, dismounted and the gap to the chase shrunk to a few seconds. At this point it wasn't if, but when they would close the gap, so I sat up and jumped in the draft when Tobin and Lance came by. Clark and Driscoll made contact and the 5 of us were going to be racing for the win. Even though I just been caught, I made the effort to lead into the technical flyover section. There was no passing and it forced the guys behind me to ride at my pace. I was able to recover a bit, knowing my work was cut out for me due to my solo efforts for the first half of the race. Jamie attacked, pace lifted, bad trip through the sand had me gapped off the back.
Anything can happen in a CX race, so I buried myself to stay as close as I could. In the last lap, the pace slowed up front, allowing me to make contact in the tech section. Anthony crossed wheels and went down, now I'm in 4th. Head down, make contact before the climb. Hadet and Tobin attack. I sit on Jamie and come around at the top, putting myself on the cleanest line in the sand. Now 3rd. Lance dismounts in the sand! Push push, closing. Not enough room, just a bike length. On the podium. Ouch.
It was awesome to get blood in the lungs, play tactics and race again. The highlight was having Fergus, my main man at Ritchey in the pit. We've been working together a whole country apart for the past year. I was able to show him the investment paying off by the announcers giving so much love to the Swiss Cross, my steel bike and blasting the Ritchey name over the loud speakers. I also had a flawless race on my new Shimano drivetrain.
Yes, its April. No there werent any UCI points. There is plenty of time to build form, and cross doesnt start till September. But it was awesome playing with friends. Its like we given a surprise present. Cross in April? You arent supposed to do that! But we did and it was a blast.
Thanks for reading. Good to have you back.