Before going on about the happenings at Sea Otter, I have to take a moment to thank some people for helping me so far in 2012. First off, of course, are my wife, Claire, and my daughter, Isa; they’ve done more than put up with my riding and all the bikes in the living room: they’ve embraced everything and have supported me, my bikes and my finicky eating.
Then there’s Dave Williams. He’s a great friend, teammate, training partner, a dedicated athlete and a great competitor so he never lets me get away with any slacking; and he’s a crack-up!
These are the people close to me, both literally and figuratively.
There are others, like James Walsh, Justin Mann and Allison Mann, whom I hardly ever see or have live conversations with, who have also helped me. While negotiating their time with work, training, family, and all else that is life, they have taken time to help me with training and nutrition, encouraging me to ask questions and in effect making a huge contribution to my fitness and racing.
The single biggest change that has impacted my racing this year has to be my weight. Of course, the pounds don’t disappear magically, it took a lot of work and help from all of the aforementioned contributors. The weight loss helped me get in some bigger and better training, which led to more weight loss. Anyway, you can see the cycle. The whole time, I’ve received ongoing support from Claire, Isa, Dave, Justin, Allison, and James.
Thank you all!
Now on to the races.
Sea Otter Classic
A lot has happened in my 2012 cycling year: I won my first race, I’ve dropped about 20 pounds making me ineligible to race Clydesdales, I got sick with something kind of serious that has lingered for what is becoming 3 months now, I started cooking, I’m in the best racing shape I’ve ever been, etc., etc., . . . indeed, a lot has happened.
The one thing that hadn’t happened in 2012 was my participation in a race that didn’t involve some sort of knobby tire, that is, I hadn’t done a race on my road bike. Until now.
For the 3rd consecutive year we loaded up the Go Chuy Go Bus for the annual pilgrimage to California’s cycling Mecca, the Sea Otter Classic.
We left late Wednesday night because we were waiting for my sister who was in the process of getting hired at Disneyland. I keep telling her to get a job at a bike shop, but that hasn’t worked out for me just yet. My dad drove us up to Lost Hills, CA again where we stopped for a good night’s sleep before heading up to beautiful Monterey, CA.
It’s fun driving up with my parents especially since in our daily routine at home we don’t get to see each other too often or for too long. I’ve always been amazed how much my dad knows and can do, and my daughter has always known that no matter what it is, “Grandpa can fix it.” And now I realize that no matter how big it is, he can park it, too!
We got to Laguna Seca around 1PM on Thursday and after getting registered and setting up camp I took off for a lap around the road race course. It was the same course as last year, and I had my instructions: easy 60 minutes with a few short hard efforts and full recovery in between. James had given me instructions for my taper/rest week leading into Sea Otter. I followed his directions the entire week and wasn’t feeling that great on the bike, but he reassured me that it was normal.
On the ride I saw a large snake crossing the road and a flock of wild turkey. I met a 17 year old kid named Caleb from Ohio who was there with 20+ teammates and he’d gotten his chain stuck between his cassette and his spokes. He walked back up the hill to Laguna Seca. I didn’t feel great about the ride, my legs were super tight and we’d forgotten our foam roll at home. When I got back to camp I told Claire that I’d probably be dropped in the first climb again. I hadn’t done much road riding, much less training, and signed up for the road race because it’s a fun race.
Every year my Mom and Claire and Isa and I get together to work out the menu for the week we spend at Sea Otter. When my parents started going to Sea Otter with us my mom did all the cooking and Claire helped. This year, because I’ve been cooking and watching what I eat, we split the cooking. My mom cooked and Claire & I cooked also. My dad is always assigned to the carne asada. Thursday night was protein burgers and sweet potato fries. Claire made the burgers on the grill with my dad, and I made the sweet potato fries in the oven of the Go Chuy Go Bus. I made a deal with Isa to be my masseuse and I’d get her an iTunes card and she worked hard to relieve me of the knots all up and down my IT band. She did a great job just before I went to bed.
I had a 5:30 wake up for an 8AM race. I stepped outside to take the guard dog to the bathroom and the weather was unbelievable: 6AM and I (born and raised in sunny So. Cal, mind you) could walk around without a shirt in the frigidity of NorCal. I knew it was going to be warm. I got in a few minutes on the trainer for a warm up, not too much for a 50 mile race.
Isa was up early because she was going to the Little Bellas Mountain Bike Camp so she and Claire saw me off under the bridge.
I looked around at the start trying to see any other Celo teammates and when I got to the line there seemed to be only a handful of racers. A few minutes later I was staged at the front with another row and a half behind us. They didn’t announce the neutral start this time so I asked the guys on either side of me, no one seemed to know anything about it. The moto-official kept us pretty slow right from the start around the racetrack and onto Barloy Canyon Road, a long descent leading to the start of the race. When we turned right onto Hennekens Ranch Road, I was still in the front group. Hennekens was where I had been dropped each of the last two years and was expecting to get dropped again. We climbed up half way and I was in the middle of it: three-quarters of the way and I was in the back of the pack. Right at the top with only a couple hundred meters left for the KOM, a group of 4 or 5 of us fell off the back.
We crested and I hammered catching back onto the group. It was a struggle for a bit, some of those easy curves weren’t as easy in the pack and the road wasn’t the best. I was able to recover and felt great by the time we hit the next section of climbs. They were easy and I didn’t struggle the way some others did and was able to move up into the middle. I couldn’t believe I was this far into the race and still with the group. As we turned onto Parker Flats towards the feed zone for the final climb of the lap I wondered whether I’d be able to stay on. Parker Flats, like Hennekens, climbs about 500 feet in a half mile, kicking up to about a 10% gradient at the top. I didn’t get a drink to try to stay with the group but my legs were on fire and I knew that I’d get dropped. I tried to catch back on over the top but my legs wanted no part of it. I remembered that I was supposed to “sit in” so I stopped trying to catch them and just enjoyed the rest of the ride. When I finished I felt great, my back didn’t seize up like last year and I was able to talk to Claire and my Dad who were at the finish line waiting for me with cold drinks.
We checked out the festival and saw the start of the Men’s Cat 1 XC race, which featured Ben Jones and Justin Mann; we picked Isa up from the Little Bellas camp then it was fish tacos for dinner.
Then we got some evening entertainment, Sea Otter style:
At last year’s Sea Otter, Claire saw a fun single track she wanted to try and it was part of what prompted her to buy her own mountain bike. It was where this incredible video was shot:
Claire went out and bought herself a mountain bike after that and was intent on riding that section. It looked like fun, admittedly, and I was also looking forward to it. Isa had some wise words for Claire the day before:
“Mom, what you haven’t thought about is that after you go down the single track, you’re going to have to come back up.”
A sensible warning, indeed, but not one that Claire heeded. My dad also got the bug in him to go for a mountain bike ride, except he didn’t have a mountain bike, he had a cruiser. . . and sandals . . . and no helmet. I suggested we get him a demo from the Giant booth, since I had an extra helmet, but he wouldn’t hear of it, so I tried to ditch him, leave before he realized it.
That was no use, my Pops was on his bike and riding off before I realized it. As I was leaving, I saw Justin and Allison Mann in the VW Owners’ exclusive parking lot and rode over to say hi and chat for a minute, then I met the crew at the single track. Last year it was marked as the Demo Ride Area but there were no markings this year. We rode down a little and Claire snapped a few pictures.
I was impressed with my dad’s skills going down and still very concerned and afraid he might hurt himself. He handled that cruiser like a full suspension mountain bike! He rode all the way down, just as fast or even faster than Claire and Isa and I went down. It was fun going downhill, easy, nothing technical, with few bumps to make you tired. Until you hit the bottom. Then it was all climbing: remember Isa’s warning to Claire. Isa was having a blast, especially climbing. She’s got some ability but refuses to develop it and I hate feeling like I’m dragging her to the torture chamber whenever I insist that she rides her bike, so I let her choose not to ride, even though I hate it when she chooses the couch over the bike.
The climb was uneventful for Isa, but a completely different story for Claire. We’d stop and wait for Claire and my dad, and whenever someone passed I would ask:
“Did you see the crazy guy on the cruiser?”
The response was always the same:
“Yeah, that guy’s crazy!”
Then Isa would declare proudly:
”That’s my grandpa!”
Claire pushed herself too hard but finished the ride after a short break and a walk. Isa, having done the Little Bellas camp the day before took me on a ride while her mom and grandpa rode back to camp. Having Isa take me on a ride was incredible! She obviously enjoys the bike, I just need to figure out a way to maintain that fire lit. Please let me know if you have any suggestions.
I dropped Isa off at camp and Claire and I rode back to the Shimano tent to look for brake pads and caught the start of the Women’s Pro XC race.
We headed back to camp and it was my turn to cook again. Claire grilled the asparagus and my sister and I made the chicken.
I had intended on pre-riding the cross-country course because people were saying that some sections of the fire road were rutted but Saturday was probably the hottest day of the event so I decided to go with Claire, Isa and my sister back to check out the vendors. I stopped to talk to Tim Johnson, who was at the VW tent. He said he enjoyed racing in So Cal and wanted to go back and race again.
Then it was back to the RV for showers and carne asada and my pre-race massage before bed.
I didn’t have to wake up as early because I wasn’t racing until 9AM. I would have liked to get out there to see Chris Bautista and the other Cat 2 racers but decided to eat breakfast and get in a good warm up. It was about 10 degrees cooler Sunday morning than the previous mornings so I thought a good warm up would be critical. I hopped on the trainer for 35 minutes and got my core temperature up and a good sweat.
Claire followed me to the start line where I debated whether I should give up my vest and whether I should keep my arm warmers. I wanted to get every advantage I could because I was putting all my hard work into this race. I ditched the vest and kept the arm warmers and that worked out.
I lined up in the second row and talked to a few guys around me, there were two guys from Fresno and a local guy who said he rode that area all the time. It was cold and I was looking around to see if there was anyone racing whom I knew, but there wasn’t. It was clear who was from So Cal, though, because we were the only ones shivering in the cold. Before I knew it I was 5 rows back. People were jumping over the fence to get in and all of us who were initially lined up in row two had lost 3 spots before the race even started.
They sent us off and it was chaos; the group was huge! The local guy made a move to the left and I followed him. We passed 40 people if we passed 1. We bent left and I kept moving up. As we turned right, the track went up and I moved up to try to catch the front group that was already off the front. As we descended on the other side I saw that they were lined up like roadies and as the track turned right again I saw the advantage: they were all sitting pretty behind a wheel so I went far to the left and zoomed right up passed the leader. The first two guys went after me and I think that was the end of that nice little line. As we climbed again my glasses were starting to get really wet and the fog made it close to impossible to see. I couldn’t see the turn off but the guy who was leading the group yelled out that it was to the left and I was third as we hit the dirt. That section was rutted and bumpy and when we came out of it someone whom I thought was a spectator jumped into the race ahead of me. I caught him and noted his number and as we hit the first climb he fell way back.
MISTAKE #1 – NO PRE-RIDE: As we climbed it became harder to see and I tried to catch onto someone’s wheel. I regretted not pre-riding and learning where the ruts were on Saturday because I slowed too much in the first section of fire road. As it turned out, the ruts were much later on the course, not early.
MISTAKE #2 – I CAN’T SEE: It took me a while before it occurred to me to take my glasses off. Then I had to wait until I was in a stable enough section where I could remove them from my face and eventually they ended up in my back pocket.
Once I could see, I hammered and climbed pretty well, glad I warmed up well, and passed a few people. I calculated I was about 6th place at that point. Then we hit the first single track and I caught a guy who slowed me down a little, but no one else was able to pass either. The problem was that he gave others the opportunity to catch me and eventually people were telling him to move out of the way. As the single track broke for a street crossing I went around him and no one went around me. The next section of single track was a bit of a climb and I dropped the other guys except for one: the local guy I had talked to at the start. He managed to get around, which I thought was great because he was moving along pretty good and I was able to stay on his wheel. Being a local guy, however, he was more familiar with the course and knew the good spots to pass. He got around two slower guys, Cat 2 Clydesdales, I believe and I got stuck asking for a chance to get through. One of them replied.
“This is almost over”
I guess the local guy annoyed them. They were right and when we hit the next fire road climb I could see the local guy ahead and I was gaining. Then we hit the gravel descents and eventually back onto a single track. I closed the gap a little by that time but he was skilled at getting around people.
MISTAKE #3 – BUSHWACKING: He got around a pair of women racers and then I tried to get around. I passed the first one then the road closed up. I tried to stay off to the left and ran straight into a bush. I had to stop and remount, luckily the woman I had just passed also stopped so I didn’t lose any spots. I found a good spot to pass the next woman and a couple of guys from my race jumped on my wheel. I could hear one of them breathing hard because he was right on my wheel. I kept the pressure on hoping to drop him and caught another guy on the single track.
MISTAKE #4 – ON YOUR LEFT: I tried to pass him when the trail opened up a little and went too far to the left. My front wheel went up the side and slipped back down dropping me on my side. The guy on my wheel went right by. He got a few seconds gap but I kept him in sight.
When we hit the descent I saw the big ruts everyone was talking about. Luckily there was plenty of good trail to ride and I went down carefully, hoping to not make any more mistakes. At the bottom I saw the guy who had just passed, skidding around creating a huge dust cloud and the ladies he was passing were very displeased. It was a sharp left turn at the bottom then a quick right to start climbing the gravel fire road. I caught the guy and was on his wheel for a while because I knew that the finish was a long stretch of climbs.
I passed him in the feed zone then he passed me abruptly on the subsequent single track.
“Let me know! I’ll let you through!”
Now I was displeased. I stayed on his wheel out of the single track and I passed and he passed and so it went. I recognized that we were headed into the finish and knowing there were about 4 miles left I decided to put a little pressure. I passed him and caught a Platinum Performance guy who was not in my race who didn’t seem to like that because he flew right by me again.
3 MILES TO GO: I hammered. I went after the Platinum Performance guy and could see that I had caught a few guys in my race. The local guy was no where to be seen but I could see the others. I pushed harder. I remembered Dave Williams telling me a few weeks ago how discouraging it was when I hammered up the east side of Turnbull and he couldn’t go with me (Dave and I always race to the top of Turnbull):
“It made me slow down.”
I had that in mind and I hammered. I passed the Platinum Performance guy, then one guy in my race and then another. I could see the guy who was leading that nice pace line out of the racetrack up ahead. I went hard and got within 20 yards when he crested at the final climb. I kept the pressure all the way to the finish line because I lost one place last year after I entered the short track towards the finish. I heard Claire yell for me as I sprinted with another guy and I beat him but he turned out to be in the 30-34 race. I ended up in 6th place and must admit I was disappointed.
Justin, Allison, Ben and others were talking about the Whiskey 50 and I felt like there was nothing for me after Sea Otter. I was coming home to the same US Cup races and not much else. When we left Sea Otter there was a real sense of finality for me, and when James asked me “What’s next?” I had no good answer. That’s why it took me so long to write this report and probably why I felt compelled to write that thank you at the beginning.
The only way I could answer was to do something else, something better. So I finally decided on catting-up to Sport. That is the next big thing for me. I don’t think staying in the Cat 3 Beginners is going to help me anymore.
So when I registered for the US Cup Santa Ynez Valley Classic, I registered for my first Cat 2 mountain bike race. That report will come shortly.
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