Sea Otter Classic is a *thing* to be experienced. There is a lot of racing that happens, but mostly, it's an industry trade show. New product is showcased, a ton of spectators come to take in the scene, and we get the chance to meet/reconnect with all the people who make bike racing happen. 12-HR venue days leading up to the race are pretty normal. Not the most ideal race prep, but hey, the social connection is worth it! Even more so this year, with it being the first big Sea Otter back after the last couple of years.
We landed at SFO on Wednesday and drove right down to Monterey to pre-ride the "XC" course. The loop was a 40km marathon course that we would do two laps of on race day (for an 80km-and-change race). The "XC" is in quotation marks, because it's the exact same course that the gravel race is taking place on today. So, that gives you an idea of the style of mountain biking to be found out there. Let's just say there is a lot of pedalling, and only a handful of corners.
On Thursday, we jumped right into the madness. Lespy and I had an easy training day to try to buffer the insanity that Friday's pre-race day would bring, and we did the classic waterfront path to Monterey for a coffee (tea for me). We then ripped to the venue for an afternoon of meeting our new sponsors, and finished the day with the most amazing food at an Enduro Bearings dinner (Enduro, as you'll recall, is one of the team's sponsors). Thank you Rick and Gail!
Friday was a BIG day. I was at the venue by 8am to get ready for the Little Bellas social with the pros that Lea Davison puts on. It was really special to be asked to do this (thanks Lea!!), and I loved getting to interact with all the young girls. Totally worth the extra venue time.
After a day full of our race prep workout, more sponsor engagements, and a nap in the team van (the sprinter van couch is a next-level development), we had our team launch party at the tent. There was a great turnout, and it was exciting to share the new kits with the team's sponsors and meet everybody. We left around 7, came right home for some food, and tried to calm the system down to sleep before tomorrow's race (largely unsuccessful endeavour... apparently getting close to 30yo means late dinners keep you up at night?).
One thing I'm going to have to get used to with these longer/gravel/marathon mtb events is the early start times. It's a throwback to my U23 days, when we would start at 8 and be warming up in the dark!
So yes, the race had an 8am start time, and it was the first stop in the Life Time Grand Prix series. There were a few hiccups with the organization - for example, there were no separate start corrals, and no call-ups - but you have to ride the punches and roll with the waves, you know? Anyways, I wasn't as assertive as I should have been, and didn't get a great start position. It was a bit of a clsuter, but c'est la vie.
In classic Sea Otter fashion, they sent us NOT up the pavement race track climb before entering the first single track, but instead, into a massive sand pit in the first corner. Oh, Sea Otter. I made an error in this sand trap, and ended up unclipping and stopping. I got going right quick, but it was an effort to close the gap to the leaders before the first bottle neck, and I ended up entering that single track in 12th or 13th. I tried to move up, but it was pretty much single file. Need to sharpen my elbows for next time, and work on seeing the lines to get around people. I was a bit too orderly, and it cost me! In this first single track, the leaders got away, and I was dangling after being only able to make one or two passes. Over the next 10km, I bridged up to the leaders a few times, but the effort to do that was pretty big and I realized that I needed to ride steadier if I was going to survive. So, I settled in for a solo chase and hoped that the group would splinter and come back to me.
It took a lot of patience, optimism, and presence to do this, but it paid off. After the first lap, I was able to catch Katerina and thought, "YES someone to work with and share in the wind!", but at this point we were riding different paces, and I ended up pulling away. In another 15 or so km, I caught Savilia and at this point was on a mission to keep moving through. I was charging and feeling pretty good. With about 12km to go, I caught Hannah, and was on the verge of cramping (you know that feeling when your quads are refusing to let go of their contraction/tension after the downstroke? Yes, that was happening), but still wanted to get the most out of myself. She really made me work to get away, which finally happened on the last single track climb with only about seven minutes of climbing, culminating in Lookout Ridge, remaining (Look Out Ridge is a brutally steep double track/dirt road climb that, in my head, I was calling Cramp Ridge). I stayed on the gas, almost keeled over, but made it to the crest and carried as much speed as I could through the last 2 or 3 rolling km into the finish for 6th.
For your viewing pleasure, a variety of photos of me nearly dying all by myself. But look at that scenery! These photos are all by Bill Schieken (aka @cxhairs), who derseves major credit for migrating all the way out into these hills. As does Drew Escherick, our team lead, who rode out to the feedzone on a too-big bike with litres of H20 on his back!
It was a journey out there, but I'm really happy with the direction that things are going and with my mental game. The finish yesterday puts me into 6th in the Life Time GP standings, with Unbound (yikes) being the next stop in that series. It feels good to experience a bit of personal success heading into the spring season! Yesterday's race was the bookend on the high-intensity block I did to prepare for the upcoming races, so let's hope the legs absorb that work and translate it into some XCO speed for the coming weeks.
The whole team has had a good week, with Sophie and Cole having great enduro days (12th and 8th), and Sophie making the dual slalom finals last night. They'll both race the DH today - send them some fast vibes! Lespy, as you may know, was 5th yesterday, which puts another tick in his column in the Couple's Battle (a life-long series between he and I). Rats. In all seriousness, Lespy has put so much energy into my career the last couple of years, what with the Olympics, and to see him racing this way is amazing. I'm so proud of him.
Lastly, a big thank you, again, to everyone backing the Maxxis Factory Team. It's a privilege to represent these brands, and I'm so excited for what's to come this season. So many adventures in bike racing!