The Sea Otter Classic descends upon Laguna Seca Raceway outside of Monterey every April. Now over a week removed from the 2018 edition of Sea Otter Classic, FMBR looks back at the event. The Sea Otter Classic cycling festival and expo packed with a multitude of cycling and somewhat cycling related companies showcasing their latest offerings and distributing swag. An assortment of races are also held over the course of the four day event. These extend from MTB events such as dual slalom, downhill and cross country to a trio of road events. And just for some more fun, throw in cyclocross, e-bikes and a Brompton race! There are even some fondos on Saturday. In the mix of the festivities, three members of FMBR, Nick Besse, Brendon Bolin and Jason Hannon, participated in some of races on offer.
Proceedings kicked off on Thursday with Nick and Jason participating in the Elite 3 and Masters 45+ 1/2/3 criterium races respectively. The crit is held on the Laguna Seca race track between turns 11 and 2. The course goes the opposite direction of the main start finish straight then back around using the pit lane with the course start/finish line in pit lane. This configuration leads to two sharp turns entering and exiting pit lane as they are designed to merge onto and off of the track the opposite directions.
Through the pre-ride I knew this was going to be a hard race. The narrow, sharp, 180 degree corners successfully split the field the first few laps. I managed to hang on in the group and close the gaps created by myself or by other riders. Though there were a few close calls, there were surprisingly no crashes! The race played out very similarly every lap, sprinting out of every corner with 20-30 second efforts to close the gap back down and riders were starting to blow left and right. In the final few laps, it was a fight for positioning in the final selection of 12-15 riders. I found myself too far back in the final few corners and rolled it in for 6th place in the 3s.
One of the cool things about racing Masters is that you really get to know your competition. The bad thing is that the competition in the top 10% is pretty damn tough (at least from my perspective). For Thursday’s criterium my goal was to simply try and stay close to Scott Giles (current NorCal Champ and winner of the 2017 Otter crit, circuit, and road).
As expected, things started fast with hard accelerations out of every turn. We quickly got into a break of 7 within the first 3 or 4 laps. The attacks kept coming and at one point a lone rider got roughly 10 sec off the front. Giles took advantage of the opportunity with an attack from behind the group and bridged. Once Giles bridged he went into TT mode and quickly opened the gap to over a minute. Our remaining break of 5 played cat-and-mouse with no one wanting to commit to chasing down Giles. Giles continued pulling his companion for several laps before dropping him for another solo win. Our chase group stayed together until a couple hundred meters before the final turnaround when another rider attacked a couple hundred meters before the last turn around. It was a good move that I wish I would have thought of as he was able to hold the rest of us off to muster 3rd place and snag the last podium spot. His attack basically initiated a very long sprint for the rest of us in which I came in 2nd for a 5th overall.
Friday had Brendon and Nick racing together in the Elite 3s circuit race. The circuit race takes place on the full Laguna Seca track with the start/finish line located between turns 4 and 5. The main feature on the course is the hill leading up to the iconic corkscrew.
At the start line, I knew it would be a long race. I hadn’t slept too well the night before and was still thick-legged from the crit the day before. Over the top of the first climb, I knew I was in trouble. I saw the group strung out coming through the finishing straight, hoping to snap the band early, I attacked. No one came with me, so I decided to get a head start on the climb. I made it over the top the next few laps in ok shape, with the occasional gap needing to be closed on the corkscrew (thank god for being big)! Eventually the gaps got bigger and bigger and I needed the efforts got bigger to close them. With 5 to go I couldn’t close the gap and dropped off the back. I managed to not get lapped and was the last rider to finish the race in 16th place.
While I felt my fitness was not at the same level I had earlier in the season, I felt a good result was obtainable in the circuit race. I did not want to repeat my mistake of last year where I used too much energy early in the race (or previous days crit) and was unable to follow the race winning selection on the last lap. I felt good all race and tried to go steady every time up the climb. Going into 4 laps to go, one of the riders split off the front. No one really bothered to chase and he got up to around a 20-25 second lead. Another rider came up to me and mentioned this same fact. I said something along of the lines of we should bridge next time on the hill. The hill came and by then he was already caught but the other rider went and I followed. This strung the remaining field of 12-13 riders out and it looked like 5 of us were going to stay off in the front but later in the lap we were back together. The final laps were pretty unnoteworthy. Things were setting up for a bunch sprint. With two turns to go, I thought I had good position. I ended up getting bumped out a bit then caught behind someone that blew up. In hindsight, I sat up a bit prematurely as I thought the finish was further away than I thought. Either way, I was too far back out of position to contest for the sprint and I felt no need to sprint for minor places. Fun race but a mediocre result of 11th.
In Full Swing
On Saturday it was Jason’s turn to tame the track in the Masters 45+ 1/2/3 circuit race. Later in the day, Brendon would race in the crowd favorite, CX.
Disappointed that I didn’t keep a closer eye on Giles in the crit and that I didn’t ride more aggressively once I knew he was off the front, I decided that I would try to initiate an early break with the hopes that Giles or his team mate Craig Nunes (current SoCal Champ) would join me. On the 2nd lap, I went 110% on the climb and opened up a good gap. I dug deep (too deep in retrospect) and kept it going across the top and down the corkscrew. When I got to the other side of the track (crit course) I looked back to see Giles closing the gap, but also towing the remains of a still fairly large pack. I backed off to recover some and wait for the group to catch me. Unfortunately, the hostilities that I had initiated continued so that I was unable to fully recover. I managed to hold on for the 3rd lap, but the 4th time up the climb I lost contact with the lead group. I sat up and decided to pull out of the race to save something for Sunday’s road race which effectively dropped me into last place. Once I recovered I decided what the hell I might as well finish. I got into a comfortable rhythm and managed to catch and drop two groups of riders and ended up coming in 12th out of 31 starters.
Cross is coming?
The Sea Otter cross course leaves a lot to be desired. Most of the course is ran beside the track and overall is not technical in nature. The surface is comprised of a mix of well packed dirt, rutted dirt, sand and gravel. This years course was close to the same as last years but with the laps going in the opposite direction.
After a full Saturday of cruising the expo area enjoying free expressoes and other beverages, the time finally came to get serious. I’m not sure if any Sea Otter event is as prestigious or majestic as the Cat 5 CX race. So with this knowledge in hand, I donned my kit and a pair of free Subaru branded shades and made my way to the track. After noodling around to warm up, I made sure not to repeat my sins of last year. I got to the start line early and actually lined up on the front row. After the usual spiel from the oficial, 6:30pm had finally come and we were off. And quickly into the first section of sand. With little delay with hit the deeper sandpit where everyone began their graceful dismounting moves and began the slog uphill. Why have an uphill sandpit? This question crossed my mind every five minutes or so for the next half an hour.
As expected the first lap hurt as did the following ones but I managed to settle in and was somewhere in the top 10 although the top few people were quickly getting out of sight. Near the middle of the race, I got in a bit of back in forth with two other riders. One of them a fellow Santa Barbara friend, Sam Selfridge. With a few laps to go, I passed Sam to go into the lead of our trio. The final course corner had deep gravel but after passing through some of it, the outside line was well packed as fast running. I went into the deeper part a bit too aggressive and lost the front end. By the time I recovered, I had conceded at least ten seconds to the other rides. I started my task of reeling them in going into the final lap. I botched on of the rideable sandpits by taking a bad line and by the time I stopped again and go going, Sam was unreachable, the other rider though was my carrot. I reeled him in and was able to sprint around on the lead in to the finish. Overall it was good enough for 8th on the day. Afterwards, it took a few minutes for my stomach to quiet down enough to enjoy a Fig Mountain brew. 😉
And after the 4th day, rest
All good things must come to an end and the final festival day of Sunday brought with it the difficult road race for Jason and Nick. The road course starts with a two mile descent and ends climbing back up. In between those bits are nine mile loops with rolling terrain and one short sharp hill.
I felt much, much better after taking Saturday easy and getting to sleep in. I still knew the wall would be an issue, but I can sag-climb with the best of them. Once again, I launched and early effort to try and snap the group and gain an early advantage. They caught on to my scheme pretty quick and chased me down. I made it over the wall the next few times with little trouble closing the gap over the top. With 2 to go, there was a guy off the front with 2 minutes on the group. Over the climb I was the last wheel in the group and the guy in front of me blew up, letting a huge gap open up through the downhill. By the time I came around the group had 10 seconds on me. I managed to catch back on through the headwind neighborhood, though when the pace picked up through the Stanford rollers, I couldn’t hang on. I rode the last lap in by myself and finished in 14th.
The Sea Otter road course makes for a very tough road race. In 2016 I DNF’d, and in 2017 I felt good down to the last lap before cracking and getting 10th. Both times I rode too aggressively and paid the price. This time I decided to play it conservatively. The approach worked well and after three times up the main climb I found myself in a select group of roughly 10 riders that included both Giles and Nunes. I was feeling strong on the climbs and was drinking and eating well. I was sitting in on the backside of the course and complimenting myself on how good I was feeling when I realized my back tire was going flat. I immediately waved over the following SRAM support vehicle and got a replacement back wheel which cost me about 45 sec. That proved to be too much of a gap for me to reconnect with the lead group. I did manage to catch a couple of other stragglers. One of which stayed with me up the final painful climb. I managed to take him at the line resulting in an 8th place finish out of 17 starters.