21 April 2011  |  Race Reports

Sea Otter Classic XC Race Report

And here I sit: on an airplane, barely 2 hours in to my 24-hour-plus trip to South Africa for the first Wolrd Cup.  Since the crossword puzzle in my “Hemispheres” magazine is already filled out, I figure I might as well take this time to write a timely race report.

The Pro XC course at Sea Otter is much different than the course we used to race on: instead of doing 2 big 18-mile laps, we were slated for 7 laps of a 3-mile course that’s about 50% pavement. Some people hate it and say it’s “not a REAL mountain bike race,” but I think it’s great. It certainly makes the race more exciting (groups stay together) and much more spectator-friendly. I think it’s good if some races are faster and more tactical- who wants to race on the same type of course at every race? Not me. I like me some variety! (Don’t get me wrong: I LOVED the old course, but I think for Pro racing the new course is much better.)

Here’s a brief overview of the new XC course: After the start you ride about a mile on the paved racetrack before turning onto dirt and riding backwards on the short-track course, up a few punchy climbs to the top of the hill. Then you get back on the track and descend the “corkscrew,” exit onto dirt once again, ride up a gradual fire road climb, descend a short, sandy singletrack before getting back on the pavement for the 300m paved downhill into the finish. Voila.

The start of the XC is always kind of sketchy because the group stays together and everyone is jockeying for position before the first section of dirt. I wasn’t in great position as we exited the track, but I wasn’t too worried- I knew that things would most likely come back together on the track. I was sitting somewhere in the top-10, and I could see Catharine and Emily already had a few seconds gap. By the end of the first lap the chase group had whittled down to me, Katie, Lea, Heather and Katerina and maybe one or two others. Catharine and Emily had 15 or 20 seconds, but we traded pulls and by the end of the pavement we had reeled them back in. Catharine was pushing the pace on the dirt, a few more women dropped off the pace, and the next time through the start finish it was just me, Catharine, Emily and Katerina.

As we were exiting the track on the third lap, I hopped a little ditch and hit my rear wheel on a curb, burping some air out. As everyone rode around me I panicked, tried to keep riding (instead of stopping and adding some CO2) and burped it again: the tire went completely flat. I tried to ride the flat, but I was getting zero traction on the dry grass- my rear wheel was just spinning. By the time I tried to add CO2, the tire had come unseated, so all the air just blew out the bead.

Why didn’t I just throw a tube in? Well, as I told Chris before the race: “I’m not taking a tube on a 15-minute lap: by the time I put it in I could have ridden the flat to the tech zone!” Or so I thought. Mistakenly…. So I guess that’s what I get- a flat tire in the farthest place possible from the tech zone. You can’t go backwards on the course, so even though it would have taken me only a few minutes to run back to the tech zone, I had to continue on. And I was going to have to run. A whole lap. I was so mad at myself for not taking that tube- I ALWAYS take a tube, and the ONE time I don’t…

I ran and ran (and walked a little). The spectators were great, lots of people were out there cheering and offering words of encouragement. There was even one guy brave enough to heckle me: “this is a bike race, not a running race!” I had to laugh, even as his buddies booed him for the “low blow.” It was pretty funny. I ran some more, coasted a few downhills and finally made it to the other tech zone. Our mechanics (and all our spare wheels and equipment) were in the main tech zone (of course). I asked the guys in the tech zone if they had a wheel they could spare. Nope. “Great,” I thought, “now I have to run the OTHER half of this course. I’ve raced for 45 minutes, and now I am going to get pulled!” I was through being disappointed- now I was pissed. At myself. Then one of the guys in the tech zone said, “I can give you a tube if you want.” YES. Please. Thank you. They helped me change the flat, and I was back on my way. At least I would be able to race a few more laps.

I settled in to full-on TT mode and resolved to pick off as many people as possible. The course gets a little tougher when there is nowhere to rest and nowhere to sit-in, but I just rode steady and started to claw my way back. I ended up finishing 8th, about 7 minutes back. I was so disappointed that I took myself out of contention by making a stupid mistake and not carrying a tube. On the positive side: my legs felt great, I was riding well, and I will have another chance to test myself next weekend at the first World Cup in South Africa. Let’s hope I will have gotten all the cobwebs out by then!


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