This was my first time attending the Sea Otter Classic. We were leaving our winter training house in Oxnard and driving north Monterrey for the race. We arrived a few days before the race, so I had the chance to do a couple very nice short rides in the hills around Santa Cruz. The road race itself starts on the Laguna Seca racetrack, the venue for the whole of the Sea Otter Classic festival. The race starts with a neutral section on the racetrack, and then leaves the festival grounds to descend what will be the finishing climb out to a short 12 kilometer circuit. The race takes 8 laps of the circuit before finishing at the top of the 4km hill just outside the raceway. 73 riders were starting, some teams like Trek Red Truck, H & R Block and Garneau had full squads, a few teams like KHS and Cal-Giant and IRT had a handful of riders, while a good chunk of the field consisted of individual riders like myself.
It was a little bit hectic getting to the staging area, it was right in the middle of the expo, and involved a lot of pushing through the throngs of people there for the expo, or spectating one of the numerous other events happening around the same time. Starting on the racetrack was pretty special, the long neutral descent also gave me a chance to have a look at the finishing climb. The we hit the first climb on the circuit, a steep, sub 3 minute kicker and it was game on. The break went almost immediately, the first attack and 4 riders went clear. Team H & R Block started riding tempo pretty for Adam de Vos soon after that, and the race was pretty quiet for the first 4 laps of the circuit. I just focused on keeping myself fairly close to the front and saving as much energy as I could for the summit finish.
We had been getting periodic updates on the gap to the break, and it had hovered around 1.5 minutes for a while, but suddenly on the 5th lap we caught them. As soon as the break were within sight the counterattacks started. There was a huge frenzy of attacks that lasted the remaining laps of the circuit, with the pack breaking apart and coming back together. All the surges were whittling down the field, and I was starting to hurt more and more with each acceleration. A break went of 5 riders went on the second last lap, and as the field continued to cannibalize itself with everyone trying to bridge alone the gap went out to a couple of minutes very quickly. On the last lap I came off the front group on the climb, but I was able to ride back up to it on the flat headwind section afterward.
As the now 20 strong peloton approached the finishing climb the pace was pretty low, a lot of marking, and the gradual run in with a headwind meant few were prepared to launch early. The break had too big of a gap to close, so everyone was racing for 6th. With 1.5km to go the attacks started as the road pitched over 10% for the first time, and the pack disintegrated. I followed as best I could, but the last couple of laps had taken their toll, and I just rode the last bit as hard as I could for 18th place. It wasn’t quite what I had been hoping for, but I had ridden better than at San Dimas, keeping myself in better position and keeping myself on the right side of any splits.
After the race I said goodby to my mountain biker friends that I have been livng and training with over the winter and drove out to Lake Tahoe for a bit of altitude. Up next is the tour of the Gila where I will be riding with the Isagenix/SeaSucker/Guttenplan Coaching team in my first UCI and NRC race of the year.