Race Report by Brooke McFerren, member of The Path Bike Shop Race Team.
Sea Otter Classic XC Race 2017 (Women Cat-2 40-49)
Springtime means wildflowers, warm weather and the Sea Otter Classic!! Peter and I were fortunate to be able to travel to Sea Otter this year after a one-year hiatus. We arrived in nearby Salinas early Friday morning, grabbed a few zzzz’s and a free breakfast, and headed over to the venue at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca for a look around and a pre-ride of the course. Both Peter and I decided to race the shorter Cat 2 XC course this year, which consisted of roughly 20 miles and 3000 ft of elevation. We immediately noticed some course changes from the last time we raced Sea Otter two years ago. A nasty cross-traffic area was eliminated, there was an awesome beach sand downhill surf-a-thon about 5 miles in, and an endless slightly uphill fire road section about 16 miles in. Most of the course was similar to what we had experienced in the past however, meaning uphill singletrack, some speedy asphalt descents, a few tricky gravel climbs and endless gorgeous scenery. The main take-aways from the pre-ride for me were clearing the beach sand descent efficiently (lightening the front end, using momentum, and letting the bike do what it wants) and using the narrow “clean” line during the steep, loose gravel climbs. I also decided my main strategy would involve quick recoveries and blasting down any descent I could find, since the uphill singletrack sections would likely be full of traffic. I felt confident in my conditioning and training since I had thankfully been healthy and able to train the last month.
The rest of Friday and Saturday were spent relaxing and enjoying the venue. We saw some old and new friends, met up with fellow Path Race Team members, drooled over the newest, latest and greatest gadgets and bikes, and cheered on the XC and Dual Slalom pros. Then we got the bikes prepped and tried to get some rest for race day.
The morning of the race came quickly, and it turned out to be a gorgeous day right from the start, no fog or drizzle. Conditions were perfect on the course. I had 16 ladies in my class, and after the start right away angled for a position in the top 3. My strategy of blasting the fire road descents worked out immediately when I surged to first place and held it for the first 5 miles of the race. I was also able to clear the sandy descent exactly how I’d hoped. Unfortunately heavy traffic from the numerous classes that started before us started clogging up the singletrack, and I lost my lead gap. We ended up as a train of about 10 women riders of various classes trying desperately to break through the traffic as politely as we could! That turned out to be the story of the race; every time I had fire road descents in front of me I was able to put in a nice gap only to lose it and be bunched up again during the singletrack sections. Then I made a crucial mistake-I let my competitiveness get the better of me and did EXACTLY what I had warned myself not to do-I tried to pass riders on one of the nasty steep gravel climbs. I sapped all of my energy, spun out my wheels on the loose gravel and had to walk. At least 8 or 9 riders passed me by, and I knew I would spend the rest of the race trying to catch back up. I wasn’t sure who had passed me in my class but I knew at least one or two did. I tried to not be too discouraged since there was still a lot of the course left, and immediately went to work trying to reel them in. During the last 5 or 6 miles the hardest part was the mental mind game of relentless gentle climbing, battling fatigue and muscle cramping. I repeated my two mantras, “c’mon legs” and “I can’t go on. I’ll go on” over and over again as I pedaled out the last few miles.
As I crossed the iconic finish line I had no idea where I stood in my class but I knew aside from my one critical mistake, I had performed well and did my best. I figured I had maybe gotten top five in my class. I was happy and surprised to learn that I ended up second in my class, behind first by only 9 seconds!! Even better was to learn that Peter, who had raced an hour earlier than me, had WON his class! What a great way to close out this year’s Sea Otter! And I’m grateful to this race for reinforcing a valuable lesson: Don’t let mistakes get you too discouraged; keep fighting and pushing until the end!