Every year in April, the Mecca of cycling events in the United States takes place at the Laguna Seca racetrack in Monterey, CA. Sea Otter is a cycling festival that has been ongoing for 20+ years, which encompasses both organized road and mountain bike rides and races alike. The weather is usually a hot topic as in years past, there have been conditions from sweltering 110 degree heat to monsoon-like downpours in other years. We were lucky in 2010 with near perfect conditions and 75-80 degree heat.
This year, I was there in multiple capacities as both an athlete(for Topeak Ergon) and worker bee for Ergon. I remember my first time driving into the Laguna Seca raceway. I saw a sea of bicycle industry tents, which was reminiscent of a small city below me and was instantly filled with excitement at the grandeur of the event, and that, “Holy crap, I’m here racing as a pro!” That was three years ago, but I still can’t help but feel the same excitement upon arrival.
(start of men’s pro XC race)
In some ways, Sea Otter is like a smaller microcosm of our own personal bike obsessed world. We have our friends that we associate with our sport, the newest, coolest gear we are dying to check out, new people to meet, and new challenges to tackle.
The events that I usually participate in are the cross country and short track. In years past, the cross country has been a longer distance clocking in at 38 miles comprised of two 19 mile loops. This year, all of us were a bit thrown by the change of style since the race is a UCI (union cyclist international) meaning points are awarded to qualify to race the world cups. Cross country (XC) races are usually about 15-20 miles where the pace is high, and involves riding both up and down singletrack on a mountain bike. This year, the traditional course was changed to feature a 5 km loop that we rode 4 times. That means the race went from 38 miles to 12 miles. I used to focus on XC events, but made a shift in the last few years to endurance (50-100 mile+) mountain bike races because I simply wanted to ride my bike for longer on more interesting courses.
The style of mountain biking around Laguna Seca is pretty standard to most of the racing I have done in CA with hard packed light colored dirt, few rocks or technical sections, and a lot of braking ruts. However, CA is a big place, and there definitely are some places with loamy dirt and technical singletrack. It just has appeared that most of the national series mountain bike races have been on the hard packed sand.
The new race course was interesting and typical of Sea Otter type riding, except this time, you have to squeeze anywhere from 35-100+ people onto this 3.1 mile loop. The course consisted of rough, bumpy sections traversing a grassy hillside, fast, rutted singletrack, riding on the actual paved car racetrack itself, and dirt road. Only one thing to remember – Stay on the gas. The intimidating factor of a race format with multiple short loops is that inevitably, people WILL be lapped and pulled from the race. If you have a bad day, your race could be over pretty quickly considering that you are racing with the best cross country racers in the world, and they are executing those loops at warp speed. This is something that was especially on my mind, since my typical race pace is slower than that of a 12 mile XC. 12 miles? That’s just part of the warm up! The real racing begins in my races at mile 70something or so! Nonetheless, I was still excited for race day. There’s a part of me that still loves the fight of a XC race. The major bonus about the shorter loops was that the race was spectator friendly. Let’s be honest, mountain bike racing isn’t that exciting to watch, especially when everyone comes by the same spot twice. I think that having courses that are spectator friendly are better for the sport, but it’s difficult to create a “good” race course and keep it at short loops. It’s tough to have it all!
After we had all been called up to the line on race day (with seemingly 1/3 of the field with things like “Olympian” or “ranked 2nd in the world” next to their name ), something happened. I didn’t feel anxious or nervous as we stood over our bikes waiting for the countdown. One reason was that the expectation of winning wasn’t there and was off my shoulders. This is a pressure I feel at endurance races, or regional XC or short track races. The other reason was that I felt lucky to be there and happy to be racing my bike the CA sunshine.
Photo courtesy of Jake
I definitely wasn’t a top contender at the race, but I had some reputable ladies that I got to race against. My fear of getting lapped was silly because it wasn’t even close to happening. I actually make things exciting by cheering for the girls in front of and behind me in the race when I saw them because they are my friends and that’s part of the fun!
Speaking of fun, I found some great short track socks.
When all was said and done, it turns out I enjoyed the shorter course, and a big part of it was due to the encouragement of the spectators. It made it more lively, and I enjoyed interacting with them through my profuse sweat, drool, and pain!
Next up, heading to Orange County for a couple days, and then off to Arizona for a 50 mile mountain bike race I have enjoyed in years past called the Whiskey 50 Off-Road. Bring it on!
For more on Sea Otter and my racing, check out my personal website: www.sonyalooney.missingsaddle.com