I was dreading the Sea Otter road race this year. The first reason is because the course requires many short, vicious efforts that are not my forte. Since I couldn’t do a pre-ride, I reviewed last year’s race on Strava to refresh my memory on the course. (Strava is an amazing recon tool, even addition to a real pre-ride, as rider’s actual power data shows exactly what flavor of pain is likely to come your way!) Past Strava performances in our field showed that each of the 7 laps would likely involve a 3 minute effort around 6 watts / kilo (450W+ in my case), plus several bursty efforts responding to attacks. These short digs – especially those over 5 minute max power – often do not feel terrible at the time but accumulate to make the final climb up Barloy Canyon really pathetic.
The second dread factor was the heat, forcasted to be at a record high. Fort Ord is really exposed, so nowhere to hide. Before the event I wrote a text to my wife saying I hoped I did not die of heat stroke, then decided not send it for fear of looking particularly stupid if I did get into trouble. Conrad and I huddled briefly to talk tactics, which basically were to be respectful of the heat, ride smooth and not miss the break.
I noted on the start line that the field was bigger from last year, this time with many tanned, heavily tatood guys from SoCal who at least looked fast. Lots of riders from Monster Media, a team I didn’t know. The neutral roll out was by far the scariest point of the race, with a motorcycle driver randomly braking and going slow. I was in the back and choking on the acrid smell of carbon brake pads. Once we got going the race quickly became boring.
Mid-race, a big guy named Karl Bordine from Monster rolled off the front. Conrad and I talked and decided he was way too heavy to survive the finish climb, so we let him go. He quickly got a gap of a minute and we didn’t care, anticipating we would see him again. The race settled into a rhythm, attacks all came back, and we slowed. Our new strategy was for Conrad to ride hard on the final lap to keep it together, I would punch the final climb and try to win this thing.
Chris Lyman attacked on the last lap and got a small gap while the group decided whether to chase. Then to my alarm the race official neutralized the field for an E3 break to come through. The two guys off the front were going to enjoy a pleasant ride to glory while the rest of us coasted behind a moto! What luck! We were finally released to race. With about 4 miles to go, the time gap to Bordine was 1:40, and I figured over a minute to Lyman who can climb. I was certain we were racing for third and was beyond dismayed.
Conrad was riding hard tempo on the front, keeping things together for our group of 40 or so. We started climbing, and I was feeling quite good. My hamstring suddenly and unexpectedly decided to cramp. Uh oh! I could climb out of the saddle but would cramp immediately if I tried to sit. Maybe I can ride through it? 1k to go, I jump and get a good gap, legs seize, ouch, have to stretch, now weaving through E3 guys ahead struggling up the climb. Two guys from our race come by at 200 meters and I just can’t get my legs going. I finish third in this chase group, which I’m assuming is 5th overall.
I then see the big guy Bordine and realize he finished just in front of us, meaning he gave up 1:40 in two miles. He had cracked on the climb, and we almost got him at the line without knowing it (due to the E3s we were also passing). I figured Lyman had won, but saw later that I was 4th overall and he finished behind me, which meant that we passed him on the climb, didn’t know that either. Bordine had won the overall, less than 4 seconds in front of me. Hats off to him for his solo effort and holding on right to the line.
This race was a great illustration of at least three important lessons in bike racing:
- It ain’t over until it’s over, don’t concede the win,
- Be ultra-attentive to what is going on around you at all times, and
- Accept that luck plays a huge part, but put yourself in a position to get lucky