From Jimmy Lucchesi – The Sea Otter Classic is one of the biggest, weirdest, funnest weekends of the year. Mountain bike groupies from across the world gather at the Laguna Seca Raceway to pay homage to the bicycle Gods. Common ways of showing faith include demoing an E-bike, demoing a fat bike, demoing a fat E-bike, flipping said bikes into the airbag, and seeing who can collect the most stickers and autographs. For those that don’t get sucked into the black hole that is the festival, Sea Otter is a great opportunity for racers to go head to head against some of the best competition they’ll see all year.
In traditional UCSB Cycling style, nine of us left Santa Barbara at about 9 p.m., getting us to the campsite around 1:30 a.m. where we promptly announced our arrival to all by driving laps around the campground with headlights and towing a loud trailer. The morning came early, but a relaxing coffee with the family camping next to us put the mind at ease. Friday morning is when I do my traditional run through the pits trying to get my mechanical’s fixed before practice, but thanks to Noah at VeloPro Cyclery, my Process 111 was good to go. After stopping by the Kona booth to meet some new friends and ogle some beautiful bicycles it was time for practice.
The Sea Otter downhill is relatively flat, short, and without a lot of line choice. What this means to a racer is that you can’t stop pedalling, and you can’t make a mistake. The theme for Friday, however, was lazy runs and bad decisions. It was an awesome day. Saturday’s practice showed the course rapidly deteriorating; if you weren’t rattling through braking bumps you were sliding in the sand. Trying to keep up with my UCSB teammates, and buddies and fellow Kona riders Dave Phreaner and Ali Osgood, helped me shave a few seconds off from Friday’s practice.
My teammate Nelson loves it when I dust him out. Lots of skidding on Friday’s agenda.
Sunday was race day, and the track had turned into a sandy excuse of its former self. Even though I’m much better about my pre-race jitters now, Sea Otter still gets to me the same way it always has. In the start line I probably changed my starting gear back and forth a dozen times before I settled on what I started with, and forced myself to stop watching other racers go, because they all looked faster than I felt. But I pedaled hard, kept it smooth, and sprinted the last bit like like I was being chased by a pack of hungry velociraptors. My lack of style, late-night intervals, the 111’s big wheels, and my death sprint all payed off though, because I ended up winning the whole thing!
When I got back to the top, I went straight to the Kona tent to do a happy dance with Ali (she got 6th in Pro women that morning!), and await the podium. The Sea Otter downhill was the first race I ever did. My dad has an awesome picture of terrified 14-year-old me racing my Kona Cowan dirtjumper into 19th place in Cat 3 hanging on the wall in his office. I can remember watching the fast guys ride and thinking there was no way I would ever be that fast, which made it feel SO good to stand on that box.
Sea Otter always has a tremendous buildup and an abrupt ending. I was beyond stoked that I won, but returning to midterms gives little time for celebration. But I had an awesome weekend, another race on the near horizon, and a new Process 153 to come home to, so life is good.Cheers!