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Sea Otter Classic

Team Bikeman - Race Reports

ImageThe next morning the short track course was unbelievable. It was laid out at the base of the muddiest hill in the area. The entire course was slop except for a short 200 yard section on asphalt. I have never seen mud like this. Imagine overcooked oatmeal with a healthy portion of sand mixed in just to grind down your teeth. This stuff was deep with several sections that would literally bury the bike up to the hubs. I am not a huge fan of mud. In fact, I would go as far as to say that I hate mud and was not thrilled at the prospect of racing in this stuff. The start was interesting with a small pileup thirty feet off the line. I was able to avoid the downed riders and made it through the first slippery turn in 6th or 7th place. ImageI gassed it hard on the asphalt and moved up to third. Lots of riders were simply dismounting and running through some of the tougher sections after a lap or two. I was starting to like the race as I held my third place position for the next three (of 7) laps. On the 4th lap I took the same line through a really boggy section that had worked the previous three laps. I guess everyone had been taking this line and the mud had deepened. This time through I came to a sudden dead stop in the muck. I quickly jumped off and sunk in almost to my knees. I tried to shove the bike forward to no avail and had to give it two hard pulls before the mud released it with a loud sluurpp! I lost several places there and ran the bike for a short distance before trying to get back in the saddle. I put in a hard effort to try to gain some lost ground but it was too late. The extra effort quickly put me into the red zone and I spent the last lap struggling against the mud. I finished up in 15th place wishing that I hadn't put my bike and body through that kind of abuse the day before my biggest cross country race ever.

ImageI spent the rest of the afternoon watching some gravity races and giving my bike some much needed TLC. After getting it cleaned up and lubed with Slick Willy Slush Armor it looked and rode OK. I stopped by the Shimano neutral support trailer to have one of the Shimano expert mechanics make sure everything was in good working order. They looked it over thoroughly and said that it was actually one of the few bikes they had seen at that day that was still shifting well and that it was good to go for the cross country race.

ImageSunday was the big day I had trained for all winter. The brand-new cross country course was an epic 38 miles with an advertised 6,400 feet of climbing over two laps and now it was muddy. I got to the intimidating staging area to find about 150 pros lined up in front of the largest expert field I had ever seen. Many of the pros had support people holding umbrellas for them because you guessed it, more rain! The rest of us just anxiously waited while getting cold and wet . The mass start of around 100 riders in the combined fields of 30-34 and 35-39 was the largest group I had ever gone off the line in. ImageThe starting pace was surprisingly easy but sketchy. We rode a half a lap on the wide asphalt raceway as a large noisy peloton. The group was edgy and occasionally you heard the buzzz of crossed up knobbies but luckily nobody went down. I heard one guy say "this is scarier than a cat 5 road race" and he wasn't kidding. We funneled onto a double track for some fast rolling stuff before we hit a sandy section of mostly downhill singletrack. At mile 3 we hit the first significant climb and the race started to string out a little on a windy singletrack. In preparing for this event I had decided that given the length and difficulty of this race I was going to play it smart and use my heart rate to dictate my pace in the first lap rather than getting suckered into a pace that was too hard to sustain for 3.5 hours. I watched my BPM carefully and towards the middle of the first lap I decided that I needed to back off a little and let several riders go on a long tough doubletrack climb. The second half of the course was more mudfest. All the fast clay hardpack I had hoped for was coated with a slime of wet slippery goo and there were at least 5 or 6 major muddy sections some of which required dismounting and slogging through on foot. ImageUnfortunately for the bike the muddy sections were usually followed by deep sandy areas that coated the drivetrain with a highly destructive mix. By the end of my first lap my middle chainring was burned up (I had eight rides on it before this race!) and chainsuck rendered it useless. I was forced to ride the second 19 mile lap switching between the big and granny rings. Not fun! I was still able to turn up the heat significantly and kept steadily passing people on the many short steep climbs. While fighting through some of the worst cramps I have ever had I continued to pass riders including lots of the pro women right up to the finish where I came in at number 15 again. In looking at the results about 15 of the experts in my class never crossed the line and weren't scored. A testament to the brutality of the conditions. I was on the course for a total of 3:25 and it rained the whole time. Mother nature was not kind to the 2006 Sea Otter Classic and my bike is going to need an entirely new drivetrain and cables before my next race in a week and a half. I'll be back on my home course in Clemson and I am ready to turn it on!!!

Eric

Photos by: Lisa Paysen
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