As we approached the final conference road race weekend, the Sea Otter classic, I could sense that our team was getting worn out from all the travel during the year. With most of the road races in the Bay Area or beyond, the typical race weekend required about 15 hours of driving to compete. While Sea Otter did not count toward nationals qualification, it was still important for us to do well as a team to try to move up in the conference standings.
Sea Otter is an unusual race weekend, as it is one of the biggest events on the US racing calendar, but more famous for the mountain biking and expos than for the road races. This year, it was also 1 week before nationals in Colorado, and so many of the top Category A riders skipped the race to rest up for the national championships. I had considered the same, but since I only had a few weeks of road training in me up to this point, I felt I needed one more good challenge before resting up for nationals. I had been competing in triathlon earlier in the year, but was determined to return to road nationals for my last year competing in collegiate cycling.
I spent most of the prior week thinking of how to approach the races, one was a circuit race with one steep hill each lap and one was a road race with a steep, punchy hill each lap and a long, slow climb at the end. I had been dropping some weight in preparation for the race, but once I arrived at Sea Otter, I quickly forgot about my own races, and instead got caught up in the excitement of watching the professional mountain bikers and cyclocross racers. The biggest names in MTB and CX were present, and my teammates and other WCCC friends were able to compete with or on the same course as these legends.
Unfortunately, as the weekend approached, I had to start thinking about my own races again, and getting nervous if I had gotten in enough training for the year to make the selection on each lap. The circuit race started off incredibly fast. Within the first lap (on the steep climb), we dropped several riders right away that never were able to bridge back up. Surprisingly, I was able to keep with the lead group pretty easily. We maintained a fast pace throughout the lap and pass every other group on the Laguna Seca raceway, who had started minutes before us. And since we had motorcycle referees all over the course, I was glad to know that they weren’t going to allow the dropped riders to join in with other groups to try to bridge to us. The sole goal for me was just to stay with the lead group, and hoped more riders got dropped each selection. Fortunately, this occurred a couple more times, and the lead group was whittled down to 4 riders along with myself. We let off the pace a bit, and 4 riders were able to rejoin who had been dropped on the penultimate climb. When we arrived at the last climb, it was a strong group of 8 riders and myself, and since I had been sucking wheels all day and doing little work, I decided to do the most political thing and not try to sprint against the people that helped me out all day. I knew the road race would be much more challenging, and I would need all the friends I could get as the only UCSD cyclist competing. I was happy to finish 9th place out of 19 in a race that did not seem to suit my strengths.
The road race seemed to have similar features to the circuit race, and I started the day pretty confident. I just barely made the selection on the first time over the steep hill while a few others got dropped, but knew I would be at risk for each of the remaining 5 laps. Sure enough, the 2nd time we climbed it, I got dropped along with a friend from Cal Poly and a new friend visiting from Arizona State University. We knew we had no chance to climb with the leaders, and decided to work together to finish the race as a group. We put in a nice steady effort and were somehow able to rejoin the leaders on lap 3, and found a way to stick with them each lapped by catching up on each of the windy and downhill sections, while they out climbed us on the hill. This maintained the whole race until the final 2.5 mile climb, where we had 11 of us that made it with the lead group. Once again I ended with 9th place after being able to stay ahead of the heavier guys from the group, but found out that I still have a lot of work left to be able to compete with the climbers. I was still very happy with this placing in an A race after so little training, and now look forward to nationals next week in Grand Junction, CO.
By Justin Runac