Sea Otter Classic
by Kirk Carlsen(Predator Carbon Fiber Repair)
My first experience with the Sea Otter Classic was in 2006 when it was just the grueling circuit race. I was racing for Team Rubicon then, and I had no idea what to expect. The team van rolled up to the airport, and off I went. Although I was dropped pretty quickly, I told myself one day I would come back and win. At that point of my career I was a bit more of a sprinter, believe it or not.
This year, I knew I had a good opportunity to ride a good general classification and maybe win a stage if everything worked out. The toughest part of the race was the tactical aspect. Being without any teammates makes my strategy very complicated. The first things you try to figure out are: who are the teams working for? Who are their “protected riders?” And who has good form?
If I could follow the protected riders, then, hopefully, I wouldn’t lose time on any stages, and ultimately could do a good time trial. If I got the yellow jersey though, I knew it would be tough to hold onto it on the last stage without any teammates.
The criterium, although a very difficult stage, ended in a field sprint. I was happy with that, although I tried a few moves myself. I was actually able to win a sprint for a 3-second time bonus, which put me 4th overall.
The road race is a very difficult circuit with a long finish climb. My hope was that it would stay together before the final climb and I could get away at the bottom in hopes of making up time for the general classification. That worked out perfectly, as I was able to take advantage of the other teams’ misfortunes of not making the breakaway and having to chase.
Coming into the bottom of the finishing climb, we caught the breakaway. Alex Hagmen (Jelly Belly) attacked straight away and got a small gap. I attacked, and caught him.
I knew I had to keep the pressure on. Alex knew I was a decent time trialist and he had more teammates behind. So, he had the right to sit on my wheel for the entire climb. I knew I couldn’t mess around going for the stage win, as I needed the time for GC. He did a good ride to hang on and out sprint me for the line. Although I was a bit bitter about getting second place, I was happy to see that he started in front of me in the time trial the next day.
The time trial is a difficult course, same as the circuit in the road race. There are two major climbs, which you have to go hard up and hope to recover on the downhills. My goal was to ride a consistent power output until the last climb. I managed to get to the bottom of the last climb pretty fresh. I controlled myself on the climb, however, knowing the last 2.5 miles, although downhill, were into a headwind. Coming over the top of the climb, I went full throttle all the way to the finish, catching Alex. I felt very good and was confident on how well I rode and paced myself. The win put me into the lead on GC and gave me the yellow jersey going into the last stage on Laguna Seca.
I knew racing in the yellow jersey and trying to maintain the lead would be difficult to do by myself. However, I was banking on the fact that a few teams were out of contention in the overall and wanted to win the stage. I figured I only had to worry about a breakaway if it had all major teams represented. If something dangerous got away, I also knew the climb on the course suited me well and I could at least bring the gap down every time up the hill.
It ended up working well, with one small break gaining time, but without all the teams represented. I chased a few times on the climb, only to manage the time gap. We caught the break with a few laps to go.
Now for some drama…
With 2 laps to go, a rider must have touched wheels with another on the top of the climb. Boom! He went down, Alex Hagmen hit him, and I ran over Alex. Luckily, I landed on top of him (thanks for the cushion, Alex!), but I was frantic. I pulled my bike out of the tangled mess as quickly as possible. The biggest concern was that my bike wouldn’t work. Luckily, at that point, I didn’t notice anything wrong. The wheels spun! I jumped back on.
Eric Riggs (Mike Bikes) was the only rider who waited for me. The crash happened at the front of the race, so I’m sure most everyone saw it. But, going into the last lap, it was probably a tough choice for the field to slow down. Eric did one hell of a pull to help me back to the field, and I can’t thank him enough. That was very classy and a good showcasing of his sportsmanship.
I ended up finishing with the field, and my heart was probably racing from the adrenaline of the crash. It wasn’t until then that I noticed my brake was rubbing and my top tube was broken.
I really appreciate the support that I was given at this great venue, and all the great encouragement. I was happy to come back and win this race!