In Santa Barbara we spent time on the beach, ate awesome food, visited friends, and I rode my bike up and down some gigantic hills in the sunshine. That was pretty nice. Sarah and Eva had to head back to Chicago early Monday, so I met up with Ryan for a few more days of training and then we loaded up the truck and headed for Sea Otter.
Sea Otter used to be one of the first big races of the year, and I have always had a bit of a love hate relationship with the race. Early on in my racing career making the journey down to Monterey from Oregon was the first sunshine we had seen in months, and it was a pleasure just be to be there, riding in the sun and enjoying the circus like atmosphere. After a few years of missing the race while pursuing the World Cup circuit, I was excited to return this year and ride the epic XC race I remembered and feared from the past.
Unfortunatly the UCI had other plans. Now, I can understand wanting to create a spectator friendly format for big MTB races, but there in lies the problem. It is supposed to be a Mountain Bike race first and formost, but this was lost somewhere in the translation this year at Sea Otter. Our XC circuit resembled more of a road circuit race than a MTB course, with over 3 km of pavement in a 7 km circuit, some of it even downhill. That is just totally unfortunate. When the rigid structure of UCI sanctioning completely obliterates the entire purpose of the event, what is left? Well, we found out at this race. We rode around in packs on the pavement and there was a sprint finish. Granted, we were on MTB bikes and racing, so technically this was a MTB race, but I think you would be hard pressed to find anyone in the race that thought what we did was a good idea, especially the amature-elite level racers who spent a bunch of their own money to travel all the way down to Sea Otter and were presented with the above format. In Europe the sport may be spectator driven, but in my experiance, the US MTB race circuit is completely racer driven, and if we continue to race events that are no fun, expensive and uninspiring, the racers are not going to show up.
I'm not saying that UCI santioned events and spectators do not play a massive role in the growth of MTB events, but I would propose that everyone involved would be better off if, instead of imposing arbitrary guidleines as to what form a race course may take, we leave it up to the promoter of each individual event to determine what will bring the best mix of spectator acess, racer success and actual MTB racing to the event. The Promoter knows the area, knows the tralis and it is in their and everyones best interest to put on an event that both racers and spectators will enjoy. Limiting things by setting out finitly defined race course specifications, in my opinion, ruins it for everyone.
Anyways, enough of that rant. On to things that are more fun!
After Sea Otter I headed up to Oregon to do some community projects in Portland that Erik Tonkin was involved in. We visited a middle school during career day and talked to the kids about what being professional athletes was like and the paths we took to get to where we were today. We also went to the launch party of the North West Trail Alliance, a group dedicated to creating easily accessible, legal, fun trails in and around the Portland metro area and finally headed out in to The Dalles to do some road bike racing.
The Cherry Blossom Cycling Classic is in its second year and is quickly becoming the early season stage race Northwest rides target. Good weather, great organization and killer race courses make this event a real treat. It all started friday with a rolling 75 mile circuit race to get the legs warmed up. Saturday brought on the decisive stage of the weekend, with a super tough hilly and windy circuit that included a 3km dirt climb each lap. There was no hiding on this course, and each lap the pack was cut in half on the big climb until a select group of ten entered the final lap and battled it out for victory. I was one of the lucky few to make this last group, but my battle for victory was not as good as the others. The final day of this event consisted of an 8km TT and a Criterium in down town The Dalles.
Luckily for a guy like me, there was a concurrent Oregon MTB race happening on Sunday, and rather than try and ride fast in a stright line, followed by trying to ride fast in a square, I bolted for the flanks of Mt Hood and jumped into the frey at the Bear Spring Trap MTB event. This race is notoriously tough and totally awesome. I did the first iteration of it back when I was 17, and on that day, after coming through the start/finish at the end of lap one 2 hrs into the race, we knew we were in for a long day. I was only a few seconds out of the lead at that point, so I charged right through onto lap two in hot pursuit. I eventually bonked super hard, but as everyone else was in the same boat as me, and I somehow managed to crawl in for second overall after four and a half hours on the bike.
With this experience in mind, and two days of hard road racing in my legs, I made sure to pack extra food and water as I dialed my Hei Hei 29 in before the race. The gun went off and the next two hours were spent ripping rediculously awesome motorcycle and MTB trails with all my Oregon pals and having the time of my life. What a difference from Sea otter a week ago! In the end I was able to pull victory from the claws of defeat with a perfectly timed attack in the closing minutes of the race to beat out local super hero Sean Babcock of the famed Team S+M Young Guns crew after chasing him around all day.
After that super solid block of training, I am back in Chicago, getting my inner geek on as I prepare to race the Xterra Del Valle in Livermore in a few weeks. I figured I should try and put all the swimming and running I have been doing all winter to use at some sort of event, so, Xterra, here I come! Wish me luck, and I promise not to turn into a triathlete... Unless of course I win!