This was my favorite Sea Otter Classic to date. I feel like I’ve been in a heightened state for the last 4 days and it’s only now that I’m sitting her quietly heading home that I’m really able to reflect on all of the happenings and I still can’t get this silly smile off of my face.
From the moment I stepped foot at the Laguna Seca Raceway I immediately felt immersed in a community that felt like home. I felt like I couldn’t walk from one side of the venue to the other without waves from friends, conversations with partners, interactions with other racers and fans, and a new idea to accomplish before the time at Sea Otter ran out.
Wednesday consisted of a pre-ride of the Fuego 80k course and then a couple hour video shoot in the evening to help launch the start of the Lifetime Grand Prix. Thursday felt like a big business day as I had an appointment at different booths every 45 minutes throughout the day for everything from learning about awesome new products my partners are launching to more video shoots to interviews, to research and design conversations.
A big highlight on Thursday was waking up to an email from a film crew asking if they could shadow me at the venue to document what the interactions were like at Sea Otter! I couldn’t help but feel a little tickled walking around with my entourage of film crew all afternoon. Friday morning was much of the same starting with a Q&A session about Pivot’s all new Les SL in the morning and finishing in the afternoon with some interviews and the official launch of the Lifetime Grand Prix!
Saturday morning’s alarm clock came, and all of that faded to the background as all of the athletes descended onto the start line and the cameras were forced behind the tape. Even with the announcer on the loud speaker the World felt quiet in my head. With two minutes to go I was left with a blank canvas of what the day could bring, a quiet mind and heart knowing I did everything I could do to prepare, and a silently exchanged smile between Clayton and me as our eyes met through the crowds as if to say to each other, “We’re in this together.”
When the race started it all felt in slow motion and the first thought in my mind was, “Oh yeah, this is going to be a good day.” The race started fast just as an anticipated but I was right where I wanted to be and just to be sure I put in one more dig as we crested the top of the climb and entered into the singletrack. As we descended the first long singletrack of the day I noticed that we had a couple of seconds on the main group and while I knew that gap would never stick, I packed away the confidence in my back pocket and carried on with the ride.
As the race went on I felt the courage to respond to every dig and the ability to sit where I wanted to be leading into each climb and singletrack section. I was in the flow state and I felt like the possibilities of the day were looking better and better with each passing mile. Around mile 15 of lap 1, 4 of us found ourselves with a gap off the front and we began rotating and working together to make it stick. If only the singletrack had come a bit sooner we may have been able to sneak away, but we were reeled back in right before we hit the trails again. That’s ok, more confidence to stow away.
As we came close to the close of the first lap and we were about to enter the singletrack that would ultimately lead to the final climb, we bombed down a fireroad and turned right, but instead of turning I took a turn laying on the gravel. I slid out in the dirt, lost the front wheel, and went down fast and hard in the dirt. With the high speed, the group was gone in an instant. I collected my belonging strewn around the ground, and mounted my bike as quickly as possible and careful not to examine my bloody knee and arm. Every second the group was away, the harder they would be to catch.
I caught the group again shortly after the trail ticked upward, with no time to rest after closing the gap. Sitting 8th wheel in the group I focused on recovery, but couldn’t help but notice the gap opening between the 3rd and 4th place rider as I took note of more space I would need to close when the trail opened up. As we entered the fireroad, I dug deep again and got back to the front of the group. My body begged for recovery from the efforts, but I kept responding, “in just a moment” not allowing it to give in. As the trail ticked up one more time, my body demanded that recovery and I lost the group, but my mind would not give up.
As we crossed the start finish to start lap 2 of 2, I was just 5 seconds behind the lead group and I would close the gap one more time, determined to stay up at the front. If only I could pause for one moment. Again, the trail pitched upward just as I had closed the gap and my matchbook was empty, I had finally burned them all closing gaps. I held a steady pace and stayed relatively close for the rest of the lap, but never seemed to close the gap again on the high speed fireroad with small winds that felt like hurricanes when you were chasing a pack alone.
I stayed strong, knowing that every second and every place would count for the series and I was happy to cross the finish line salvaging a 7th place finish. I’m so pleased with my fitness, sensations, tenacity, and that the crash only caused superficial wounds. I’m SO ready for the next chance to race already! Good thing we have lots of the horizon!
Thanks to everyone who made this weekend one of my most favorite in awhile. Let’s do this more often.
Hannah Otto (Finchamp)