Sea Otter is a busy time of year as nearly everyone involved in the cycling industry gathers in Monterrey California to show off there new product and celebrate another year of racing/riding with a weekend full of events. It’s a controlled gongshow and a great time as we get to meet our sponsors, catch up with other racers and hang out with our teams and all the front office workers. Flying into San Francisco tuesday evening I awoke after a 2 hour sleep to catch the sun setting over the Golden Gate bridge. It was an inspiring start to the trip and soon I was having dinner with my Kona team-mates, catching up on the early season racing adventures.
We have a rad team. Barry Wicks is both our team manager and all rounder who can race with the best of them whether it is XC, Marathon, Stage racing or gravel road racing. He is mostly in North America crushing races here and taking part in cool events such as the 200 mile Dirty Kanza. Spencer Paxson is our zippy Indy Car from Bellingham Washington. He rips up the XCO scene, often representing the USA around the globe and racing World Cups. He keeps us inspired to zip around really fast. Kris Sneddon is a fellow Canadian from the Sunshine Coast and is one of the North Americas top single track riders and is nearly unbeatable at stage races such as the BC Bike race and Singletrack 6. He also likes polar bear dips in freezing water. Helen Wyman from the UK was our only rider on the Endurance team who was missing as her base camp is in England. She is one of the Worlds top Cyclo cross racers as she races her Kona Jake the Snake around the World and is always a podium contender at the World XC Championships. We were sad she couldn’t join us for this trip as we had a lot of fun racing with her in Austrian snowstorms a couple years back!
Spending the week with the team was great, going on team rides in the Redwoods, Mexican dinners, watching hockey, building up team bikes and sussing out all our new gear for the year. The racing down at Sea Otter was crazy with nearly 100 Pro men tackling a tiny 2 minute per lap short track circuit. The Worlds best short course racers were here and all the top North Americans. Luckily I had a top 25 call up thanks to my UCI points and managed to stick to fellow Canadian Max Plaxton for the first few laps to stay out of trouble and ahead of the traffic jams taking place behind as riders would have to stand in line to funnel through a little gate in the middle of the course. By the time the last rider got his turn to head through the opening, the leaders were already coming through on there second lap, so they got pulled. It’s insane to race a bike this way, with only about 50 of the riders able to finish the 25 minute race. After a busy spring of 5-6 hour rides, I surprised myself and managed to hang in there for a top 35 finish which is a great sign the top end speed is improving as it will be needed at the European Marathons in the months to come.
The XC on Saturday was sketchy as hell with 125 of us sprinting for the whole shot down the Laguna Seca Speedway. I saw Christoph Sauser heading up the outside so I hopped on his wheel and was briefly in the top 10 before the course pinched off and he squeaked into the lead group. I got schooled and had to hit the brakes to avoid a major collision with 100 riders going for it and went from top 10 to nearly 100th. After this the course hit a rutted out dusty descent for 3-4 km in which all we could see was a dust storm as our bikes bounced blindly off rocks at a scary speed. If I hit the brakes at all, 4 riders would blow by so it was necessary to keep speed to maintain any sort of start position. This was interuppeted with a couple all out sprints up tiny climbs, before heading back into the descending chaos. These max efforts were causing havoc on any sort of pacing plan. Riders were firing all there bullets in the first 30 minutes to try and get a good position, but many of them had little fitness to back it up and just ended up clogging the trails ahead of those of us who are accustomed to racing within our abilities and setting a manageable pace.
Soon enough we were at the bottom of the course and started climbing up some single track. Here we lined up one by one in a row of 130 riders to head back up the hill, when one rider messed up it would domino effect and everyone would have to stop. If you didn’t have the fitness to stay with the top 20 lead riders you were at the mercy of riding with a lot of guys that had a hard time riding the smooth singlet rack smoothly. Some guys started running through the woods to improve there place in line, I caught one Latino doing this and gave him a good hockey shove into the bushes. It was a brief moment in which I felt I was winning. The whole situation was mental, eventually the course would open up on double track in which it would be an all put sprint to the next bit of single track, which would be jammed up and give us a chance to rest again. Towards the end of the first 17 mile lap, things started to space out and heading into the 2nd lap we got to race our bikes properly. By this time I was way the hell back there, but managed to pass 20-30 riders on the lap to move into the top 60. It was a rough day on the bike although it inspired me to work on my starts as it is clearly a weakness in these short races. These zippy XC guys can really rip for a couple hours which if I can add some of this talent to my Marathon arsenal it will make a deadly combo!
Sunday after Sea Otter we forgot about our bikes and headed off to the baseball game in downtown San Francisco with fellow Canucks Kris, Max Plaxton and the godfather Roger Bartells. Roger lives down here in Healdsburg and has often opened his house to Canadian riders to come down and train in the nice weather and great riding terrain of North Cali. Roger picked up club seats for us to the Giants vs Arizona Diamondbacks game. They were rad seats and he toured us throughout the ballpark and afterwards around downtown SF, taking us to a rad Peruvian restaurant on the water for dinner where Barry and his wife Sarah met up with us. It was a nice day to forget about riding and the bonus was we got to see one of the USA’s iconic cities in the process.
Heading back to Victoria for 2 nights was a chaotic time as I transferred new gear home, did normal life things, and re-packed for 2 months over in Europe. There was some playoff hockey to be watched as well with my bro and cousin as there are 5 Canadian teams in the playoffs this year which is bringing all of Canada alive, of course except for Edmonton and Toronto as they are flat out awful at Hockey these days. It was a bit tight getting everything in line for the Euro trip but everything neatly came in line just in time and right now I’m looking down on the Rocky Mountains enroute to Spain. Huge Thanks to my cousin Tasha for helping with some last minute packing this am and an airport drop-off. Hope you can join in on a trip soon!
The next couple days will hopefully be spent relaxing at my friend Willy Mulonias (organizer of the Mongolia Bike Challenge) house up in the Spanish mountains north of Madrid. From there it will be into the hands of the Titan Desert organization as they will fly us down to Morocoo to take part in there legendary 6 day stage race across the Atlas mountains and through some remote deserts from April 27-May 2. It’s going to be a rad adventure and a good test and boost to the fitness levels as I continue the long and proper build up to the big races this year. I’ve always been one to lay down months of big base miles in the early season before slowly adding intensity. This formula has worked great in the past as the body gets faster every week from April-June and then July onwards it is generally running at full throttle .
Huge thanks to Kona Bicycles for the new race rigs! The King Kahuna 29’re hard tail will be the weapon of choice for this years European campaign while the Hei Hei Supreme dualie will be waiting on the sidelines to hop into some North American action later this summer.
Results from Morocco can hopefully be found here throughout the race: http://www.titandesert.com