The Sea Otter Classic is a cornerstone in the cycling world. It holds a special place in my heart as well. I’ve been coming to Sea Otter since I was 12 years old. I would race as many races as I could fit into the 4-day period. I would practically run from booth to booth. I would collect as many autographs as I could and watch all of the pro athletes perform. Now, I am one of the pro athletes. Sometimes I still feel like I’m watching myself from the outside. I’m truly living my dream and this is a weekend where I pause several times to really take that in. Sea Otter gives me energy. While many athletes feel a little over-worked at this even, all of those obligations fire me up and motivate me to perform.
The race this year was a 67 mile mountain bike race, consisting of 2 loops and about 8,400 feet of climbing. After pre-riding a lap earlier in the week, I actually had to take a step back, re-evaluate my plan and anticipate a much longer race than I initially thought. Long isn’t a bad thing, but you have to treat it with complete and total respect.
Even though the race would last approximately 5 hours, the race would be extremely tactical and the start, extremely critical.
The race started up a wide open race track, then about 3 minutes in, entered into a long singletrack descent with little to no passing. As planned, I put in a big dig off of the start line, accelerating toward the singletrack as if it was a short XCO race rather than an all-day marathon grind. I entered the singletrack in 5th place. I felt good about my position initially, but I quickly realized that “good” would not be “good enough” in this instance. A gap formed between the front 3 riders and myself. I began to stress. I had to get up to the group, but I couldn’t execute a pass on the singletrack. I knew I had some time, but not an infinite amount. Once we exited the singletrack, group dynamics would come to play and I needed to be in that group in order to reap the benefits. As the miles ticked away, my angst to reach the front group grew and grew. I finally made the move, executing a risky pass and looking ahead at the gap I needed to close. I began to bury myself to close the gap. My body my screaming at me to slow down and pace the effort, but my brain knew I had to go and I had to go now. As the minutes ticked away, I made one final effort to get to the group and I latched on just in time to enter the fire road together. I took a massive sigh of relief. I was in this.
Over the next couple of hours, I got stronger. I went from burying myself to make the group to feeling as though I was leading the charge. I felt strong and in control. The pace was comfortable and quite frankly I felt like the race could last as long as it needed to and I wouldn’t fade. I was plotting away on how I would ultimately contest the win. It was one of those days where you feel invincible. I was on cloud 9.
At mile 50, my race changed. We were descending a small portion of singletrack and I was riding closely on the wheel of the rider in front of me and I didn’t see the rock until it was too late. My wheel slammed into the rock, I hit rim, and I heard all of the air exit my tire. I yelled, “no, no, no, no!” as I pulled to the side of the trail. “I can still do this.” “I can still do this.” I kept repeating that as I tried to air up my tire with a shakey hand and co2. I felt sick to my stomach and I held back the tears. I refuse to accept this as the end. The tire wouldn’t seal because the flat was on the bead. I tried to use a tire plug, but it wouldn’t hold. I burnt through my 2 co2s and now I was a sitting duck. Minutes had rolled by and now I was starting to see other women pass me by. I turned to the trail and started hollering, and asking every rider that came by if they had a Co2. A man stopped and offered his Co2. It was lifesaver. I gathered a few Co2 as we put a tube in my tire. The flat would continue to slow leak the rest of the race. After waiting for Co2s and fixing the flat, it had been 12 minutes. One person actually told me to hang it up, but I felt too good on the day to let it go to waste. I had fallen back to 14th place, but I love a comeback story and to me, the only option was to get one.
I tucked and flipped the page on my Stages Dash and settled into my threshold pace. I was on the hunt. I had to stop to air up my tire when it hit about 5 psi, but in between I was on the gas and all out. Every position matters in the Lifetime Grand Prix and I turned myself inside out to get them. With my wheel bouncing around, I clawed my way back. I crossed the finish line in 9th place and 6th Grand Prix athlete. I crossed 12 minutes behind the winner, the 12 minutes I took standing still.
I waved to the crowd and forced a smile as came to the finish, but as I crossed the line I just felt pure confusion. I was heartbroken. I felt the tears come up. I swallowed them. I can’t help but wonder, “what if” and that hurts. But…the confusing part is that I crossed the finish line one of the proudest I’ve ever been of myself. I still can’t believe I salvaged what I did, I can’t believe the way I was riding before the incident, and I am proud of my ever give up spirit.
I’ve fired up. I’m motivated and I’m ready to write the finish of this story a different way at a different race and luckily we have a lot of them coming up! A massive thank you to all of my supporters, fans, friends, family, and sponsors. When I was standing on the side of the trail, I looked up at the sky, I wondered what I would do, I said a prayer, and I remembered that you were all refreshing your live results, wondering what was happening, and your spirits kept mine up. It takes a village and I have the best one.
Up Next: Whiskey 50