Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Sea Otter Classic - Monterey, CA

1st Place Expert Cat 1 AG
Top 5 out of 220 Overall Amateur Women

Equipment Used: Specialized S-Works Stumpjumper WC from Mack Cycles , Louis Garneau custom MTB Kit, Specialized Evade Helmet, Specialized S-Works Women MTB Shoes, Magura MT8 Brakes, Syntace Duraflite Carbon handlebars, Syntace FlatForce Stem, Syntace P6 HiFlex Seatpost, Xpedo M-Force 8 Ti, NoTubes Carbon Wheels Valor's, Schwalbe Rocket Ron's and Racing Ralph's, ESI Grips, K-Edge Garmin Mount, SelleSMP Composit Saddle, Enduro Bearings XD15 BB and Derailleur Cogs, Rotor Rex 1 Crank, Rotor QX1 30t Chainring, KMC DLC 11SL Chain, Kuat NV Bike Rack, Clif Shot Gels, Pocketfinder GPS Locator, Oakley Radar Sunglasses with Green lenses, TrainerRoad workouts to prepare me for this race and Garden of Life Nutrition Every Day of my Life...

Just after crossing the finish line
Sea Otter Classic is such a famous, prestigious and monster race that I feel extremely fortunate that I was able to take a trip with my husband Pax all the way from Florida and attend it. I love the West Coast, it is wild and beautiful here, coast is rugged, waves are huge and wild flowers are everywhere. The weather is more than perfect too. I felt more at home here than I expected and never ending hills and extremely fast descents didn’t stop me from racing to my full potential. I was the only one in my group from the flat land but the moment we started heading to the fist climb I had a feeling of strength and huge possibility. I never let it go and made my way to the top and to the first and super-fast descent in 2nd place.

My eyes were peeled to the leader and I knew I was not going to let anyone get away. Race was very exciting and very mental, we went back and forth with the lead girls, I think it was four of us until I finally got my break on mile 13 and never looked back.

I still had long way of climbing my way out of the canyons with amazing vistas all over. The final climbs were brutal but nothing seemed could stop me at that moment.

The last push out of the dirt and onto the Laguna Seca Raceway to the road descent with a huge finish line where all the fans were cheering was incredible feeling. I looked back quick but there was no one there behind me. I crossed the finish line so happy and with wind in my hair and a smile on my face.

The greatest part was seeing my husband who knew I pulled pretty amazing time split but didn’t know I actually won the race. Loved seeing his face when I told him that I won. It was an amazing team effort and I would not be today talking about it if not for all the hard work my husband put toward this success. We are so happy. Meeting my fantastic supporters of many years was also a huge bonus and joy and I can only wish time did not fly as fast. This is an incredible race and I’m honored to be able to say I took the top step.

Breathless views...
Full story:

Sea Otter Classic

Known as an energetic “celebration of cycling”, Sea Otter is cycling’s North American season opener. Hundreds of Pro Cyclists, including National, World, and Olympic champions attend Sea Otter to race the most competitive and enduring events and meet with fans.

The Sea Otter Classic also hosts the largest consumer bike exposition in North America. It is such a famous, prestigious and monster race that I feel extremely fortunate that I was able to take a trip with my husband Pax all the way from Florida and attend it.

It is a long way but the West coast is just so beautiful and well worth the visit. It is wild and beautiful here, coast is rugged, waves are huge and wild flowers are everywhere. The weather is more than perfect too. I felt more at home here than I expected and never ending hills and extremely fast descents didn’t stop me from racing to my full potential.

But that was not the case when we were making plans to come out to California.

Let's call it "The Perfect Luggage"

I was definitely skeptical, honestly questioning my ability to compete in the environment which is so hostile for someone living in Florida. After all this race was everything opposite to what we have at home. Courses in Florida are short, almost completely flat, and compact, also filled with man-made and natural elements and we repeat a few laps during the race. Let’s say you get a flat and you can just walk out from the race course in a matter of minutes, the parks are just so small. The hills are if any small and steep and the same applies to the descents, hmm I don’t think we know what descents really are here.

Bumpy flight

In Monterey however, we are on a massive 24 mile long loop, with huge rolling hills and sustained climbs that go for miles, downhill sections that can go for a long while, long enough that you can actually start cramping from standing on your bike for that long… And there is hardly anything technical. So I didn’t feel any elements of the course would be playing to my strengths nor to my experience. When is the last time I rode over 30 miles per hour on a loose gravely path? Maybe 2x in last 3 years in Maui, that’s it. So naturally I was not looking for any miracles and rather wanted to put myself out there and see what happens and how will I find my groove on the unknown waters…

The moment we landed in San Francisco I knew we had some time to spare and I really wanted for the longest time to drive down the coast on the famous Cabrillo highway and absorb the views of Pacific. The second we turned at Halfmoon Bay things started to look more beautiful. I could not believe how different and spectacular this coast is. Huge cliffs and massive sand dunes were covered with wild flowers inch by inch until they dropped off the beach and ocean below. The waves during the drive sometimes where so huge and strong that whole cities seemed to sit in a foggy mist from this forceful display. If I could I would stop on every beach, every overlook, every cliff, I wanted to run out, paddle or swim to the most beautiful rock formations with the caves right off the beach. It was all more than spectacular and the best and most scenic ride. We stopped for lunch just before approaching Santa Cruz on a gorgeous hilly overlook with a beautiful beach far far below. Everything was fresh, homemade and delicious and I only wish we could go by it once again. With all our sightseeing we still managed to drive straight to the race site and see the Laguna Seca ourselves and say hi to some of my supporters.

Inviting little path on the edge of the cliff...
This place was massive and it took quite an extended walk to get out of the parking lot to the venue. And then the vendors are everywhere and in hundreds so finding your way around all it at first might be quite overwhelming. I’m glad we did that however so the following day got a little bit easier on us.

The next morning was our pre-ride which fell by surprise on a pretty hot day, which happily I did with a few friends from Florida. It was great to have company on this new territory and we made our best to absorb the beautiful views and get through the course as quickly as we could at the same time. So it was just one shot to remember a full loop, which was not complicated really but some loose gravel parts of the course were a little sketchy and I almost lost control of my bike while jetting to one of the turns. I was glad to do it however on the pre-ride rather than during the race.

Pax having fun with Sea Otter!

Friday was considered a rest day, but at the venue as Sea Otter there is not such a thing as a rest day. Simply the whole race site and expo is so massive and there are always ongoing races and things to do and people to see that you pretty much spend the whole day on your feet. Considering the festival is 4 days long and the race at least mine was on the last day meant my legs were going to be excessively tired for race morning. And they were, I felt the overwhelming heaviness and discomfort from all the walking we did. So definitely less of that next time I get a chance to do it again. It was exciting however to watch the Pro race and meet all my supporters.

Out of the sudden the weather changed and the race morning was pretty cold and overcast. And not even a few puffy clouds that we get in Florida, it was just a white-grey mass covering what seemed like the whole universe and temperatures were somewhere in the 40s-50s.

The whole raceway
The walk from the parking lot to the site was another journey on its own, so being ahead of time is crucial, but I think we overdid it a little and I ended being at the race site 2 hours ahead of time.
We took our time, made sure everything was in order, watched some other classes race starts and went to warm up. Even after some riding I was still cold and took my sweater off just minutes before race start.

Endless row of cars
It was still foggy and cold. For some unknown reasons I was cool like a cucumber. I rolled to my spot on the start line and I didn’t let it bother me that it was the biggest event in the nation.

Sub Zero ready

Announcer said “10 seconds to go”, the GPS goes on and there is no turning back. Whatever happens next is a big unknown, whatever happens next will be history to remember. We rolled out, to my surprise not as aggressively as we start in my local races, I stayed to the side and watched what was going to unfold. I didn’t know anyone here and couldn’t really know their strengths and racing patterns. I just sat there and held on. By the time we did the first right turn on the Laguna Seca Raceway I was somewhere mid group, after mini uphill as it can be seen on the picture I was 2/3rd back. I made sure to glance quickly where my Pax was, up above with his camera, but I barley could see him from behind the fence. I was not worried and with each pedal stroke my position was improving and by the time we aimed down to the raceway exit I was in the lead group.
Race start

I was the only one in my class from the flat land but the moment we started heading to the first climb I had a feeling of strength and huge possibility. I never let it go and made my way to the top still in the front pack but had a few girls ahead. I went around them and just by the right amount of those few seconds that we had on top to shuffle I went to the first and super-fast descent in 2nd place. Flying down full speed felt actually pretty awesome and surreal and I had to remind myself that after all this waiting and wondering, the moment was here, I was finally racing and every decision I make now will matter. It was hard effort but I felt good, as we were charging full speed up and down the hills, making the uphill’s at full speed disappear from under us like there where not even there. It was tough work but it felt so good.
On the raceway heading toward the trails

My eyes were peeled to the leader and I knew I was not going to let anyone get away today.

Few hills forward and one of the girls went by my side and settled before me. Now I had two ladies doing everything they can to get away from me. And they tried, really tried and especially I remember when they looked at each other, exchanged some words, looked back at me while we were all on the long descent on the paved road and tucked one after another to make sure they can get away and drop me this way. I still have this moment burnt in my memory and see them both tucked wheel to wheel in the aero position slightly getting away. Not sure how I did that but I was maxed out of my rings but managed possibly on my own spirit and will to find a way to crank some speed up that was fast enough to get back to them and sit down on their wheels.

The moment we hit an uphill single track I was peeled to their tires to some point I would say to the point of annoyance. We were not far into the race and were riding one after the other on this rolling beautiful single track. We were surrounded by gorgeous small trees, small grasses and cute purple wildflowers. I was ready to go now and thankfully for me we got to the soft section on the track and the girls in front got stuck, that was my chance to go around them and take off. It felt good and happened in the most right moment since I felt my experience actually from Florida racing allowed me to work better the little more technical terrain. So just 3 miles in and I was in a lead, thinking that I have a great chance to get away that early on. I was alone for a while and the track spilled me to the sharp turn and nasty steep uphill. The reality set in quickly while the girl which apparently was sitting before in the 4th place just went by me on the climb.

So now I had new challenge cut out for me. She was very strong and each time we would get to gnarly descent she would get a little gap on me, and especially on the road where I simply was out of rings. The beautiful thing about it was that each time trail turned upwards I was right there on her wheel. So she really never got far away well except one time where I didn’t make completely the steepest and most loose climb of the race simply because I had a male rider walking his bike right in front of me while the girl in front was still cranking up in front of him. I went around the rider and was on the very loose gravel and simply could not get up this way. I remember running it up and saying out loud do the guy can hear it “she is getting away”.

When I got to the top and hopped on the bike she was already on the bottom of a fast descent and remember seeing her looking back. Than the long winy uphill begun. But things started getting more and more complicated because of tons of riders from different classes now were scattered all over the trails.
First and fast downhill

The path was sandy, winy and mostly facing uphill. I remember rows of helmets and kits, mostly men and was looking up and trying to figure out where my lead girls was. Finally I saw her and knew it will take quite a while to catch up. It took a lot of constant effort, never ending turns, passes and sandy single track to finally go by another big group of riders and by one and with the persistence finally land on the wheel of my competition. Now we were back again to riding one after the other and make all the passes together once again. After staying on top of the trail for a while the path ended and we were spilled on the small down sections with little humps which at speed change into the jumps. On the preride I got so much air that I was flipping forward in midair and thankful I did overturn but still was able to save it and land on my front wheel. I knew better to hold my horses here and to try to stay put (thx Mike Mace for advice!). Now more uphill and more single track but things were going to change. Now we were about to reach the point where we split out from the normal 18 mile loop that everyone else is racing on and do an additional 6 mile bubble loop before we pop back in the exact spot. Little did I know that this little loop would be the place where the “magic happens”. So we went to very sharp left turn while others followed forward and descended to pretty fast sections mixed of single track, some uphills and then rolled to the really fast and bermy and bumpy long single track. This section was fun but had to be taken cautiously since soft and off camber and full of rutted corners taken at speed could be costly. In a very little time we were sitting on the wheel now on another girl from the class ahead. We were ready to pass any moment but didn’t receive any cooperation, even though we both could have biked much faster. Thankfully for us this didn’t last for too long and we were almost on the bottom of this fun twisty descent. The moment we hit the gravel path and turned right we went by the rider as quickly as we could. Now there was grind time. The never ending double track was slightly facing upwards and just kept on going. It was pretty hot now and sun was fully on, the grasses on the hills around us were all golden and dry as we were in the desert. It was the “pain cave” moment that was about to begin. It was time for me to make my move, I was now on mile 13 and I felt energized enough to go by the lead girl.

Never ending climbs and descents

When I settled in front and reached for my bottle to get a sip the girl went right by me and parked in front. At this point of the race I felt I was ready to take over the lead and went back by her just a mere few seconds later. Than cranked it up and sped away on the upcoming and very short descent that led us to another climb. Now we were all just bent down, not even looking forward and just cranking it up and up in the slow misery. I caught up with what seemed like a whole different class of ladies and went by them. The hills were just getting steeper and steeper. More rolling hills and finally we connected just where we left some 25 minutes ago, in the split section. This time a sharp right turn and we were back on the main course heading up. I think I was now somewhere 18-19 miles in. That was a big chunk of the race and I was in the lead and had whole packs of ladies chasing from the back. I didn’t feel pressure however and rather was focusing on what was ahead. Some sections were pleasant and pretty fun with nice single tracks but rest was rather monotonic and simply brutal. It was this vast space filled with rolling hills wherever you look and this tiny path that you can see in the distance had been mapped out for us. That was the only way to get out of here, by just gridding you teeth, listening to the spinning gravel under your tires and not letting the sun and the hot standing air get to you. When you look ahead there is no promise, just another hill and then another. I was catching up to a lot of riders and kept working. I lost track of what was happening behind and kind of didn’t let my mind be occupied with it. I was focused on the final miles, I was focused on the little more painful riding which was waiting ahead. I was very positive however and driven and everything that was going through my head was of great optimism.

Short road sections that would lead to beautiful singletrack

Finally I reached the left turn and some really fun, fast, grassy downhill sections, there was more and more of that and also more people to pass. Everyone was the most kind and cooperative, than more climbing and more descending. And the moment you think that you are almost there another uphill comes up in front of you, this time steeper, looser, hotter and filled with more people. Some who gave up the fight and simply walked. I didn’t mind any of it at all I just wanted to make sure I have enough energy to get out of there, just enough for the final push on the steepest and most sandy climb. People here were in rows and I did more than fine and was spilled behind the rider to the last little single track. Now there was a sharp left with an uphill to get out on the paved raceway below. Wow the feeling of approaching this turn, the voices of all the onlookers and volunteers around, the taped up corner and people yelling to the guy ahead that was in my way to move to the side and me just hoping he will not stop right in the middle. I maneuvered by while climbing up and people cheering and yelling “great work!”. Now I could not wait to see my husband, now it was the final right turn on the fast downhill of the raceway where I watched Pros sprint to the finish the other day. This is the moment when I just looked back while jetting down full speed and saw no one that I had to worry about. The sweetest chill and goosebumps and finally the sensation that I didn’t let get to me through the whole race I could experience. The moment of crossing the finish line first and the feeling of victory…

The finish

This was the biggest and most beautiful finish banner I ever crossed and it didn’t matter what class I raced, this just felt awesome to just be part of this game.

Staring back at my achievement
When I coasted around to the side stands I spotted my husband, he was happy, we looked at the time and we knew it was more than excellent. Last year winning time for my group was 1:52 minutes, I just completed the course in 1:47. Another great thing was than my Pax knew I did great but didn’t know that I actually won. I won, I won, he could not believe it, he could not be more happy. I could not be happier because of all the sacrifice he did for me so I can be right here right now. I wanted to win it for him as much as I wanted to win it for myself. It took me a few minutes to grasp what just happened. It was a completed mission with more than perfect execution. For the results to be official it takes 15 minutes, after that it all becomes history, and it did. I ended up winning my Cat 1 age group, passing everyone by one person from the whole age group ahead and placed 5th overall from all the 220 XC women that raced today. The first 4 were only mere 20s to 1 minutes ahead with only first having four minutes on me. That was probably the best part of it all that it was so unexpected, it made it so much more enjoyable in the end.

Winning Team!

Now it was a time to unwind, celebrate and of course get on this beautiful podium.

Sea Otter Podium!

After receiving the winner’s jersey and huge Sea Otter gold medal and of course saying goodbye to all my amazing supporters we went once again for a nice drive and lunch at London Bridge Pub the Monterey Worth where we met up with friends and Light & Motion super cool sailing fanatic.

This was a great day, but really they were all great. With all the interesting and kind people that we met here and with the beauty of our surroundings I could only wish we had more time and to stay longer. There seems to be still so many things I would love to do on the West Coast. This vivid scenery and wild side really suits me and I will be looking forward to our return one day…

For those at home in Florida who always wondered, yes it is a race worth a trip, because it is so much more than just another race.

Celebrating with the "Future" LG

And there is my Pax, my husband, my support, often if not always the toughest critic to the point of annoyance since he expects nothing more but the best of what I do. But on the other spectrum he puts his heart and soul to everything I do therefore it is to be understood, from his countless extra hours that he didn’t have to but went to and worked to make sure we can make the trip, to building my bike to make sure only the best and fastest components are on it and to making my racing adventures as hassle free as possible so I can focus only on racing. He educated himself from not knowing anything about bikes just a few years back to being the best bike mechanic you can think of, to being a photographer, manager, trip planner. The best part was to hear after we got home that he told me how much he loves doing it and would not mind traveling the world and living this lifestyle. I completely agree on this one, I love training, racing and traveling so much I would not mind at all turning it to reality for a little while. Oh well at least we found something that we both love…

What I didn’t mention yet is my incredible bike and all the changes and tweaking we did to it in the last seconds almost before the race. My Specialized Stumpumper “Sub Zero” is awesome just the way it is but we made her even more incredible. Just two weeks before the race I started testing my new Selle SMP Composit saddle and it was the first race with it. We put the newest Magura MT8 brakes on and since they are more powerful took me a ride or two to adjust to them. Just two days before the race we changed the Syntace stem to a shorter one, swapped the Q-ring from Rotor for a different size and installed a K-edge Garmin mount. Lots of changes but my Sub Zero rode like a charm. Everything that was on it was more than perfect!

Even a "Rocket" deserves some rest in the flowers...

All the support, advice and world of encouragement helped and were held tightly even during those intense hours of racing. Thank you to everyone who contributed to this journey!

I’m happy to say THANK YOU to all my support from many years who stood by me and I was thrilled to meet most of you in person that weekend!

Thank you goes to:

Syntace, Magura, Stan’s Notubes, Schwalbe, ESI Grips, Clif, Xpedo, Trainer Road, Garden of Life, Kuat Racks, Light & Motion, KT Tape, Cycleops and for 2014 - Mack Cycles, Oakley, Pocketfinder, Specialized, Louis Garneau, KMC Chains and Rotor Bike Components and New for 2015 - Health Fit Chiropractic, Enduro Bearings, K-Edge and SelleSMP

Until Next Time !!!

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Getting ready for Sea Otter Classic - Monterey, CA


OK. This is going to be my first trip to Sea Otter and it looks like finally I'm getting really excited about the race. That's a good thing.
Here is the map of my race course which shows that we will have quite an amount of climbing to do. The good part is that it might be very scenic and that after every uphill there will be the most beautiful way down in high speed. Also lots of stunning and flowy single track. Looking forward to that part!

For anyone who wants to follow my start time is:

2015 CAT 1 Women's Cross Country Category - Sunday, April 19th at 9:23 a.m.


- Pro course: Two laps, +/- 18 miles/2,700 feet of climbing per lap for a total of +/- 36 miles and 5,400 feet of climbing.   
- CAT 1 (expert) and CAT 2 (intermediate) course: This is a very challenging +/-  24-mile course. Approximately 3,500 feet of total climbing. 
- CAT 3 (beginner) course: +/- 18-mile 2,700 feet of total climbing.