Unless you’ve been living under a steel clunker since 1991, you’ll know that the Sea Otter Classic is one of the best-known cycling festivals in the world. To overuse an already overused term, it’s a pilgrimage, a can’t-miss event for teams, athletes, sponsors, and anyone looking to make a splash in the cycling world. Equal parts outdoor industry expo and competitive bicycle circus, it’s the rare chance for criterium racers, downhillers, cyclocrossers and cross-country mountain bikers to share a common event.
For the Backcountry Bike Team, it was a chance for us to not only prove the results of March were not a fluke, but also to connect, personally, with fans and industry supporters alike. At the March XCT events, the weekends are all business: Get in, race your bike, get out. At the Sea Otter Classic, bike racing is almost a side note to all of the attention that must be given to personal and professional relationships. It’s the mullet of all race events—business in the front, party in the back.
As has been the theme of 2014, the team made a road trip of the weekend, with the Woodruffs trekking from their home in Northern Arizona, while Evelyn and I loaded up the Sprinter and made the haul across the deserts of Utah and Nevada.
Bananas and backpacks. This is #vanlife.
Each time we haul across the vast nothingness of this region, we make it a point to stop and ride a new location. This year, it was scenic Winnemucca, NV, that provided a pleasant break to the drive. We took an hour-long climb to the highest point in town, without a tree, bush, or obstacle larger than a rock or blade of grass in sight. No matter where you are, stop and check out your riding options. Each has their own reward.
The weekend was pretty straightforward. Friday’s schedule at the Laguna Seca Raceway was short track XC racing for the team. It would mark Chloe Woodruff’s return to professional racing in 2014, coming back after a knee injury that sidelined her in February and March. Any athlete would be nervous after having not raced in five months, but to make Sea Otter your debut, and against the likes of the Dutch rider World and Olympic champion Marianne Vos, is one heck of a way to mark your return. Chloe launched an attack on Vos, and wound up with a STXC podium to go with one of those photos you keep on your fridge for a long time. It’s like going around with Ali, and getting a couple of jabs in while you’re at it.
Saturday was the main show, the two-lap, 38-mile cross country race. Back to our roots and doing the long laps.
The men went off first, battling through the 100+ rider field in the dust and trenches of war, and taking their licks as well as a few names. TJ and I finished in that order in the “more to the front than rear” region of the field.
We will say this—it’s all about the ladies. Evelyn has shown herself to be one of the top American racers of 2014, and Chloe’s return to the podium on Friday cleared up any doubt about Backcountry.com’s position at the front of the women’s race. After lap one, the quartet of World Champ Vos, XCT leader and Olympian Katerina Nash, and two women in Backcountry Blue, Evelyn and Chloe, led the way.
On the return climb back into Laguna Seca, Vos showed why she’s the most dominant woman in bicycle racing. Nash slipped in for 2nd, just 30 seconds ahead of Evelyn Dong, who took 3rd. Showing again no signs of rust or lack of competition in her legs, Chloe Woodruff raced in for 4th place to put two Goats on the podium of the most famous bicycle event in the US.
With the business out of the way, Saturday afternoon was party time, as Niner Bikes hosted a meet-and-greet Brats and Brews cookout for the fans and media. Sunday we rolled out for a casual spin on the verdant hillsides of Laguna Seca with the guy with the camera, Ian Hylands, to put a few more images in the bank. Shots in the can, it was sushi on a plate in downtown Monterey before hitting the road, once again for #vanlife 2.0!
Next up, the Whiskey 50 in Prescott, AZ!