sea otter 2012 or how i learned to let off the brakes

I’m going to try real hard to not turn this into a complete novel.  Anyone reading this can feel free to skip to the bottom to get to the good part.

Niels and I took off on the long drive to Monterey for the Sea Otter Classic Pro Stage Race on Tuesday afternoon.  We made it to Monterey on very little sleep at around 3:00 pm on Wednesday and checked in before rolling out to check out the road course/TT course which are run on the same circuit.

The crit was the first stage and is run as basically a double out and back on the lower part of the Laguna Seca Raceway.  It’s really narrow through a couple spots.  Of course I managed to line up at the very back but Alicia was nice enough to let me move up to the second-ish row.  I had of course also just put new cleats on which is always a great idea the day before a crit. Luckily once the gun went off I was able to clip in right away.

The first three laps were fast but not too fast.  I was moving up really well until this happened.

I was pretty much right on the wheel of the first girl who went down and luckily I was able to see that it was happening and basically just unclip and ride up onto her wheel.  Another girl fell onto my wheels but I was able to get my bike untangled pretty quickly, do a super rad cyclocross mount back onto it and make it to the pits to take my free lap.

The rest of the race was pretty good.  It didn’t feel too fast and I was able to pretty easily sit in and take the same time as the pack, finishing somewhere around 20th on the stage.  I kind of regret  not going for the sprint only because the first 7 girls finished 7 seconds up on the rest of the pack, it would have been nice to have those seconds.

Next was the road race.  5 laps on a roughly 8 mile circuit with two punchy climbs, bad pavement, and a lot of rollers.  The finish is off-circuit up a 3 or so mile climb that gets steeper as it goes.  It was really really hot on Friday, probably close to 90 on the road.   I don’t always do well in the heat so I was just really careful to keep drinking

I mostly sat in for the first few laps although I did get in one short-lived but well-represented break with race lead Alison Powers.  The attacks started coming on the last lap and Olivia Dillon from the NOW team got off the front for most of the last lap.  Coming through the steep feed zone climb on the last lap, a break got away.  I heard a girl yell “go!” as we came over the top of the climb so of course I assumed she was talking to me.  I attacked HARD over the end of the climb and got a gap on the field.  I was a little too late to catch the break but I did manage to catch Alisha Welsh from Primal after about two minutes and the two of us worked together until part way up the climb when I got a small gap over the first steep kicker.  We came back together just as I caught Pascale Schneider and Emily Collins who had both been in the break.  I attacked again at less then 1k to go and was able to come in 4th on the day about 1:00 down from Powers who took the stage.

Going into the Stage 3 Time Trial I was sitting 4th GC.  I may or may not have been so nervous beforehand that I started crying at Niels for the horrible crime of smiling at me.

The TT has two fairly technical and bumpy descents and in all honesty I’d been descending like a total mouse on the same circuit the day before.

I honestly can’t recount much from the TT except that I had a really good start and I totally buried myself and managed to catch my 1 minute girl (the top 10 GC riders had 1 minute rather than 30 second staggers).  I just about fell off my bike after I was done. 

Then I really did fall off my bike when Niels told me that I’d finished 3rd in the stage behind national champions Powers and Samplonius!  Even Cycling News thought it was pretty cool!  Even cooler I had moved myself into third on GC going into the final stage.  So like … no pressure.  Either way, it was time to celebrate!

The final stage is a 2 hour or 17 lap (it was unclear which it would be) circuit race on the Laguna Seca Racetrack.  There’s one ~2:20 climb every lap that gets steeper at the top and then dives straight into the “corkscrew” descent.

Despite saying that I wasn’t nervous about this race I was in fact a total headcase (surprise). I cried about 10 minutes before the start because my freshly glued wheel (gluing a tubular three days before a race also always a good idea) was hopping a little. I snapped at both Niels and my teammate and was generally a total jerk.  Also, I’m embarrassed to say that I’m a totally timid descender and was terrified of the corkscrew.

One cool thing though was that I got a callup to the front line and got to take a glamor shot (“make sure you get my good side”).

Once we got started, the first time down the corkscrew I braked through all the straightaways like a real pro and got yelled at (deservedly) more than once to get off my brakes.  I was nearly gapped at the bottom of the descent every time and had to work hard to stay with the slowly shrinking pack.  I had to fight a real mental battle to not give up on my GC hopes and just drift off the back.  Finally, after 16 previous fails, I totally nailed the descent on the last lap, unfortunately the winning break of two had gotten away 5 laps earlier.

I stuck with the pack and avoided a crash on the last lap finishing 16th in the stage but close to a minute down from the break of two which contained an Exergy rider who had been sitting only a minute down from me on GC.  Thankfully she still finished 9 seconds down on me in the final GC so I closed the deal!  I finished 3rd on GC!  Since my new podium pose had gone over so well the first time I thought I would do it the same this time around.

Right after the podium Niels, Alicia and I started the 15 hour drive back to Seattle.  To practice not being so scared of descending, I didn’t use the brakes in the car the whole way back down any of the descents.  It’s cool, I’m a totally pro descender now.

I am so pleased with how this race went.  This was my first time racing a stage race at this level and it was again awesome to see all my hard work pay off with an unexpectedly good result.  I went down there with the hopes of getting noticed by some pro teams and possibly finishing top 10 in one stage.  My “reach” goal was to finish top 10 on GC and I never imagined I would finish top 3.

I definitely felt really sheepish and shy about approaching any of the pro racers or team directors after the race but I swallowed my fear and introduced myself around and got lots of nice compliments.

One other thing is that I could never have done this without the support of my amazing husband, Niels, my teammates, and our fantastic host family in Salinas.  Niels dealt with me panicking before every race (although I only cried before two stages, a new personal best for me).  Alicia and Lindsay helped talk me through being scared of the descents and the corners in the crit.  Niels cooked nearly every meal for me and waited on all three of us hand and foot since this race is kind of a logistical nightmare.  Our host family (Alicia’s fiance’s aunt and uncle) were awesome and gave us beautiful private rooms and a ton of garage and kitchen space.

My upcoming schedule is still kind of TBD but I’ve got a few big ones coming up in the next few months.  Thank you again for everyone who has helped me to take the first big step towards my goals.

Thank you to Lyne Lamoureux and Niels for the photos

About Jess Cutler

35 year old pro road and cyclocross racer. National Champion. Generally nice person.
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2 Responses to sea otter 2012 or how i learned to let off the brakes

  1. JRS says:

    Nice work and great read. It’s also nice to see you’re human and afraid of descending and corners. 🙂

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