By Dana Williams

2017 Sea Otter Classic Circuit Race M123 35+

Date: April 21, 2017

Teammates: Matt Adams

The plan: Play off each other (attack and counter attack), mark aggressive moves and figure out the finish when we got there, but the goal was to get the win. 

Course: One of the main attractions of the Sea Otter Classic Circuit Race is that it takes place on the renowned Mazda Laguna Seca Raceway. Smooth pavement, wide open roads and no traffic greet all riders. But don't let those ideal conditions distract you from the most challenging part of the course; a climb approximately two minutes long, with the first half averaging 5-6% and the second half, nicked named 'The Wall', averaging 10% but kicking up to almost 20% close to the start of it.

Strava: https://www.strava.com/activities/952165075.

Conditions: High 60’s, a tad windy and sunshine.

Summary

After two warm up laps around the track, I rolled up to the start and chatted briefly with Matt. The plan was to remain the same. I looked around and recognized quite a few of the guys, in particular to note from NorCal was Jeromy Cottell and Chris Cain, and from SoCal, Phil Tintsman. There were others I noted to Matt that looked strong but we didn't recognize them. And being the race took place on a Friday, the field wasn't that big either with 15 riders. The whistler blew, an 'Aloha' by Matt, and we were off.

The first time up the main climb was somewhat casual. Phil and I even had some time to catch up briefly. Thinking back now, it felt like we were in the pacing phase in a duel to the death, just about the draw our guns to see who would fire first. It might have been the second or third lap where the first 'shot' was fired. Thankfully the 'bullets' missed Matt and I as we stayed with the pace. But a few other riders weren't so lucky. The result was a slight decrease in the field size.

A rider I didn't know or recognize pushed the pace towards the top of the main climb (to my best recollection) and opened a small gap. With little reaction from those of us in the main field, his gap grew. A few laps went by and as we crossed the start/finish line the announcer called out 'there's a 30 second gap between the leader and chasing group'. I kept an eye on this rider, as I'm sure the others did, and wasn't too concerned because we would close the gap down by the top of the main climb each lap. Jeromy and Phil made some hard accelerations on the steep part of the main climb, causing the group to thin out even more. I don't recall exactly when we caught the guy off the front but fast forward to five laps to go and the video and my thoughts below tells the story of how the race went down from that point.

We rocketed down the cork screw with me leading the way. Matt soon attacked up the left and I follow other riders. We came back together and I thought about countering but I was a little too gassed so I ease off.  Matt attacked again after the next turn and I followed moves again. We rolled through the start/finish to begin our fourth to last lap. I took over just before diving back down the Corkscrew and lead for almost a full lap. It didn't feel like this long but the video surprised me when I saw this. My only thought is I wanted to race hard rather than accelerate, decelerate, and repeat. We crested the top of the climb, descended down the corkscrew, turned right at the bottom and then left into a solid head wind. As we went under the overpass, Jeromy made a well timed attack up the left. Aware of Jeromy's knack for attacking at the right times, I dug deep and accelerated after him over the crest and down around the next left hander. Matt soon took over, with Phil glued to his wheel (13:54 of the video). The guy who was off the front for a few laps earlier in the race (high vis yellow socks) went after Phil and Matt so I hopped on his wheel for a free ride. Just as Matt and Phil mak=de contact with Jeromy, we caught them and soon rolled over the start/finish line with two laps to go.

This time up the climb was pretty uneventful with Matt setting a solid pace. We descended down the corkscrew and continued to keep the pace at a rate that detered anybody from attacking. That said, it would have been a big ask of one's legs to attack on the flats and hold off the charging group for over a lap.

We rolled over the start/finish line with the bell ringing signifying last lap. Thinking back to last year's race, feeling strong and having a teammate in the group, I decided I was going to attack hard up the wall, try to get a gap and hold it as long as I could. This would give Matt a 'free ride' and hopefully he could get the win if I was brought back by the others. But as you can see in the video, Phil beat me to the punch and attacked hard up the right side of 'the Wall'. Jeromy went after him and I followed. At the same time Matt accelerate hard up the left with Chris Cain on his wheel. To give you a sense of the effort we were exerting, it took me almost 700W for 45 secs to stay with Jeromy. We all came together at the top, with Phil about five seconds ahead. Jeromy slowed slightly to see if I would come by him but having Matt ahead allowed me to be content where I was. Jeromy slotted in behind Chris for the descent. As we made the right turn at the bottom, Phil likely inched out a few more seconds, and Chris and Matt played a little cat and mouse of who would take up the chase. Matt dropped his head and pushed on around the next left turn and into the head wind. Jeromy was content where he was. My hope at this time was that Matt knew I was behind him, was confident that I could finish with a strong sprint, and therefore keep the pace up, not letting Phil get more of an advantage. This is exactly what he did, which was arguably the most critical part of how the race unfolded. This is a perfect example of how effective team work can come into play in bike racing. 

Chris then took over as we went under the overpass and started up a short incline. I was getting antsy and trying to let a small gap open up between Jeromy and I that I could accelerate into and go after Phil. It wasn't happening because Jeromy was slowing ever so slightly as well. I sensed it was time to go after Phil and attacked hard up the left. I crested the roller, stood up again and sprinted down the hill. My main concern now was Jeromy catching me and getting in my draft for a free ride towards the finish. I made the long left turn at the bottom of the hill and accelerated out of it. The gap to Phil is decreasing, and Jeromy wass just out of my draft. Phil's head was down and I know he was just focusing on getting to the line as quick as can, just like me. As I closed in on him just before the last long right hander, I stood up and sprinted to try to get a little more speed, hopefully enough so he couldn't  latch onto my wheel. As I went by him on the left, I believe he looked over his right shoulder to see where I was, giving me time to open up a precious gap. I looked back and he was still working hard. Ahhh, my legs were seizing up but I kept pushing. 

Time was on my side and I rolled across the line, hands in the air, grateful to have got the win for Team Mike's Bikes p/b Equator Coffee for the second year in a row. Of course, hats off again to my teammate Matt for all his strong and tactical riding. 

As much as Matt and I were happy to have got the win, we raced with heavy hearts due to a sever accident we were made aware of only a few hours before the start of the race. Steve Pelaez, the visionary, fearless leader and co-founder of Team Mike's Bikes, had a high speed collision with an SUV while riding his bike the morning of this race. Matt and I questioned whether we should race, but our feeling was that Steve would want us to so we rolled to the start line and gave it our best.

As the day went on we received more updates. Unfortunately the news did not get any better. Steve was severely injured and is fighting for his life. It is a very emotional time for everybody who knows Steve because he is that type of guy who has a positive influential impression on everybody he meets. His spirit is infectious. With all of infected with Steve (his energy and spirit), we are combining it together and making the spirit even stronger.  We are sending this greater force/energy back to him to help heal his injuries.

There's not a time during the day that we are not thinking about Steve and his family. If you want to contribute your energy towards Steve's healing then please join us. It is the hope of his amazing wife Jenna that all of our love, and anything else we can muster up to send his way, will help Steve heal. Updates are posted https://www.caringbridge.org/visit/stevepelaez.