American Olympian Mary McConneloug (Seven-Kenda) and Swiss star Ralph Naef (Multivan-Merida) won Friday’s second stage of the Sea Otter Classic pro mountain-bike race, a two-mile time trial.
While warm temperatures and sunshine brought a bit of relief to the waterlogged Laguna Seca staging area, they did little to dry out the hilly, two-mile time-trial circuit around the mountain-cross and dual-slalom courses. Standing water concealed many large, muddy holes that sent even seasoned veterans tumbling into the goo.
The surprise of the day came in the women’s time trial, where two-time world champion Gunn-Rita Dahle-Flesja finished second to McConneloug. Dahle-Flesja obliterated the competition in Friday’s super cross-country, but a series of rough sections in the race against the clock saw the race leader finish 1.6 seconds slower than McConneloug, who rode into third place overall with the win.
The muddy conditions have forced riders and mechanics to experiment with tire choices and pressures. “I haven’t heard anyone saying that they’re nailed the right way to do it yet,” said Zach Vesta, Trek-Volkswagen’s team mechanic.
But maybe Naef figured it out. Before setting out on his winning ride, he let a considerable amount of air out of his front tire in preparation for the mud, which thickened as soon as racers left the starting gate.
Whether it helped or not is anyone’s guess — but the upshot was that the Swiss rider covered the course 1.6 seconds faster than race leader Jean-Christoph Peraud (Orbea), winner of yesterday’s super cross-country, who finished a close second to Naef.
“It was again very difficult on the course,” Peraud said. “I did have to take my foot out of the pedal once or twice.”
Finishing an impressive third was American U-23 phenom Sam Shultz. The result apparently surprised the youngster, as he showed up to the podium presentation wearing a surprised grin, not to mention a good deal of mud.
“I was still out riding the cross-country course,” Schultz said. “I had no idea I made it on the podium.”
While previous Sea Otters used cumulative time to determine general classification, this year’s race is a points-based omnium. Today’s win earned McConneloug 94 points — 86 as the first of the 86 pro women to finish, plus eight bonus points for the win. The winner of each men’s event earns 106 points plus eight bonus points. Not everyone is pleased with the new scoring system. “In the past you could try and save it a bit for the last day and then really try to make a time bonus,” said Canadian Geoff Kabush (Maxxis), who won last year’s general classification with such tactics. “Now it doesn’t really matter how much time advantage you put on someone.”
American Willow Koerber finished 37th after her bike became stuck in a knee-deep mud hole. After finishing, the rider promptly returned to the start-finish area to warn competitors about the obstacle.
After receiving a face full of mud during a crash in yesterday’s super cross-country, two-time reigning World Cup champ Christoph Sauser (Specialized) showed up on the start line with plastic sandwich bags covering his pearl-white shoes. Sauser finished 18th.
While previous editions awarded UCI points to the winner of the Sea Otter Classic stage race, this year only Sunday’s cross-country will carry points. It will have UCI C1 status, meaning the winner will take home 60 UCI points. Points will be awarded 15 places deep. The change is due to the UCI’s new rule that all points earned at stage races will go toward the UCI marathon cross-country rankings.
Sea Otter Classic Stage Race
Stage 2: Time trial
1. Ralph Naef (Swi), Multivan Merida, 2mi in 3:45
2. Jean Christoph Peraud (F), Orbea, at 0:01.6
3. Sam Schultz, USA National, at 0:02
4. Geoff Kabush (Can), Maxxis, s.t.
5. Liam Killeen (GB), Specialized, at 0:02.2
6. Jose Antonio Hermida (Sp), Multivan Merida, at 0:03.5
7. Bart Brentjens (Nl), Giant, at 0:04.4
8. Michael Broderick, Seven-Kenda, at 0:04.9
9. Max Plaxton (Can), Rocky Mountain-Business Objects, at 0:05
10. Matt Kelly, Subaru-Gary Fisher, at 0:06
1. Mary McConneloug, Seven-Kenda, 2mi in 4:27
2. Gunn-Rita Dahle-Flesja, at 0:01.6
3. Alison Sydor (Can), Rocky Mountain-Business Objects, at 0:06.9
4. Wendy Simms (Can), Velo Bella-Kona, at 0:07.5
5. Katerina Nash (CZ), Luna, at 0:08.3
6. Jimena Florit (Arg), Luna, at 0:10
7. Georgia Gould, Luna, at 0:13.5
8. Kiara Bisaro (Can), Team RACE, at 0:15
9. Sabine Spitz (G), Specialized, at 0:15.8
10. Heather Irmiger, Subaru-Gary Fisher, at 0:16.3