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By Mari Holden, T-Mobile professional cycling team
Today was the first day of the Sea Otter Bicycle Classic in Monterey, California. This has always been one of my favorite races. I love the atmosphere. It is the only race on the calendar where we have both mountain biking and road racing. It creates a carnival-type scene, complete with a great expo, where sponsors and exhibitors have tents set up so spectators can browse and buy.
Okay, so you get the picture – lots of bikes, tents and people. But what really sets the Sea Otter apart from other races is its location. The race is held on the Laguna Seca Speedway, which for most of the year is the exclusive province of motor sports. Come Sea Otter, we bicyclists are among the lucky few that get the opportunity to see how fast we can ride on this famous track.
The first day of the road stage race is always the prologue, a short time trial run entirely on the racetrack. Years ago, we made a complete lap of the racecourse. It started up a gentle hill and then hit the famous “corkscrew,” and the riders would fly downhill and back around to the start. The last couple years, they decided to make it even more interesting: Now, we start at the top of the hill, rolling down the start ramp and right into the corkscrew. Last year, we were not able to ride the corkscrew beforehand and my line was hideous. This year, we got some time to practice before the start, and I think that most people rode much better as a consequence.
I used to joke that it takes me about six laps of the circuit race to finally get the right lines for the course. Riding the corkscrew, you feel as though you are cutting the lines too close, which can throw off your sense of comfort. You can’t see around the corners, so you have to trust the banking and remember that the track is designed for even faster speeds and drift. It is a real test of nerves, but once you get a feel for it, your speed increases and it is a lot of fun, like riding a roller coaster.
I thought that during my ride I was much more comfortable than usual. I kept telling myself that motorcycles go more than 100mph on this stuff – I should be able to handle 30mph! I actually had a conversation last year with Miguel Duhamel and Ben Bostrom about racing at Laguna Seca. For those of you who don’t watch ESPN or the Speed Channel (“Two Wheel Tuesday”), they are two of the best motorcycle racers out there, and really good cyclists too. I don’t know if they were being honest with me, but they both thought that Laguna Seca would be scarier on a road bike than a motorcycle. Their reasoning was that they wear leathers and we just wear lycra. Still, I wouldn’t want to trade places with them. Somehow even a little extra protection doesn’t make up for the extra horsepower! Ben is in Europe, but we’ll have to get Miguel and my buddies from Honda out there to try out the bicycle version. We can talk tires – yeah, right!
So, with thoughts of motorcycles in my head, I decided to try to do the course without touching the brakes. I kept thinking, “If Miguel can go that fast on his motorcycle, I can go a little faster on my bike – don’t touch the brakes!” My mantra was going okay, but in the final 180-degree sweeping turn I came off my aero’ bars and had my hand on the brake hood. I was nervous, but I tried to let it drift and not hit the brake. At the last minute I couldn’t do it anymore – I feathered the brake. I just couldn’t figure out that last turn. Man, now I have to wait another year to try it again. Tomorrow we will ride it another 17 times, but somehow it is not the same. I love the feeling of my time-trial bike and full aero’ equipment. It feels fast and sounds fast. The circuit race will be fast and furious, but nothing compares to riding a course like that by yourself.
As a team update, our team rode amazingly. We had first and second in the prologue with Kristin Armstrong and Ina Teutenberg. The rest of us were not far behind. Tina Mayolo-Pic actually had the fastest time, but was penalized one second for an early start. She is now in fourth place with her teammate Candice Blickem third. We are blessed with awesome equipment and support. Most of all, I am just happy that we are racing and having fun.
If you are at the races, come by and say hi. It’s that kind of a race, and we (the T-Mobile Professional Cycling Team) will be signing posters at the Giant Bicycles tent on Friday.
Right on, right on.