By Neal Rogers
The first stage of the Sea Otter Classic mountain bike stage race, a criterium raced on mountain bikes with slick tires, was won Thursday by a pair of Americans — current world champion Alison Dunlap, and veteran pro Steve Tilford.
Marking the inaugural year of the Fatboy Crit at California’s Sea Otter, the course was identical to that used by the roadies — a fast half-mile lap around downtown Monterey’s Cannery Row.
In the men’s 50-minute race, cross-country world champion Roland Green (Trek-Volkswagen) got things started early, jumping out front and controlling the pace. But after 15 minutes of racing, a five-man breakaway came together consisting of the ageless Tilford (Verge), Aussie Paul Rowney (Yeti-Pearl Izumi), Norwegian Rune Hoydahl (Giant), Kashi Leuchs (Volvo-Cannondale), and local favorite Andy Jacques-Mayne (Solano Avenue Cyclery-Santa Cruz).
Attempts were made to bring them in by overall contenders such as Green, national cyclo-cross champion Todd Wells (Mongoose-Hyundai), and Subaru-Gary Fisher’s Ryder Hesjedal, but their efforts instead tired the field, spreading things out and allowing Tilford to take the five-up sprint over Rowney, with the field 20 seconds back.
Hoydahl took third, with the top three receiving time bonuses of 20, 10 and 5 respectively.
“I’ve probably raced forty of these fatboy crits,” Tilford said with a smile afterwards, “I feel really comfortable on these wide tires. I expected to win with that group of five. Paul was the only guy going into the last corner fast, but when I saw the inside, I knew then that I had it.”
In the women’s race, Dunlap (Luna Chix) won a bunch sprint to take the leader’s jersey. As the laps counted down, it became apparent that the race would finish with a sprint, with the only question as to who would have the strongest legs. Coming around the final lap, Shari Kain of RLX-Polo Sport came out front and, given her yearlong hiatus from the sport due to the birth of a daughter, made an admirable effort that came up just short of a stage win.
“I was just trying to keep the rubber side down,” Kain said.
As for race leader Dunlap, despite the win she doesn’t see herself as a contender for the overall Sea Otter crown.
“Caroline [Alexander, last year’s overall winner] is really strong, and Alison [Sydor] is climbing really well,” she said. “We’ll see. Things will definitely change tomorrow at the time trial.”
Racing continues Friday with stage two, a five-mile time trial.
SEA OTTER CLASSIC MOUNTAIN-BIKE STAGE RACE; Monterey, CA, March 21-24; Fat-tire Criterium; Women;
1. Alison Dunlap; 2. Alison Sydor; 3. Shari Kain; 4. Chrissy Redden; 5. Tiffany Kenny; Men; 1. Steve Tilford; 2. Paul Rowney; 3. Rune Hoydahl; 4. Kashi Leuchs; 5. Andy Jacques-Mayne