By Jason Sumner, VeloNews Associate Editor
There was a time when Barbara Blatter resided in the quiet corner of obscurity. This one-time kindergarten teacher didn’t even start racing mountain bikes full time until 1998. And before last year most of her competitors viewed her as a strong rider, but not a serious podium threat.
But in 2000, Blatter changed those perceptions, picking up three World Cup wins on her way to the overall title. A year later, Blatter has picked up right where she left off. The 30-year-old Specialized rider made a sparkling debut in the colors of her new team, finishing first in stage 1 of the Seagate mountain-bike stage race, an 8km time trial at the Sea Otter Classic in Monterey, California.
Blatter wove her way around the twisty course in 21 minutes, 48.30 seconds, edging out teammate Caroline Alexander by 4.8 seconds to claim the leader’s jersey. RLX Polo Sport’s Jimena Florit was third, 43 seconds behind Blatter.
“I’m really surprised by this,” said Blatter, who moments earlier had accused teammates of messing with her when they told her she’d won, and believed them only after late-arriving results had been thrust in her face. “I’m really not in perfect shape yet, and yesterday was my first time on the new bikes.”
Joining Blatter in the pleasantly surprised department was Alexander. “What really blows me away is that I beat (Alison) Dunlap,” said the smiling blonde Brit. “This is usually her specialty. Now maybe Barb and I can work together and shake things up a bit.”
GT’s Dunlap finished fourth, 45.30 seconds down, while Canadian Chrissy Redden rounded out the top 5, 54.60 seconds behind.
In the men’s race, Day 1’s top 4 bore an striking resemblance to the final top 4 of the 2000 race. A year ago Bas Van Doren won the Sea Otter overall, with Bart Brentjens in second, Michael Rasmussen in third and Roland Green fourth. After Day 1 of 2001, Brentjens was in first, with Green second, Van Doren third and Rasmussen fourth.
Brentjens, making his debut for Giant after parting ways with Specialized during the off-season, sailed around the damp course in 18:09.60. Green (Trek-Volkswagen) was 11.60 seconds back, with Van Doren (Specialized) 19.40 seconds off the pace, and Rasmussen (Haro-Lee Dungarees) 22.90 seconds behind. Subaru-Gary Fisher’s Ryder Hesjedal was fifth, at 33.80 seconds.
“I felt good coming into this race but I didn’t expect to do this well,” said Van Doren, maintaining the theme of his female teammates. “I didn’t get here until Wednesday, so I figured the jet lag would keep me down a bit, but I felt good.”
The American men weren’t nearly as cheery about the day’s events. Canadian transplant Kirk Molday was the top U.S. finisher, coming across in 18th. Defending national champion Steve Larsen was 34th.
“Right now I’ve just got to be realistic,” Larsen said. “I haven’t been feeling well, so considering that, things weren’t as bad as I thought they’d be.”
America’s 2000 Olympians, Travis Brown and Tinker Juarez, were 22nd and 39th respectively.
“It wasn’t a super ride, but I’m not disappointed either,” Juarez said. “The bottom line here is to get everything dialed in so you’re ready for Napa.”
The time-trial course began a stones throw from the finish line of the dual-slalom course on the rolling hills that surround the Laguna Seca Raceway. After dropping out of the start house, riders faced a slow climb away from the circus of trucks, tents and spectators that filled the raceway’s infield. Next came a steep paved loop, followed by some tight single track, and a section of easy up and down. Then riders faced the race’s crux, a leg-burning three-quarter-mile climb that emptied onto a fire road. A short twisty downhill preceded the finish.
Racing continues Saturday with the short track, which will be held on a three-quarter-mile loop that has 100 feet of climbing.
SEA OTTER CLASSIC, Monterey, California, March 22-25
Stage 1, Cross-country time trial
1. Barbara Blatter (Swi), Specialized, 8km in 21:48
2. Caroline Alexander (GBr), Specialized, at :05
3. Jimena Florit (Arg), RLX Polo Sport, at :43
4. Alison Dunlap (USA), GT, at :45
5. Chrissy Redden (Can), Subaru-Gary Fisher, at :54
6. Alison Sydor (Can), Trek-Volkswagen, at 1:01
7. Sue Haywood (USA), Trek-Volkswagen, at 1:06
8. Rachel Lloyd (USA), Sunrace-Santa Cruz, at 1:26
9. Dellys Franke (Aus), Merida-Race Face, at 1:34
10. Amber Neben (USA), SoBe-Headshock, at 1:38
11. Willow Koerber (USA), Cane Creek, at 1:46
12. Kelli Emmett (USA), GT, at 1:47
18. Ruthie Matthes (USA), Trek-Volkswagen, at 2:31
1. Bart Brentjens (Nl), Giant, at 18:09
2. Roland Green (Can), Trek-Volkswagen, at :12
3. Bas Van Doren (Nl), Specialized, at :20
4. Michael Rasmussen (Den), Haro-Lee Dungarees, at :23
5. Ryder Hesjedal (Can), Subaru-Gary Fisher, at :34
6. Seamus McGrath (Can), Haro-Lee Dungarees, at:35
7. Cadel Evans (Aus), Volvo-Cannondale, at :36
8. Rune Hoydahl (Nor), Giant, at :37
9. Filip Meirhaeghe (B), Specialized, at :38
10. Roel Paulissen (Den), GT, at :39
12. Christophe Dupouey (Fra), Giant, at :50
22. Tinker Juarez (USA), Volvo-Cannondale, at 1:16
26. Geoff Kabush (Can), Kona, at 1:24
33. Greg Randolph (USA), Tomac, at 1:37
34. Steve Larsen (USA), L.L. Bean Mongoose, at 1:38
39. Travis Brown (USA), Trek-Volkswagen, at 1:50
48. Walker Ferguson (USA), Subaru-Gary Fisher, at 2:03
51. Dave Weins (USA), RLX Polo Sport, at 2:06
52. Marc Gullickson (USA), Mongoose, at 2:11
60. Christoph Sauser (Swi), Volvo-Cannondale at 2:24
61. Bart Bowen (USA), Kona, at 2:24