Weather always affects the racing at Sea Otter. Some years torrential rain changes the course; other years the heat and wind dish out beatings. This year organizers made the game-time decision to shorten the course due to heat. But one thing was for certain this year on the 90-degree day: Christoph Sauser and Georgia Gould were on fire.
Specialized’s Sauser, the reigning world cross-country champion, lit out from the start at the front of the 155-man field and never looked back. His closest competition wasn’t competition, but instead teammate Todd Wells, who won the short track the preceding day after Sauser, Wells and teammate Burry Stander rolled clear of the field in dominant fashion. On Saturday, a burped tire pulled Sauser from contention. He had no such issues Sunday.
There was a similar story in the women’s race. The field was smaller, but team domination was the theme. Luna’s Georgia Gould, champion here in 2007, came ready to time trial the 19-mile course. There was no cagey strategy of following wheels here. She took the front and was only overtaken once — when she overcooked a corner and her teammate Katerina Nash rolled past. But Gould was quickly back on track on the sandy course, and Nash pulled over to let her through at the bottom of a descent. Gould won by more than a minute over Norway’s Lene Byberg (Specialized Factory), with Luna’s Catharine Pendrel in third.
Home court advantage
The men’s race was shortened from 39 to 29 miles, but another mileage factor played a greater role in the race. Sea Otter sits 50 miles from the Morgan Hill headquarters of Specialized, which, in addition to sponsoring the three men who dominated the short track, also sponsors the Sho Air-Specialized crew. It was quite apparent both squads came to win.
“I would prefer to do the longer race,” Wells said, “but the fast guys are the fast guys and this should not affect the win.”
Soon after the start on the Laguna Seca Raceway, the 29-mile cross-country course funneled into short track atop a paved climb. Sauser took the hole shot, with Kona’s Ryan Trebon on his wheel.
Coming into the bottom of the five-mile, fireroad Skyline climb, Specialized’s Stander took the lead with Wells and Sauser behind. At top of the dusty climb, Sauser decided it was time to fly. He opened up two-minute gap over Wells and Sid Taberlay (Sho Air-Specialized). Max Plaxton (Sho Air-Specialized) and Sam Schultz (Subary-Gary Fisher) chased to reel in Taberlay. Behind this group, six men chased about 90 seconds back. In the mix were Jeremy Horgan-Kobelski (Subaru-Gary Fisher).
A slow leak put Wells out of the podium hunt on the last climb.
Ahead, Sauser just kept motoring. By the time Plaxton and Taberly came in for second and third respectively, Sauser had been finished for four minutes. And, with his skin glistening with sweat, gratefully so.
“I was pretty hot at the beginning,” Sauser said, “and I was more than happy it was shortened.”
Jason Sumner contributed to this report.