Every race is different; how it unfolds, the course, the players, the vibes and the energy. That is one of the best things about traveling around the world to race bikes; you get so much variety and you never know exactly what you are going to get.
With the current global health crisis affecting race calendars around the world, there was nobody lined up at Laguna Seca for the Sea Otter Classic XC last week. That didn’t stop XC Factory Team
athletes Peter Disera
and Andrew L’Esperance
from recounting their memories and lessons learned from the racing last year and will take you along, lap by lap, on one of the fastest, less technical courses they race on all year long.
Both athletes arrived at the race with strong early season results, and the added motivation to perform given that their race weapon, the Norco Revolver FS 100
, was introduced to the world that weekend.
So, let’s jump into the action, lap by lap and see how it played out with Peter and Lespy at the front, trying to crack the race wide open.
A Tale of 2 Starts: Peter
Typically, XCO races will have more than one effort off the start. At Sea Otter, this is even more true. The initial start, when the gun goes, gets you safely off the line to establish your position, and quickly settle in. See, at Laguna Seca, we start on a wide race track. There is ample room for people to reposition, drafting is a huge factor and there is a more decisive section to come that riders try to save themselves for.
This initial start is crucial for safety and stress – to get off the line, stay out of trouble, get a good position.
The second start is your money maker, and sets the tone for the first few laps. It happens on the climb up to the Corkscrew on the motor race track where riders hammer up this 60 second pitch fully maxed. Why so much pain? At the top of the climb is a tight chicane that acts as a filter, spreading the field out. From a wide open, motor raceway to a tight crack in the barriers, this is where you have to put the hammer down.
Lap 1: Peter
The first lap is always hectic and reaps the rewards of your efforts and luck from start #2. For me, it got off to a little bit of a rusty start when an American rider crashed exiting the one and only rock garden / technical feature on the course. It was a lucky crash, no injury, but it forced a gap between the riders behind and the riders already out in front.
I put on the jets - I had to - making the selection at Sea Otter is so important and the windy conditions just exacerbated the desperation to catch the front.
Lap 2: Lespy
Once we got back onto the Start/Finish after the first lap we got to take a look around and see who was in the game for the day. Rolling through after that first lap we had a lead group of 6 or 7 riders established, but with 80 riders behind us chasing to make the selection, it was key for someone to take the initiative and keep the group rolling strong.
Lap 2: Peter
Christopher Blevins and I had a solid stab at it this lap. Attacks were thrown and the two of us ended up off the front. I was confident we could stay away, but it required a huge investment to make a move like this stick. However, this was not the case. After going all-in for a full lap, the chasing group was able to reel us in. The effort, massive as it was, wasn’t for nothing as we managed to weaken the chase group but it sure felt like it had been a waste of energy at the time.
Lap 3: Peter
Although the races are long, settling-in is only intermittent. There were a few sections throughout the lap where anything less than 99% wasn’t good enough. I wasn’t frustrated yet, however, I was becoming more and more aware that getting away from fellow riders and breaking away off the front was going to be extremely challenging.
Lap 4: Lespy
On this lap, the group all came back together with 10+ riders in the lead group. With the bigger group, awareness of positioning and staying close to the front was crucial. You knew it was going to split again, and we had to be ready!
Lap 5: Lespy
No major moves that stuck this lap, but accelerations fighting for positioning at the key bottlenecks had the group shrinking again as riders started to feel the efforts of the previous laps. Peter and I were comfortably in the front group and were able to have a short chat to devise a plan.
Lap 6: Lespy
With prior moves not sticking, Peter and I figured we needed to make the race even harder if we were going to get away. I went to the front at the bottom of the Second Start climb up to the Corkscrew and kept the pace up the entire climb. This huge effort split the group and I got a gap off the front with Blevins. We went for it and edged out a 10 second gap on 3 chasers with Peter safe in the wheels. Again, it did not stick, but it wasn’t all for naught, as we’d whittled down and softened the lead group even further.
Lap 7: Lespy
On the penultimate lap, I focused on refueling and preparing for the ensuing fireworks that would take place up the main climb on the final lap. The riders that remained were Keegan Swenson, Sandy Floren, Chris Blevins, Leandre Bouchard, Peter and myself; the win and podium spots would certainly come from this group.
Lap 8: Peter
The final lap was going to be hectic. It was clear that all-out wasn’t going to be good enough for the last lap: We would need to dig deep and use our brains.
Positioning through the Second Start filter after the road climb was important; was I a little too relaxed going in 3rd wheel? Perhaps.
After the rock garden came an impossibly-steep climb. So steep, so relentless, that it was a challenge just to get up it. This is where the race would be won. I had been assessing everyone's strengths laps before and on this little 45-60 second section Blevins had the advantage. Into this decisive section we went: Blevins, Lespy, and Me.
The attack went. Blevins got a slight gap on Lespy. I wouldn’t be able to get around my teammate until the top. By then, it was too late. Blevins only had a handful of seconds and I made sure to keep the gap as small as possible, because if he made a mistake, I wanted to be within striking distance. But, no mistakes were made.
Lap 8: Lespy
We both had very good positioning over the main climb and I was right on Blevins’ wheel. I tried to get a pass into a tight technical corner but got the door shut, this only motivated me further, in my head it was like, “It’s on”. Going into the decisive and steep 45 second climb, I did not have the power to follow Chris, but stayed on it, because anything can happen! Crossing the line in 3rd, stoked with my first Sea Otter, and happy to be within striking distance of the win. It will come.
Quite frankly, some of the best races come out of the most unassuming courses. Sea Otter is a power-smashing, windy, tactical mess of a race that kept us guessing right until the very end. It was fantastic!
Although Team Norco didn’t bag the win, podium positions for both Lespy and Peter were career bests and there’s lots to look forward to in the future, and lots learned from this event.
In the end it was a very hard race and the best man won. How hard was it, you ask?
Here’s Peter’s Race Data:
Avg Pwr: 324W
Max Pwr: 1186W
Avg HR: 170 bpm
Max HR: 192 bpm
Elev. Gain: 1120 m
Avg Spd: 25.9 kph
Fastest lap: 9:54
And here’s Lespy’s:
Avg Pwr: 311W
Max Pwr: 1216W
Avg HR: 182 bpm
Max HR: 198 bpm
Elev. Gain: 1120 m
Avg Spd: 25.7 kph
Fastest lap: 10:12
You can check out the Strava data from the race here:
Lespy - https://www.strava.com/activities/3316967164
Peter - https://www.strava.com/activities/2282845588
Recap video to see key highlights from the race:
Photography by Tom Richards.