Fighting for first at the Sea Otter Classic | SierraSun.com

Fighting for first at the Sea Otter Classic

Paul Zarubin

The Sea Otter Classic has to be the biggest bike festival in the country ” not only for competitors, who have every type of race that can be done on two wheels to choose from, but also for spectators, who have an infield at Laguna Seca Speedway filled with vendors’ tents displaying the latest and greatest bikes and accessories all assembled in one spot.

Only interbike in Las Vegas matches this display of bike stuff, but they are not open to the general public as Sea Otter is. So to compete at Sea Otter is a huge thrill, and to win there is an honor held in high esteem among the cycling world.

My hopes were high on winning this year, as for the first time the event would include a super D, which is a high-speed descent with a couple of hills thrown in. It is labeled as the “test of the all-around mountain biker.”

The event challenges your descending skills as well as your fitness level in this hybrid time trial on mountain bikes. I have had a lot of success in this event (2005 National Champion), and felt that I could win.

The start was on a hill. There were so many competitors that instead of a Le Mans start, we had to push our bikes for 50 yards before we were allowed to mount and ride. The gun sounded and we were off.

I managed to stay in front of the pack of scrambling, 50-plus-year-old riders, some in Lycra, some in full downhill armor, but no one fell and as soon as I crossed the line I was able to vault onto my seat and began pedaling.

The first descent was short, and there was a hairpin left turn at the bottom that went immediately into a climb. As I descended, about five riders got in front of me and I knew that the first hill would separate the winner.

Right after the turn, I was out of the saddle sprinting, and sure enough, I passed everyone in front. But my lead was short-lived, as a big rider came from nowhere and charged past me like he was riding a stolen bike. He had another rider on his back wheel, so I gave chase. Soon his tail was dispatched and it was just me and him as we crested a hill.

I gave everything I had but there was no way I could catch him. As we descended, I kept thinking, “Who is this guy?” I have never seen him at any race and was hoping that his descending skills were not as good as his climbing ability.

Well, his size sure helped him in descending. For the next five minutes we flew down a crazy fire road reaching speeds of 40-plus mph, dodging rain ruts and loose gravel, knowing that a crash here would have severe consequences. At the bottom was a mile of flat sandy road that would again test your aerobic ability. As I descended, I could see the guy getting away, and I could only think of protecting my position.

Glancing back was too dangerous. I just hung on and listened for other bikes.

I could tell by the photographers lining the course that there was no one right behind me. As I hit the flats, I was able to see a guy closing in, but he was a big downhiller, and I put the sprint back on and pushed hard to the finish.

I ended up in second, losing by 30 seconds, but only 1 minute and 15 seconds behind Adam Craig, the pro winner in this event. What is interesting is what happened next at the awards.

The fellow who won came up to me at the awards and asked if I was the guy from Truckee.

I said yes.

He then asked if I was the guy who had written a couple of bike stories for the Sierra Sun. I again replied that I was that person. He then told me that he used to live in Truckee a long time ago, and that he had moved to Santa Cruz but continued to receive the Sierra Sun.

In reading the articles that I had written (some of these race reports have been published), he said that he was inspired by my writings to get back on a bike and get in shape, which is what he did.

I was blown away.

Yes, I have been an advocate for health and fitness in our community, especially for those of us who are getting older, but I never really expected anyone to take my advice and end up competing against me and rob me of the sacred Sea Otter Jersey!

It was the ultimate irony, but in the end, this is exactly why I ride. I want to be an inspiration to others to live a clean and healthy lifestyle because we only get one body, and life does not end at 50.

As a matter of fact, at the awards ceremonies, it is always the 70-plus-year-olds who get the biggest applause. The young kids look up to those guys and they all say, “I want to be like him when I grow up.”

The secret to racing mountain bikes when you are 70 is that you have to start now.

We are blessed to live in such a great outdoor environment such as Truckee, and I do hope that I’ve inspired you to take the next step. But could you please show me some respect and let me win?

Way to go Phil Trenholme, you got me. Keep up the hard work!

Paul Zarubin, a Truckee resident who races under the motto “Powered by God,” competes in the NORBA 50-54 Expert Division of the National Mountain Bike Series. He can be reached at paulz@mtlincoln.com.