20 Apr 2016


Cyclocross has been a part of the Sea Otter Classic since 2012. For some it might be hard to muster up the motivation to race cyclocross in April, but for the Raleigh Clement Professional Cycling Team, they were present, ready to race bikes and eager to win. In the elite men’s race Lance Haidet finished second to Tobin Ortenblad (Donkey Label). Third place went to Ben Frederick (Ritchey) with Jamey Driscoll finishing fourth. In the elite women’s race, Caroline Mani, #2 UCI ranked rider in the world, scored a demanding win by riding solo one minute ahead of Courtenay McFadden (GE Capital). Katie Clouse (Alpha Bicycle) out sprinted Laurel Rathbun to the line for third.

Elite Men’s Race-

On a sunny, sweaty and dusty Saturday at the Laguna Seca Raceway, the elite men got off to a fast start on a course that was made up of tight, twisty turns on loose dirt and wide open sections on hot tarmac. By lap two there were five men, Driscoll, Haidet, Ortenblad, Anthony Clark (Squid Bikes), and Ben Frederick (Ritchey), who had separated themselves from the rest of the field. For 30 minutes, a much shorter race than usual, the five riders threw down attacks to create further separation amongst themselves, but no one was getting away.

With the group still intact on the last lap, minus Clark who was chasing hard behind, Driscoll went to the front to keep the pace high for Haidet in an attempt to keep him in a good position for the finish.

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“Lance is going better than me right now since he already has some pro road racing in his legs this spring,” said Driscoll. “I was working for him, just trying to keep the pace high so we had less surprises and to have him in good position.”

Back on the tarmac with less than a half lap to go, Haidet jumped around Driscoll and Ortenblad to put himself first into the last sandy technical section roughly 100 meters ahead of the finish line.

“I came around Tobin and Jamey heading up the banking of the climb,” said Haidet. “I wanted to go into the sandpit really hard to hopefully force Tobin to make a mistake. Unfortunately, I made a mistake and Tobin went right by me. He had a two to three second gap already coming out of the sandpit with the finish line in sight.”

Despite not scoring the win, the Raleigh Clement riders are still proud of their effort and recognize beating Ortenblad in a sprint is a hard task.

“Tobin is a particularly fast finisher, so considering my form and Lance only being 18 it was a pretty good race for the team,” said Driscoll.

“I wanted to win today, so I’m a bit bummed with second,” added Haidet. “But It’s hard to beat Tobin when you’re with him in the last lap, so I can be happy with the result.”

With five months to go until the official start of the cyclocross season, Driscoll and Haidet will look to other spring/summer events to help them prepare for the cyclocross season ahead.

“This coming weekend I will be racing Paris to Ancaster in Ontario,” said Driscoll. “It’s an event that has been on my radar for a while now, and one that I’m very excited to do. It is a very unique event, essentially a longer, point to point cross race.”

“I will race Lost and Found and the Blitz to the Barrel mountain bike race in June,” added Haidet. “The Blitz is invite only in Bend, OR and will have guys like Adam Craig, Ryan Trebon and Carl Decker on the start line. Other than those events, I will be focused on my training and school.”


Elite Women’s Race

Starting one minute behind the men, the women’s race also got off to a fast start. It didn’t take long for Mani to ride off the front never to be seen again by the rest of the field. As Mani displayed her characteristic pain face at the front of the race, Rathbun, Clouse and Cassie Maximenko (Van Dessel Factory) were dueling for the secondary places as McFadden was chasing her way back to the field after an early race crash.

In the end McFadden was able to ride through everyone in the field except Mani to snag a hard-fought second place. In a nail-biting finish for third, Clouse caught and passed Rathbun in the closing meters just before the finish line.

Racing cyclocross in the heat of April is anything but easy, but both the Raleigh Clement riders were up for the task once the gun went off.

“I think a part of me was asleep after racing 76 days ago,” said Mani. “It was like breaking up – I didn’t like my bike anymore. I was almost mad and could not touch it for weeks, but racing and feeling the pain and every emotion when you race brought the lioness back out! So I’m pretty happy with it, especially the fact that even with little training since worlds I was still better that the couple past years.”

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“It felt weird because I’ve been doing long road races in Minneapolis and Michigan in 30-degree weather,” added Rathbun. “It was weird to come out here and go as hard as you can in 75 degrees. It’s not what I’m used to right now.”

Since winning the French national championships in January, this was Mani’s first race on American soil in her tricolore jersey. Mani has been a U.S. resident for five years now, but winning in the tricolore jersey is particularly special for her.

“Representing my country is important to me,” said Mani. “Even though I live here now, being French is still who I am and it is important to me for people to see that.”

Wearing the French champion jersey ranks high on Mani’s list of priorities, but there are two other jerseys she is focused on and they both come adorned with a variety of colors.

“I’m number two in the world so I would like to keep my level high,” said Mani. “Why can’t I be number one and get the rainbow jersey? Mostly I want to be consistent and be on the world cup podium as much as possible. Another goal would be to win the overall classification!”

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Next up for Mani is Paris to Ancaster, an event sponsored by regional Raleigh dealers, where she will join Driscoll for a 70 kilometer race on rough farm roads, trails and gravel in Ontario, Canada.   For Rathbun, a student at Marian University, her spring and summer schedule looks very different ahead of the first cyclocross race in August.

“I leave for Europe on Wednesday for 12 days with the U.S. National Team,” explained Rathbun. “When I come back I have two weeks until collegiate road nationals in Asheville. A couple weeks later I’ll do USPRO Road Nationals and then Tulsa Tough with Caroline – the first time we will race together on the road.”

“I’d also like to race collegiate mountain bike this year,” added Rathbun. “I’ll need to plan out the schedule between the mountain bike racing and the early C1 ‘cross races. I’ll do three mountain bike races in total, but I’m not sure which races they’ll be yet.”

“Then I hope to start the ‘cross season with the CrossVegas World Cup and the inaugural Jingle Cross World Cup,” concluded Rathbun. “But if I’m not qualified to race, I will definitely still be there to cheer on my teammates.”

All photos provided credit to Raleigh Clement Racing Team