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Sea Otter Classic - 1
Monterey, CA, USA, April 12-15, 2007
Sea Otter Classic hosts full slate of mountain bike and road races
By Sue George in Monterey
The 2007 Sea Otter Classic will draw road and mountain bike racers and fans alike with a full slate of amateur and pro on and off-road racing, BMX racing, fun rides, and a tech expo with more than 200 vendors expected.
Held on the Laguna Seca Recreation Area (home of the Laguna-Seca auto raceway), the event is traditionally one of the key openers of the US mountain-bike season and the primary spring-time opportunity for the cycling industry to release its newest product lines. Historically, it's also drawn top road pros for some pavement racing.
This year marks the 17th edition of the event. Over the years, the mix of events has changed as cycling trends evolve, but the race continues to cater to both pros and amateurs.
A long weekend of cross-country mountain bike action
Pro endurance mountain bike racing runs for three consecutive days, but the overall omnium format disappears for 2007. Instead, racers will chase coveted UCI points in the final day's cross country, but only glory, bragging rights, and prize money are up for grabs in the time trial and short track.
Friday morning, the pros race each other and the clock in an individual time trial. A short track follows Saturday afternoon before the feature endurance, off-road event of the weekend, the cross-country, wraps up competition. Top finishers in the cross country will accumulate UCI points for themselves and their nations.
Elite men and women will undertake two laps of the 19 mile (30.6 km) cross country course on Sunday afternoon. The race is known for climbs that are more frequent and steeper than found on many of the races on the World Cup and NMBS pro circuit.
In last year's cross country race, Team Specialized took one-two with British racer Liam Killeen finishing two minutes and 15 seconds ahead of his teammate Alban Lakata. Jean Christoph Peraud finished just one second behind third place with Jeremiah Bishop and Bart Brentjens rounding out the top five.
Due to the proximity on the calendar to next weekend's cross country World Cup in Houffalize, Belgium, fewer European-based racers are likely to make the trek to California this year; however, former World Cup champion Christoph Sauser and Liam Killen (both of Team Specialized) will take the start. Look out also for Geoff Kabush (Maxxis), fresh of his wins at the Pan Am Continental Championship and the first round of the NMBS in Phoenix.
Last year, Gunn-Rita Dahle Flesja (Multivan Merida) broke away early with Sabine Spitz (Specialized). The two stayed together for about half an hour before Flesja pulled away for the win. Kiara Bisaro (Team R.A.C.E) finished third, followed by Wendy Simms (then Velo Bella / Kona) and Pia Sundstedt (Rocky Mountain).
Look for top racers like Pan Am winner and national champion Georgia Gould (Luna) and her teammates Katerina Nash and Shonny Vanlandingham to do well. Perpetual favorite Alison Sydor (Rocky Mountain/Haywood) is expected to challenge as usual.
New for this year is the Super D or Super Downhill, an event that kicks off the mountain bike competition on Thursday. After a LeMans style start, the Super D will drop racers 800m in 4.82km. Despite the name, the Super D is not all downhill. This course starts with a brief uphill. A steep descent follows, then racers get a long false flat run-out in the last half-mile to the finish. The course is a mix of fast fireroad descents and short doubletrack climbs.
Gravity types will get to test their skills only at the dual slalom on Saturday and the Downhill on Sunday, after the mountain cross race was removed from the docket.
Organizers are expecting a record number of downhill competitors given the course's reputation for physical challenging nature. The course has gotten some serious TLC in the past four months - volunteers have pitched in 400+ hours to rehabilitate the course after last year's super saturated conditions. However, the dual slalom course is reportedly in good shape and essentially the same as last year.
Gravity spokesperson Eric Carter described the course, "The downhill is very short and fast with very little technical bits. With a dry course the fun level of the downhill will be a lot higher."
2006 Pro King and Queen of the Hill, Jared Graves and Tracy Mosely will be joined by Nathan Rennie, current US downhill champions Tara Llanes and Duncan Rifle, reigning world champions Sabrina Jonnier and Sam Hill. Look also for up and comer Melissa Buhl and Rachel Atherton, who's been impressing fans on the world cup circuit with her skills. Kathy Pruitt will return from South Africa to join the fray. Steve Peat, Gee Atherton, and former downhiller and motocrosser Jurgen Beneke add to the strong men's field.
NRC Road Race
Sea Otter's scaled down road racing continues in 2007. Instead of the traditional pro stage race, the Otter will feature two circuit races, one for men and one for women, as part of the National Race Calendar (NRC). As usual, the NRC circuit race on Saturday will wind around the Laguna Seca raceway, with a challenging 300ft (90m) climb and high-speed Corkscrew downhill.
Organizers added a Pro 1/2 road race on Friday. Pros will race the same course as the amateurs, a new 8.5 mile (13.7km) Fort Ord loop, although they will not earn NRC points for the day.
Several elite men's teams are scheduled to compete including the KodakGallery.com/Sierra Nevada Brewing Co, Healthnet, Priority Health, Team Rubicon, and Organic Athlete. Scheduled women's teams include Aaron's Pro Cycling, TEAm Lipton and ValueAct Capital, WEBCOR, ExpressCopy.com, Cheerwine and Colavita/Sutterhome presented by Cooking Light.
BMX will debut as an Olympic sport in 2008 in Beijing, and this year, it earns higher status at Sea Otter. It will be held onsite this year as it takes over the former venue of the mountain cross.
The course will wind back and forth and include five straight sections, but will be mostly downhill. Pro competitors will earn points that count toward Olympic qualifying for individuals and nations. Practice starts Friday, and racing happens Saturday and Sunday.
More than 200 cycling-related businesses will be on hand to show their wares. The expo at Sea Otter is like a spring Interbike, with many companies introducing new products or at least offering hints of what's to come for the next model year.
Last year's race brought epic soggy conditions after plenty of rain preceded the competition. Racers are hoping for much drier conditions this year. Despite some showers Wednesday before the event, this spring has been much drier than last year, so racers may indeed see their wish come true.
Cyclingnews' staff will be on hand to bring you coverage of the pro races and a look at the latest in technology and products.
2007 Sea Otter Classic events: