Sea Otter Classic: why it’s the ultimate event for cyclists

By April 19, 2016Bike

Post by: Fairlee Frey, Swiftwick athlete. 

“You guys should put on a bike race.” In 1990, the Sea Otter Classic was hatched with those eight words. Originally the brainchild of Frank Yohannan and Lou Rudolph, the Sea Otter Classic has grown into an event hosting more than 10,000 international and US-based athletes and 65,000 fans at the Mazda Laguna Seca Speedway- a venue used for Formula 1, Superbike and the MotoGP World Championships when it isn’t swamped with cyclists.

Sea Otter is a four-day celebration of nearly every cycling discipline: Cross Country, Downhill, Enduro, Cyclocross, Short Track, Slalom, Road, Circuit Races and even a Gran Fondo are on the menu for cycling enthusiasts and competitors alike. In between events, guests to the festival have to opportunity to meet hundreds of vendors from the cycling industry and brush up on the latest and greatest tech, products and gear.

It’s easy to see why Monterey is the perfect place for an early season bike festival. The rolling coastal hills are sandy, dry and filled with miles of double track and jeep roads. Surrounded by lush sea-grasses, miles of strawberry and artichoke fields, Monterey is also blessed with mild April temperatures ranging from 60-85 degrees, sunshine and crystal-blue skies. Not to mention actual sea otters for which the festival is named.

This year, Sea Otter race directors opted in favor of a new World Cup-style XC race for the professional men and women. In previous years, the pro XC course involved a 33-mile route through the mountains surrounding Fort Ord. The 4.2-mile lap included a two-tier cascading rock garden, technical uphill rock sections, one long and several short but very steep climbs. Each lap concluded with a punchy and curvy tour through the bike exposition and beer garden by way of flyovers and some creative course routing.

62 professional riders including national champions, World Cup and Olympic racers from Italy, Canada, China, Portugal, Mexico, Argentina, Denmark and all over the U.S. were called to the line for the women’s professional cross country race that day. To date, this is by far the most talented and internationally experienced field I’ve had the honor of being part of. American Cross Country Running Legend Steve “Pre” Prefontaine once quoted, “[t]he best pace is a suicide pace, and today looks like a good day to die.” As we awaited the start I was very much aware that, as Pre would say, today’s pace would have to be a suicide one to hang with this crowd.

The whistle set us out across the tarmac at breakneck speed. I cannot describe the rush of being in the middle of a pack that powerful, and there might not be anything like it in the world. Roaring up the speedway to the first sharp corner and long climb, the pack began to separate. I opted to attack and chase the lead group, rather than settle in and play safe. And so for that day I rode in the middle of the pack with some of the most talented and dedicated athletes I’ve had the pleasure to compete with, taking turns attacking and pushing until there was absolutely nothing left to give.

When that time finally came, it came decisively, but my victory for the day had already been accomplished. I had found a new gear on that speedy little niner of mine, and learned that my World Cup dreams were much closer than I had once thought.

Fairlee Frey is a registered nurse and professional mountain bike and cyclocross athlete. She has been a Swiftwick athlete since 2015. Read more from Fairlee on her blog!