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Life as a Bike Jockey: The Social Event of the Year

The Sea Otter Classic is one of the biggest cycling events of the year in the U.S. In its 20 years, the event has grown, shrunk and grown again – but all the while still holding its place as an early season classic in the mountain bike scene.

Just by looking at the venue it’s easy to see that manufacturers use the event to get face-to-face with the public – putting their best foot forward, launching a product or two and maybe even adding to the showmanship element. The Luna Pro Team sported some cool all-white skinsuits with gold detailing for the short-track. I’m assuming they had the standard blue kits in waiting in case of rain.

Da Numbers

The Sea Otter Classic celebrated its 20th year in 2010. Photo courtesy Chris Worden
The Sea Otter Classic celebrated its 20th year in 2010. Photo courtesy Chris Worden

More than 15 separate events and activities between road, cross-country, gravity and non-competitive rides take place over the four days of Sea Otter. About 8,500 participants and an estimated 45,000 spectators make the Sea Otter a place to see and be seen on the cycling… uh… scene.

So, as a sponsored athlete, Sea Otter holds a double duty. You head out to Laguna Seca Raceway to race, of course. But it is also a prime opportunity to get to see, and sometimes meet for the first time ever, the sponsors that help keep you rolling all season long.

Kenda was a major event sponsor and upped the ante on its usual race presence. There was Kenda rider and seven-time National Trials Champion Mike Steidley out impressing the crowds; the Kenda drifting car (which I was not permitted to drive for some reason); the Kenda retail booth and a postcard signing with the Kenda/Felt Team. Yah… I felt a little celeb on that last one, all the way until one guy said, “I’m your biggest fan. What’s your name?”

A few of the Kenda executives also came out. We even got North American Kenda President Jimmy Yang out on the course watching his first mountain bike races. More a golfer when he’s actually got free time, Yang still got amped. Jimmy was course-side for all four races cheering on my teammates and I, for both the men’s and women’s XC and STXC races.

I’m thinking a comparison would be if Obama stationed himself on postal routes — giving feeds and cheering on mail carriers as they delivered mail.

It was cool to have that kind of support.

The Courses, of Course

The Kenda support crew was out in full force at Sea Otter. Photo courtesy Chris Worden
The Kenda support crew was out in full force at Sea Otter. Photo courtesy Chris Worden

The Sea Otter mountain bike event, which used to make up a big early season training block for many riders, has been tailored yet again. Once a four-stage event, it was trimmed back a few years ago to just a short-track race and cross-country race that seemingly did go across the country. But for 2010, in effort to get the course compliant for UCI sanctioning, the race was shortened considerably.

Compared to the pro women’s race of 2006, when then-reigning World Champ Gunn-Rita Dahle Flesjaa won the XC in 2:56, this year Georgia Gould won it in 1:16.

While the race directors have acknowledged the course was a little short, it still ran well for a race. I’d be in favor of chucking out the long stretch of paved raceway that broke up each lap, but aside from that, I think it was all a change for the better. The biggest improvement for me was making it more viewer-friendly.

My race, while much better than the first Pro XCT race in Fontana, wasn’t stellar, so it was nice to have spectators cheering all around the course. This is compared to last year’s race when if you we’re suffering on the backside of the course, all you had was the turkey vultures and groundhogs to boost morale. And the turkey vultures were just creepy.

Somebody's got to do it: ocean-view mornings in Pebble Beach.
Somebody's got to do it: ocean-view mornings in Pebble Beach.

Sunshine and 60-degree weather made the venue a nice place to hang after the races. After my races I headed over to say hey to our SDG saddles sponsor and the Felt crew. I spent some time checking out the Felt headquarters in Irvine, California after the Fontana race, so it was good to see the crew in Monterey and check out the demo and display tent that also served as a race pit for some employees. Creative Director Brett King was heading out for his DH race as I was walking in.

Pretty much everyone on the Felt crew is a two-wheeled-fiend in one way or another; riding, racing or just tightening the screws on the company lunch ride. It seemed like a typical day at the office when I toured the Irvine location and met the Head Engineer Jeff Soucek who was building a BMX bike amidst the stockpile of test and prototype bikes in the machine shop.  There was even a Ducati Sport Classic getting built from the ground up. If it has two wheels, they’re on it.

And at the end of the day, after the racing, I got to retire to my humble digs in Pebble Beach. It’s true. Our team was hosted in ‘PBo’ as they call it in the hood. Actually, I don’t know what they call it, but we called it home for the weekend.

And as for the hood, Pebble Beach was already putting on its finery for the traffic and media circus that will be the US Open in June. I suppose if I had to live there, I could deal with that. And then I’d call it PBo all I want.

Judy Freeman is a pro mountain biker out of Boulder, Colorado. In 2009 she represented the U.S. at the World Championships in Canberra, Australia. For 2010, she’ll be racing for Kenda/Felt Mountain Bike Team. Other sponsors for 2010 include TrailMaster Coaching, Hayes, Manitou, Voler Apparel, Pearl Izumi, WickWerks, KMC, SDG, Crank Brothers, Uvex, Pika Packworks, Smith Optics and Mighty Good Coffee.

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