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Carl Decker Journal: Sea Otter: It’s not about us

Editor’s note: Carl Decker is a professional mountain biker for Giant and is contributing rider journals to VeloNews this season. This is an excerpt from his recent blog post about this week’s Sea Otter Classic.

The pro enduro course at Sea Otter this year is a joke. The entire event will total about 12 minutes of racing. There are no roots, rock gardens, or technical sections. There are only contrived jumps and poison oak.

None of this matters.

The pro XC course at Sea Otter this year is a farce. There are fun XC trails that we could race down. But this year, as with last year, we’ll almost exclusively ride up those trails, not down them. It’s as if somebody took a reasonable MTB race track and then switched its direction. It’s not reasonable. It’s a travesty! It’s frustrating. And it’s also beside the point.

If you’re a world-traveling, gigawatt-producing, check-cashing, poster-signing, Pro bike-honcho, or any two of those things, you shouldn’t be permitted to openly complain about the courses at Sea Otter. Hotel-room grousing to your teammate is probably okay. Sarcastic use of the words “epic, extreme, gnarly, or radical” in public is also permissible.

The bottom line is this: It doesn’t matter how lousy the course is, because you’re not at Laguna Seca for the trails.

You’re there to debut your team’s new kit. You’re there to sort out a pre-production bike that was just overnighted from Taichung. You’re there to talk to the guy that designs your shoes. You’re there to buy drinks for the lady that sends you cases of glorified candy bars. You’re there to sign some posters and shake some hands. You’re there to do all of this in a beautiful place that is NOT Las Vegas. And for this, you should be thankful.

The Otter is kick-ass. The venue is Mazda Raceway at Laguna Seca. Not familiar? Pluck your Toyota Soarer from the garage on Gran Turismo 5 and take a quick lap. It’s a perennial stop on the MotoGP circuit, and one of the most storied road courses in the United States. The track, and its famous “corkscrew” corner is so technical that it’s actually fun to ride on a bicycle.

The vendor and team area is massive. There’s no race that compares to the Otter in terms of pomp-and-circumstance and the sheer number of displays. It’s the best place on earth to be a bike dork for an afternoon. There are umbrella girls, free magazines, product unveilings, stunt shows, trials demos, music, beer, and meat cooking over flames. Sunburned vacationers rub shoulders with the biggest names in the cycling world. It’s big enough that it transcends bikes.

If you grow tired of umbrella girls, bikes, and hotdogs, the surrounding area is lovely. Where most MTB races these days leave you in a Motel 6 by I-10 in East L.A, or in a semi-abandoned ski resort in the middle of summer, this is an event that your non-cyclist dad, mom, girlfriend, wife, or kids might actually enjoy.

Additionally, you’re in town to participate in the biggest bike festival in the Americas. If you cannot do a bar-spin backflip, that means you’ll be racing!

If you’re a pro bike-racer honcho, you’re ostensibly here to race, and you’re here to win. Or look good trying. Realistically though, how “inspiring” and “fun” a track is usually doesn’t make much difference in the results. The best guy is going to win regardless. And honestly, in the moment, racing isn’t supposed to be fun. If done correctly, it should strike a balance between fear and suffering. Practice is fun. Surprising yourself or your friends with a good result is fun. Later, recounting your prowess or heroism in the race is fun. But in the moment — in the race — if you’re having fun, you’re doing it wrong.

So what’s the point of a fun racetrack anyway?

Pros aren’t used to going to races where their event isn’t the focal point. Every other race we do is the cornerstone of that weekend’s festivities. So Sea Otter is a great place to gain some perspective. 10,000 people a day walk through the gates to Laguna Seca to follow their passion for bicycles. From the lead product manager at Giant bikes, to the smallest, dirtiest kid riding the pits on a Skuut bike, there’s something for everybody.

Perhaps, from the perspective of the race organizers at Sea Otter, I rank somewhere between umbrella girl, and the hotdog guy. Well, that sounds just fine to me.

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