By Julie Hudetz, Team Dean
Having not been to the Sea Otter since 2000, I was quickly reminded why this event is such a success: It’s fun! Cyclists in general are crazy. Whether we ride mountain bikes, road bikes or go flying down the dual slalom course, we all have one thing in common – we love to ride our bikes and just can’t get enough of it! This is why Sea Otter, which claims to be “the most celebrated bicycle festival in North America,” is the perfect gathering for us wacky two-wheel addicts. It has something for everyone.
When I was here last, I was racing on the road with Team Saturn. That year we worked hard to keep Petra Rossner in the yellow jersey all the way to the final stage. It was exciting to be a part of the winning team.
|Julie Hudetz is racing the 2004 Sea Otter pro women’s mountain-bike stage race with Team Dean. She raced professionally on the road with Team Saturn during 1997–2000, and earlier in her cycling career raced mountain bikes for Team Jamis. Last year she raced the elite adventure-racing circuit with Team Salomon, and won the Vail 100 Mountain Bike race. This year she will be doing some mountain-bike racing along with the XTERRA off-road triathlon series.|
This year, I am experiencing this race from a totally different perspective. First, I am racing the mountain bike race, and second, I am witnessing the race from the middle of the pack, not the front!
There is a very strong women’s mountain bike field here – 53 racers, primarily from the United States and Canada. I think that the level of competition always goes up a notch in an Olympic year. There is definitely that energy in the air, especially with the tight battles for Olympic spots in both the U.S. and Canada.
I had the pleasure of seeing one of the strongest candidates for a U.S. spot at the starting line, Alison Dunlap. It’s always good to see Alison. She gave me a big hug and said, “It’s great to see you out here again, Julie!” It was nice to be so warmly welcomed back to the starting line. She was calm and relaxed at the start and then set the tone of the race by winning the first stage. She has won Sea Otter the last two years, so the vibes here are good for her.
This year’s first stage was the “New Super XC.” This was listed in the program under “spectator highlights.” Now imagine Mr. Radio Guy making the following announcement: “This year, taking a cue from motorcycling’s Supermoto format, we’re launching a new racing concept in mountain biking for this year’s pro/elite mountain-bike stage race. This new format covers a 4-mile circuit that is 50 percent dirt, 50 percent pavement, and climbs to the top of the Laguna Seca Raceway’s famous ‘corkscrew.’ Super XC will test riders’ fitness, bike handling and tactical nerve like no other racing format. Word from the pro teams is that Super XC will provide thrilling race dynamics and add a new twist to the battle for the overall pro/elite mountain-bike stage race title. The riders are already pondering their choice of equipment. Don’t miss the revolutionary debut of the Super XC.”
Who needs “thrilling race dynamics” when you come to watch the fast chicks race? The spectators were lining the course (or was that just photographers and guys looking for dates?). No, really, there was a very supportive crowd out there cheering us on, not to mention all the wonderful volunteers. My fiancé falls into the supportive category; he cheered for me each lap and took plenty of photos.
I think the spectators went back and forth between the Super XC race and the dual slalom practice, which was going on at the same time. While I was racing I could hear the announcer talking about himself – not about any of the racers, just himself. It was obnoxious enough that I thought to myself, “Why does this guy keep talking about how great he is?” He made some comment about how he had beaten Myles Rockwell in a race. I actually searched the website to find out who they used for the dual-slalom announcing but could not find out who he was. Surprisingly, he was not announcing his own name as he spoke, only his accomplishments, or some exaggerated version. Strangely enough, I never heard any announcements about our race.
Having the race 50 percent on pavement brought drafting and teamwork into the equation. So often in mountain-bike racing there are very few places to draft, but the paved sections allowed for some regrouping, drafting and teamwork, which was fun. My teammate, Becca Blay, and I were out there working together on the paved sections.
Overall, I thought this race was a great way to start the stage race. I liked the “new” Super XC race, although I don’t think it will end up making a very big difference in the overall standings. My guess is that tomorrow’s time trial will shuffle up the GC, but that the main determinant will be the cross country race on Sunday. My money is on Alison.
For results from the first stage in this year’s Sea Otter, click here.
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