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Course preview: Sea Otter Classic Fuego 80k

The XC MTB race is the first stop on the Life Time Grand Prix and will have the pros racing across nearly 5,700 feet of elevation gain on Saturday.

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At the Sea Otter Classic, the bicycling festival, expo, and trade show at the Laguna Seca Recreation Area in California, the cross-country mountain bike race is legendary.

According to Jeff ‘Frosty’ Frost, Sea Otter’s athlete services director, the first race was held 32 years ago, with around 100 racers.

“It was the first event that we did, and the only event was the XC,” he told VeloNews. “It was on the old army base when it was still the army base and they gave us permission to race there. Now it’s a national monument. Over the years it’s transitioned, and it’s cool to see where we’re at now with the Life Time Grand Prix and the live streaming.

The Fuego 80k XC race is the first stop on the Life Time Grand Prix presented by Mazda, the six-race series that includes Unbound Gravel and the Leadville Trail 100 MTB race. Riders must finish five of the six races to be considered for the $250,000 prize purse, and most will try to attend every event.

This year’s Fuego 80k XC course is new — Frost said that he changes the course every three years — but includes some features from year’s past. Here’s his rundown.

“Short, punchy climbs”

“It’s not what people expect from a Monterey XC course,” Frost said. “Meaning, the amount of vertical gain it has for anywhere in California that’s not the mountains. We’re on the ocean, it’s really hard and surprising. That’s how we design them out here — short, punchy climbs, singletrack, double track, twisty turny, but not technical stuff.”

“It’s super traditional, old school XC — meaning it’s not the rat in a cage racing, hamster wheel, UCI, short course with many, many, many laps. This is gonna be for the fastest guys, about a 2:05 one lap time. So it’s probably gonna be a five hour race for most people.”

“There are a couple sections that have nicknames. HURL Hill is one. It’s a short steep half mile-long singletrack, grassy knoll climb. That’s a part of the race where someone will attack and probably try and gap. The other place is Lookout Ridge. Another long less but less steep climb. It’s nearly 2.5 miles. There are a variety of other singletrack points where it will be tough to pass.”

“We’ll have 4,500 age group riders on Sunday so I have to design a course that allows passing. On Saturday the key guys will get tightened up so there will some tactics and then it will open up.”

“It’s an awesome mix of fire road, all BLM, old army roads, dirt and gravel and single track.”

The forecast for Saturday’s race is calling for a temperature of 50 degrees at the start, which will be welcome respite after a few hot days leading up to the race. Spectators can watch the race from any point along the course but there is no vehicle access.

Frost said that, while the XC race is the bread-and-butter of Sea Otter racing, he hopes that the gravel race that was added this year will take off in the future.

“I wasn’t able to get the course that I wanted — it’s baby steps when you work with land managers — but for 2023, the gravel race will have a better opportunity for a longer, more traditional kind of Life Time gravel race. I’m not that happy where we ended up for this year, but with the Grand Prix and the focus on the Fuego. . .next year we’ll step it up.”