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Life Time responds to Sea Otter petition, changes start times for women’s cross-country race

In 2023, all women's age group categories will start ahead of the men in the Fuego 40k XC MTB race.

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Final grades aren’t in yet, but high school senior Hayley Yoslov got some news worth celebrating on Monday afternoon:

Life Time, the parent company of the Sea Otter Classic, has said they are changing the start format of the Fuego 40km cross-country mountain bike race in 2023.

In an email to Yoslov, Life Time’s president of events and media Kimo Seymour said that at next year’s race elite men and women will start first, followed by all remaining women’s categories.

“Then, following a 95-minute gap, all remaining men’s categories will start.”

The changes come less than two weeks after Yoslov started a petition, Let Women Ride: Improve Gender Equality in The Sea Otter Classic, on change.org. The campaign was part of a larger school project for her ethics & justice class.

‘Let Women Ride:’ How one mountain biker’s school project seeks to address gender equality at Sea Otter

Seymour told VeloNews that the Sea Otter team had been in discussion regarding its races’ start formats since after the event last April. Many participants commented in their post race surveys that the start format — all men’s categories started before the women — disadvantaged female racers and turned their experience into a battle of passing scores of men rather than racing.

Yoslov’s petition, which made the same argument and offered potential solutions, “not only factored into, but also inspired the changes,” Seymour said.

The Fuego 40km is Sea Otter’s most popular race, with some 1,200-1,500 riders registering. Seymour said that the Sea Otter race team looked at the number of female registrants, as well as finish times from last year when assessing whether a change was feasible.

It was.

“While there still may be some overlap between racers, we anticipate this would only occur during the last five miles of the course, which is predominantly a fire road climb that offers ample opportunity for passing,” Seymour said.

Although the 40km race is the only Sea Otter event to flip its start format thus far, Seymour said that the team in charge of the race schedule doesn’t plan to stop there.

“We’re also looking at the XL Saturday, and the gravel race on Friday,” he said. “Based on number of female athletes that register, I want to move women up in those races, too.”

Saturday’s Fuego XL is the 100km cross-country race, and it kicks off the Life Time Grand Prix series. Seymour said that, due to the length of the race and the anticipated finish times, it won’t be possible to have a 95-minute gap in between women and men’s starts, as with the 40km.

Nevertheless, he’s still committed to finding a solution that makes the experience better for new and returning women racers, and it’s unlikely that the same start format as last year will be repeated.

As for Yoslov, who updated the change.org petition with an exclamatory “Victory!” on Monday, this is the best final grade ever.