It’s mid-April. That means it’s Sea Otter Classic time in Monterey, California.
The five-day gear-ogling festival may not include any national calendar racing on the road right now, but the professional stage race drew a strong field this year. Cole House (Realcyclist.com) took his second criterium victory this month Thursday and Kristin Armstrong (Peanut Butter & Co.-Twenty12) won for the first time since returning to racing, baby in tow, this spring.
Four days of racing, including today’s road stage, will culminate at the Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca on Sunday. The track is one of the top parcours in the world of motorsports and hosts everything from open wheel racing to MotoGP.
The elite men’s and women’s fields will both punch it up for 120 minutes in front of thousands of fans at Laguna Seca Sunday.
Chris Jones (UnitedHealthcare) described the track and the infamous Corkscrew section as “One word: awesome.”
The 2.2-mile, 11-turn circuit covers 542 acres on the Monterey Peninsula. It’s the only time most of the riders will face a motor track in a mass start event this year. With grandstands and perfectly manicured tarmac, Laguna Seca is an incredibly unique venue in American racing.
“I always like to pretend that I’m racing it on a moto,” said Jones. “In fact the last time I raced Sea Otter, Levi (Leipheimer) was there motorpacing us around so it felt like I was going that fast.”
Following an almost 300-vertical-foot climb each lap is the Corkscrew, the sweeping, off-camber descent through turns 8 and 8a. The ground falls away to the left, 5.5 stories in 450 feet. National criterium champ Daniel Holloway (Kelly Benefit Strategies-OptumHealth) said the acceleration is like nothing else on the U.S. circuit.
“I think of flying over it in a super car playing Gran Turismo,” said Holloway. “On a bike it’s my chance to close a gap that was opened if I missed the selection, get in the super tuck and hold on. Most of the time you’re cross eyed sucking air.”
The Corkscrew is most famous among motor sports fans for the thrilling — absolutely crazy — final-lap pass by Alex Zanardi on Bryan Herta to win the 1996 CART open wheel finals (watch at about 1:09 in the video above).
The strong coastal winds at the bottom of the corner compound its difficulty, but Tibco-To The Top’s Alison Powers, a former member of the U.S. Ski Team, downplayed the corner’s difficulty.
“It’s cool, but once you’ve ski raced, nothing on a road bike quite feels like ski racing and arcing a fatty at high speeds,” she said. “But, it is a super cool place to have a race, and yes, the Corkscrew is fun and you can get going pretty fast and hold a tight line.”
Powers used the corner to attack a day’s long breakaway in 2010 for the win at Laguna Seca. She won’t have that chance this weekend as she’s recovering from two fractures in her left elbow suffered at the Redlands Bicycle Classic. Riders on the startlist this weekend do include Redlands top two Francisco Mancebo and Ben Jacques-Maynes with full squads from Realcyclist.com and Bissell, Meredith Miller and Samantha Schneider (Tibco), Coryn Rivera (Peanut Butter & Co.) and Flavia Oliveira (Project Cycling).
Sea Otter Classic SRAM Pro Road Stage Race
Stage 1 Criterium
Stage Winners: Cole House (Realcyclist.com), Kristin Armstrong (Peanut Butter & Co.-Twenty12)
Stage 2 Road Race
April 15 12:00 p.m. (men) / 12:03 p.m. (women)
68 mi. (men) / 47.6 mi. (women)
Stage 3 Time Trial
April 16 3:30 p.m.
Stage 4 Circuit Race at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca
April 17 10:00 a.m. (women) / 12:30 p.m. (men)