This edition of the Sea Otter Classic from April 20-23 truly expanded its vision, race choices and course lengths while showing its commitment to youth and inclusivity for all cyclists, of all ages, genders (including non-binary) and physical disabilities (Para division).
Kids, tandems, tri-bikes, e-bikes, and the more conventional bikes competed for four perfect spring days. This festival, expo and pro/amateur annual event continues to dominate the spring cycling calendar like no other in the U.S. Elite women enjoyed the same prize purses as the men, too.
Inside and around both Laguna Seca and Fort Ord’s many miles of single tracks overlooking the sea, while rushing over rolling green hills dotted with fragrant lupines, you might be drawn into an illusion of tranquility. But all MTB and gravel racers were taxed—the same being true for the Enduro, Dual Slalom, Road and Downhill racers. A perfect place for a picnic normally, but on this long weekend, any idea of these trails and picnic were far from any thoughts. “Tough” or “insane” came closer to the riders’ views on Fort Ord’s trails’ alluring but sandy terrain.
Here is a sample of many of the leading local riders’ races:
The “Fuego XL,” a 67-mile, 8,500-foot elevation gain: This mountain bike race, fraught with steep climbs, 50mph downhills and technical single track that gave even world champions pause, did not disappoint on Saturday morning. This preeminent race, the first of seven in North America with $250,000 in prize purses, took its toll. This Sea Otter Classic race provided the first opportunity of 2023 to collect points for the male and female Life Time 2023 overall winner crowned later in the year. Needing to place well in this race, all competitors have first crack at scoring points to enter the lottery for participating in the summer’s most prestigious US 100-mile MTB race (held annually in Colorado), the Leadville 100.
Just six weeks after winning the 122-mile Arizona BWR race, the gravel race “power couple,” Americans Keegan Swenson and Sofia Gomez Villafañe, were the ones to beat (Swenson defending his 2022 title here). True to their hype, they took both titles at the week’s most prestigious race packed with top names. Gomez Villafañe, 29, whose family lives in nearby Scotts Valley, has come out of nowhere since her pro wins in 2022. Her older brother, Julian, rode the same race, coming in 10th in the elite 30-39 age category. His daughter, Francisca (15) finished the Fuego MTB XC 25-mile course in a blazing time, 226 out of 691 cyclists of all ages.
Other locals like elite rider Tobin Ortenblad, 29, came in a very respectable 12th in a deep field, beating many of the seeded top-10 favorites.
In the Fuego XC MTB 25-mile race, the local bright spots shone again as Amanda and Scott Chapin defended their open tandem title in the same XC race after having won last year (and several years prior) when Amanda was 25 weeks pregnant.
Gregory Braithwaite (49, Santa Cruz) placed 21/105, and Jose Luis Hernandez (56, Watsonville) 19/100. Asher Banks (16, Salinas) had high hopes of crushing the field, but he “bonked” running out of energy fuel, but still giving a solid performance of finishing 71/690 competitors. As the top Sophomore seed in his regional division in high school, he’ll be competing for top MTB California honors in May.
In La Gravilla (the 59 mile/plus-8,400 feet “gravel” race), Jules Mandujano, who had been training for months (when not working at his Watsonville Cyclery shop), competed in the 30-39 age category, but fate was not kind as he fought hard, but having started after the race began, he still managed 9/19 in his age category.
The Enduro races (four segments in all) were arresting as always, with the competitors having to huff it in one day (without shuttles/bike lifts) up the hills to begin another segment at a different part of Laguna Seca, notorious for difficult trail pitches. Locals John Harns (63) and Jami Ediger (40-49 age group) competed but the results weren’t yet posted.
For updates and results of cyclists from the tri-county, visit athlinks.com.