Sea Otter: It’s not about us.

Headed out onto the Fort. It might be easier to just list who doesn't go out Lookout Ridge road.

Headed out onto the Fort. It might be easier to just list who doesn’t go out Lookout Ridge road.

The Pro Enduro course at Sea Otter this year is a joke. One stage is down the Dual Slalom course. Another stage is down what is basically a dual slalom course: the Sea Otter Pro Downhill. The other two tracks are tiny snippets of not-particularly-special XC trails. The entire event will total about 12 minutes of racing. There are no roots, rock gardens, or technical sections. There are only contrived jumps and poison oak.

None of this matters.

The Pro XC course at Sea Otter this year is a farce. There are fun XC trails that we could race down. They are all over the Fort property that backs up to Laguna Seca Raceway. They’re flowy and fast and smooth. But this year, as with last year, we’ll almost exclusively ride up those trails, not down them. Most of the descending will be on gravel roads. The rest will be on paved roads. On mountain bikes. It’s as if somebody took a reasonable MTB race track and then switched it’s direction. It’s not reasonable. It’s a travesty! It’s frustrating. And it’s also beside the point.

If you’re a world traveling, gigawatt producing, check-cashing, poster signing, Pro bike honcho, or any two of those things–you shouldn’t be permitted to openly complain about the courses at Sea Otter. Hotel room grousing to your teammate is probably okay. Sarcastic use of the words “epic, extreme, gnarly, or radical” in public is also permissible.

Practice is fun. And Fort Ord is a special place at sunset.

Practice is fun. And Fort Ord is a special place at sunset.

The bottom line is this: it doesn’t matter how lousy the course is, because you’re not at Laguna Seca for the trails. You’re there to debut your team’s new kit. You’re there to sort out a pre-production bike that was just overnighted from Taichung. You’re there to talk to the guy that designs your shoes. You’re there to buy drinks for the lady that sends you cases of glorified candy bars. You’re there to sign some posters and shake some hands. You’re there to do all of this in a beautiful place that is NOT Las Vegas. And for this, you should be thankful.

The Otter is kick-ass. The venue is Mazda Raceway at Laguna Seca. Not familiar? Pluck your Toyota Soarer from your garage on Gran Turismo 5 and take a quick lap. It’s a perennial stop on the MotoGP circuit, and one of the most storied road courses in the United States. The track, and it’s famous “Corkscrew” corner are so technical that they’re actually fun to ride on a bicycle. Try that in The Brickyard.
The vendor and team area is massive. There’s no race that compares to the Otter in terms

One time it rained.  And I had frosted tips.  Or tips at all for that matter.

One time it rained. And I had frosted tips. Or tips at all for that matter.

of pomp-and-circumstance and the sheer number of displays. It’s the best place on earth to be a bike dork for an afternoon. There are Umbrella girls, free magazines, product unveilings, stunt shows, trials demos, music, beer, and meat cooking over flames. Sunburned vacationers rub shoulders with the biggest names in the Cycling World. It’s big enough and so busy that it transcends bikes. It could be a convention about toaster-ovens and it would still be a good time.
The weather at Laguna Seca is perfect. Like Southern Spain on the Med perfect. The venue is just far enough from the bay that it walks the line between coastal cool and inland hot. I can remember it being hot one year. And it was wet one year….since 1997.

If you grow tired of Umbrella girls and bikes and hot-dogs, the surrounding area is lovely. There’s Pebble Beach golf course, the Monterey Bay Aquarium, and Cannery Row of Steinbeck fame. Or head to Carmel for it’s chic restaurants, fancy boutiques, expensive cars, and beautiful beaches. Where most MTB races these days leave you in a Motel 6 by I-10 in East L.A, or in a semi-abandoned ski resort in the middle of summer, this is an event that your non-cyclist Dad, Mom, Girlfriend, Wife, or kids might actually enjoy.

Additionally! You’re in town to participate in the biggest Bike Festival in The Americas. If you cannot do a Bar-spin Backflip, that means you’ll be racing!

My brother also had frosted tips. That probably makes it worse though.

My brother also had frosted tips. That probably makes it worse though.

Over the course of the weekend, there are always several riding events going on concurrently. Which means at the same time. Which means your Pro XC race needs to avoid the roads used for the Gran Fondo, as well as avoid trails used by a Women’s only XC fun ride, and avoid the part of the venue hosting age-group Cyclocross events (in April). Here’s the pinch: the quality of each of those events arguably needs to be better than yours. Why? Because the people paying for those events have a choice. That old lady can choose to go antiquing in Carmel instead of paying money to ride the Gran Fondo short course. If you are a Professional cyclist, the Otter is likely a compulsory event. More of your partners and sponsors will be here than any other race on the calendar. It’s a must-attend event for entirely different reasons for you than it is for the antiquities enthusiast mentioned earlier.

In spite of this, if you’re a pro bike racer honcho, you’re ostensibly here to race and you’re here to win. Or look good trying. Realistically though, how “inspiring” and “fun” a track is usually doesn’t make much difference in the results. The best guy is going to win regardless. And honestly, in the moment, racing isn’t supposed to be fun. If done correctly, it should strike a balance between fear and suffering. Practice is fun. Surprising yourself or your friends with a good result is fun. Later recounting your prowess or heroism in the race is fun. But in the moment–in the race–if you’re having fun, you’re doing it wrong. So what’s the point of a fun racetrack anyway?

Pro’s aren’t used to going to races where their event isn’t the focal point. Every other race we do is the Cornerstone of that weekend’s festivities. So Sea Otter is a great place to gain some perspective. 10,000 people a day walk through the gates to Laguna Seca to follow their passion for bicycles. From the Lead Product Manager at Giant bikes, to the smallest, dirtiest kid riding the pits on a Skuut bike, there’s something for everybody. Perhaps from the perspective of the race organizers at Sea Otter, I rank somewhere between Umbrella Girl, and the Hotdog Guy. Well, that sounds just fine to me.

I’ll see you on Giant Island.

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3 Responses to Sea Otter: It’s not about us.

  1. Tina Micheal Ruse says:

    Thanks for “getting it” As one of the little people that just loves bikes and everything about them we appreciate you pros and it’s one of the few chances we have to get up close.Been going every year now for over 5 years and the 4 of us middle age bike geeks love all of it! See you at Otter!

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