Friday, April 17, 2009

Sea Otter Classic Pre-Race Report

This weekend brings the 19th edition of the Sea Otter Classic in Monterey, California. Sea Otter has enjoyed nearly 2 decades as the largest cycling event in North America. For the first time in it’s long and storied history,z Sea Otter will be featured as part of the U.S. National mountain bike series, the Pro XC Tour.

Sunday’s Cross Country race will be round two of the inaugural Pro XC Tour and should be an exciting showdown between North America’s best riders and some international heavyweights. Despite talk of changing the traditional Sea Otter Cross Country course to comply with UCI standards, race promoters will be sticking with the big-lap format that the Sea Otter Classic is known for. The Pro men and women will be completing two laps of the racecourse.

In the men’s event, Pro XC Tour leader Geoff Kabush (Rocky Mountain/Maxxis) appears to be absent from the field but look for Specialized Dynamic Duo Christoph Sauser and Burry Stander to take Kabush’s place at the head of the pack. Sauser and Stander have been virtually unstoppable this spring. As a team they won five stages of the daunting Cape Epic only missing the overall title due to a heafty time penalty. They continued their winning ways by finishing 4th and 3rd respectively at the World Cup opener in South Africa.

Who can provide competition for the Dynamic Duo? Look no further than the third member of the Specialized team, U.S. Olympian Todd Wells. Wells finished 23rd in South Africa and looked impressive at round one of the Pro XC Tour in Fontana, CA. Although he finished 10th he did so after breaking his chain on the start line and passing over 100 riders on course. Look for Wells to challenge at the front this Sunday.

Along with Kabush, U.S. National XC Champion Adam Craig (Giant) will be absent from this weekend’s race which leaves riders like teammates Jeremy Horgan-Kobelski and Sam Schultz (Subaru/Gary Fisher), Barry Wicks (Kona), Jeremiah Bishop ( and the Sho-Air mafia of Max Plaxton, Sid Taberlay, and Sam Jurekovic to battle for the top spots.

Wicks should be very strong on a power course like Sea Otter. The Kona big man got off to a strong start in Fontana before a first lap crash seemed to steal his power. Interesting riders to watch will be “Rad” Ross Schnell, who will be celebrating his birthday on Saturday, has been flying well under the radar after the demise of his former Trek/VW team and Andy Schultz (Kenda/Tomac) who has been competitive at every race he’s entered this spring.

The Pro men's race has 145 registered participants. The list includes many legendary names like Ned Overend (Specialized), Tinker Juarez (, Dave Wiens (Ergon), and Steve Larsen. The battle of mountain bike legends should be an interesting race within the race on Sunday. 

The women’s race features slightly less international flavor but with top North American riders there will be no shortage of firepower at the front of the race. The Luna Women’s Mountain Bike Team should be headlining the action on Sunday. Georgia Gould and Cathy Pendrel were untouchable in Fontana. A brutal travel schedule in 2008 played a part in the LUNA women’s decision to forgo traveling overseas for the World Cup races, which should leave Gould and Pendrel fully charged to attack the Sea Otter course.

Subaru/Gary Fisher teammates Willow Koerber and Heather Irmiger made the 16+ hour flight to South Africa last weekend and logged some impressive results with both women finishing in the top-10. Both should be flying high after a successful World Cup opener and can challenge at the front of the pack.

Last year’s winner Kelli Emmett (Giant) will certainly be in the mix. With her power on the flats and added confidence from last year’s victory Emmett should be feeling comfortable riding with the leaders. Emmett is the only North American rider proven to be capable of unseating the LUNA machine from the top step of the podium, she proved her abilities by defeating Pendrel, Katerina Nash, and Gould in Los Olivos last year.

Ellsworth rider Pua Sawicki struggled at Fontana but rebounded the following weekend winning by over 8 minutes at Kenda Cup West #3. The U.S. 24-Hour National Champion has switched her focus from ultra-endurance events to Olympic distance cross country, which should translate into top performances for the proven champion.

Canadian riders Wendy Simms (Kona) and Emily Batty (Trek) will be looking to make a splash. Batty was 4th at Pro XC Tour #1. Other riders to keep your eye on will be Kathy Sherwin (Kenda/Tomac) and Katerina Nash who are both coming off injuries in 2008.

Racers will get their first taste of action on Saturday with the Short Track presented by before lining up for the main event, the Cross Country on Sunday. Stay tuned to for full results, photos, and reports of this weekend’s racing action from Monterey, California.

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