I’m setting a goal right now to give you a recap of the 2022 Sea Otter Classic in less than 1500 words – beginning, middle, end. Here we go.
My experience at the Sea Otter Classic is quite limited, in fact I have only been to Monterey, CA once before in 2019 and I was blown away—and somewhat overwhelmed—by how much was going on and how much bigger it was than any other race on the calendar. I was intrigued by how small the racing portion of the weekend actually was and yet there seemed to, somehow, be an event for everyone. In 2020, Lifetime bought the event and with that purchase turned Sea Otter into the kickoff event for the first Lifetime Grand Prix this year. Many of us were anxious to see the cycling world get back together, myself included.
The Lead Up
I flew in with Avery from Denver and met Trafford at SFO*. We picked up our rental car and played a quick game of adult Tetris with the Tacoma and four bikes before setting off towards Menlo Park, CA to meet up with the ENVE crew. Sea Otter was set to start on Thursday, but today was only Tuesday, why? Because we planned to ride to Monterey the next day.
We woke up Wednesday, ate breakfast and headed out for the 102-mile ride through Watsonville and down along the coast to Monterey. The weather was perfect, the views stunning and there were cookie stops every 20 miles or so – this was the life, if only all bike rides could be like this!
Wednesday’s activities quickly gave way to Thursday as the event began in earnest! Much of Thursday included registering, meeting up with friends, pre-riding the mountain bike course and getting acquainted with the venue. We used the ENVE booth as a home base/ logistics center in our attempt to nail everything we wanted to do. Success at Sea Otter has a lot of parameters, and the expo can be quite like a casino in terms of losing track of time during the day!
Wandering around 500+ vendors looking at new tech and chatting with old friends is time consuming and makes each day go SO FAST. Having said that, you can imagine that the racing at Sea Otter could become somewhat secondary, but is also incredibly special as there is an event or discipline for EVERYONE. There is not another race on the calendar that brings all types of racing together like Sea Otter. Downhill and Dual Slalom to Road Racing and even e-bike races: all categories seem to be covered. Seeing people take on multiple events is super cool because I think it shows cycling is growing in the right way…balance is everything, no pun intended.
Race Day #1:
Friday would be my first race and one of the busiest days at the Expo so we started it in the best way I know how…with an all you can eat buffet. Although Lifetime GP was my focus for the weekend, I couldn’t help jumping in the road race on Friday. A somewhat unorthodox opener session, but I race well fatigued so I thought why not? The race was 68 miles with about 6500ft of climbing consisting of 9 x 7 miles laps and then finishing on a short climb. I raced with the understanding that my big goal was the next day, so I needed to stay relaxed as much as I could. I was able to conserve energy by following moves and staying near the front for a majority of the race and only had to put in one big dig to bring back a move I was quite worried about. With about 5 miles to go L3GION lined up a small lead-out train. With 1km to go I was in 3rd wheel and trying to be patient – an uphill finish like this needs to be left LATE. With 200m to go Cam Piper jumped and I was so focused on Freddy Ovett that I hesitated a bit and he was gone…I managed to finish 2nd and quickly remembered that this was all for fun anyway – be happy! Willie and I made a trip to the podium and got a medal before getting off our feet to rest. Less than 12 hours until I toed the line again for the 80k MTB marathon.
Race Day #2 (the Real Race, for me)
Checking in…740 words and two days left to recap. I am only a bit behind. Saturday was an early morning kicking off with an instant oatmeal breakfast out of Chipotle queso cups (pro tio: you can fit two packets inside a cup), breakfast isn’t always as glamorous as an all you can eat buffet! We got to the venue by about 6:45 for an 8:05 start…it was chilly and a tad eerie to see the venue in such a ghost town state. I dressed up and was out for a warmup by 7:15 knowing that there were no call ups…I would have to be at the line early. I did a couple spin ups, checked out the start for the last time and got to the line around 7:45 – already a tad late, I would have to deal with a 2nd row start. The course was fast, and position would be VERY important. I was pumped to be riding my new FACTOR Lando HT (build video coming soon)…making choices to race to my strengths (climbing) and not my weaknesses (descending).
The start was CHAOTIC, I was very happy to make it into the single track in the front 10 and quickly moved up a couple more spots to 8th. For most of the first 25 mile lap I yo-yo’d off the front group of seven before being caught by a small group at the end of the first lap. I tried to stay motivated and focused on my overall goal – top 10, don’t get hurt, avoid mechanicals. Lifetime GP is going to be a game of consistency.
As we started the 2nd and final lap I rode a lot with Lachlan Morton and Rob Britton. We were racing as 9th, 10th, 11th on the course and I did not want to leave it to the end. With about 4 miles to go I started pushing a little harder to see if I could create space before the finish. As I came into the final climb I was pleasantly surprised that not only did I find some time, I was also much closer to the group racing for 4th ahead of me…game on.
I started making bets with myself (and people I passed) if I had the legs to close the 45-ish second gap before the finish. As we got to the top of the climb I was just off the back, maybe 15 seconds. Two miles to go…I tried to recover as we descended and hit the racetrack for the final mile. I was spotted at this point and the group responded by lurching forward…I put it into 6th gear and made contact just seconds too late as we entered the final 200m of single track. 9th would be all I could muster, but I was happy to stay safe and start the series off well – lots more to come…500+ miles of racing to be exact. Keegan Swensen won, Russell Finsterwalk was second and Alex Wild third…result of the day, in my opinion, goes to Tobin Ortenblad with some damn panache if I have ever seen it! I finished off the day with an ENVE group ride, mostly for Willie, before cashing out my chips and finding my way out of the venue around 6pm.
Post-Race Role Reversal
Sunday started similarly to Saturday EXCEPT, Avery, Trafford and I switched jobs… it was my turn for bottle and camera duty now and it was their turn to race. They smashed the 40k MTB race and then I spent the rest of the day chatting with friends and partners. At the end of the four days, everyone was happy, heading home with hearts full, and EXHAUSTED. We helped with tent teardown amid a dust storm before heading back to the hotel to pack up the bikes.
To cap this off, Lifetime killed it, Sea Otter is back post Covid and I already cannot wait for 2023. Seeing friends’ faces in real life and not little boxes was worth the lack of sleep. If I didn’t convince you in the past 1300 words, I’ll say it more simply, put Sea Otter on your list. Whether racing or spectating, it is an event to behold. 1444 words and landing in Denver now. Next up is BWR San Diego, hope to see you there! (insert, “The Adventure” by Angles and Airwaves if you want the sound track for this blog)
Willie & Alexey
*I have this dream to create memories and showcase what it is like to be an athlete racing at the top level. From relationships with to racing with friends…Trafford Hannon and Avery Stumm are helping this dream come to life.
Images Courtesey of Avery Stumm and Evan Bradshaw/ ENVE