MONTEREY, Calif. Starting in 1991, the Sea Otter Classic laid the foundation to bring a celebration of cycling to mid-coastal California. Now in its twentieth year, Sea Otter continues to create the opportunity for competitors, fans, families, and industry influencers to forge and galvanize reputations in front of an international community of peers and leaders. Product debuts from Thule, SRAM and Specialized have become annual attractions while competitive events set the backdrop for racers to test themselves against some of the fastest cyclists in the world. But don't take our word, the following spokespeople are at your service to provide some perspective of the Sea Otter Classic. This year's Sea Otter Classic takes place April 15-18, 2010 at Laguna Seca Recreation Area in Monterey.
Andy Jacques-Maynes, 31, professional road racer for Bissell Pro Cycling
Elite road pro, Andy Jacques-Maynes, grew up in Berkeley, Calif. and started racing at Sea Otter as a teenager. Whatever Sea Otter could offer, Jacques-Maynes would race, which included cross-country, downhill, dual slalom, short track, road, mountain bike stage racing, and whatever else he could sign up for. He turned pro for a while before settling in behind a desk at Specialized, where he continued to race at the elite level until a horrific crash three years ago literally airlifted him right out of the sport. As one who doesn't dwell on past experiences, Jacques-Maynes charged back into racing and picked up the US national cyclocross title for men 30-34 less than seven months after the crash.
Last year Jacques-Maynes scored his first win at Sea Otter as part of the Bissell Pro Cycling Team. For Team Bissell, Sea Otter stands out as a chance to show sponsors the value of their investment.
"It's a unique opportunity for us to race in front of our sponsors and give back to them," Jacques-Maynes said. "Fausto Pinarello was in the crowd watching me win the Circuit Race last year - that was really cool. My job last year was to look for opportunities to attack and our overall goal was to win. On the day, my legs worked like magic, and I didn't even feel the climb. It was a good day, I'm glad I could win the race for the team."
Jacques-Maynes is married to Josie (formerly Beggs, if you follow pro women's bike racing), who also holds a US national 'cross title. They live in Morgan Hill, Calif.
Katerina Nash, 32, professional mountain bike racer for LUNA Chix Pro Team
Nash (née Hanusová) was born into Communist-controlled Czechoslovakia in 1977 where she started out as a ski racer at age five and later got into mountain bike racing at age 15 as part of her summer training. Then came a second place finish as a junior at the Mountain Bike World Championships in Kirchzarten, Germany in 1995, and a spot on the Czech Republic's summer Olympic team for the debut of mountain biking in 1996. She became a fulltime mountain bike racer for the LUNA team in 2003 and has scored numerous wins since then. She's as popular off the bike as she is on it, given her athleticism and history and she could likely join any racing team in the world if she chose yet she's settled in the California Sierra Nevadas, where she still skis during the off-season.
"If I had to describe Sea Otter to my fellow European competitors who have yet to experience it, I'd simply say, ‘Come and experience this race. It's a great race in a beautiful part of a world.'"
This will be her ninth year racing at Sea Otter and, in addition to turning the pedals in both Short Track and Cross-country, Nash – as part of team LUNA - will play host to several events for the benefit of fans and sponsors. In fact all of the LUNA team's off-road Olympians, national and world champions will be present at the 20th Anniversary of Sea Otter.
Eric Wallace, North American Brand Manager for Thule/industry influencer
Like many folks in the bike industry, Eric Wallace launched his career by working in, and managing bike shops in order to finance his racing habit. Once he realized that he was a better manager than athlete, he took the reins of a couple major powerhouse racing programs, for instance Volvo-Cannondale, Trek/VW, and Team Maxxis, before he went to work for Thule. Wallace has weathered 16 years of Sea Otters (both figuratively and literally) and, if the critics ever get too loud, Wallace aims straight from the hip to silence them.
"People always love to shoot negatives at the leader be it industry, athlete or event," Wallace said. "The Otter is the official kickoff to the cycling world in North America - we get to see all the latest and greatest, ride things that we only saw in the magazines, and talk to and discuss our products with real live consumers. It's real world and yes, it will be sunny, windy, rainy, hail, sleet and snow - but we love every second of it."
Thule's indefatiguable perseverace to create carrying, cargo, and storage solutions yields results every time. For Sea Otter - according to Wallace - "We plan to annoy our neighbors with our new audio partner - loud, obnoxious and a ton of fun."
Thule's engineers have been hard at work with new products that will be shown at Sea Otter, including a debut lineup of trunk mounted bike carriers that are poised to set a new standard for that category.
Kelly Benjamin, 34, professional road racer for Colavita/Baci Women's Cycling Team p/b Cooking Light
Kelly Benjamin took advantage of last year's debut criterium to reinforce the racing field and stretch her legs for the remaining two road races. Crosswinds bullied all of the racers but Benjamin had double-duty as both leader and domestique for her team of one while her teammates urged her on from the sidelines. She won that race but abstained from a chest-thumping victory, choosing instead to tip her helmet to the new event designed to offer more opportunities for road racing.
"I wanted to show my support for the new race and being outnumbered and with no teammates just makes you have to race smarter and a bit more conservatively," Benjamin said. "But I always knew I'd have a good chance of winning if I rode a smart race. When the winning breakaway was established and no one in the break had any teammates and the playing field was level, I knew that I had a really good chance of winning."
Benjamin has lofty goals for 2010 and Sea Otter serves as a true test of her fitness. Her team's top priority is to deliver someone to the top of the podium in each race. Secondary or perhaps equally as important is to keep the championship jersey within the team's grasp. For herself, Benjamin would like to deliver solid performances in the early part of the season - which includes Sea Otter - in hopes of being selected by the national team to represent the US at European races later in the season.
Sea Otter also gives Benjamin a chance to reconnect and fortify relations with her team, which are key elements to winning races. Her strengths in teamwork, sprinting, and leadouts depend on the team's synergy, which will get a boost during the days surrounding Sea Otter.
Burry Stander, 22, professional mountain bike racer for Specialized
A decade earlier and thousands of miles away on the east coast of South Africa, a future Olympian and world champion endured ego-crushing bike rides with his father and older brothers in Port Shepstone and on equipment unfit for young Stander. The suffering only spurred him to ride farther and faster and perhaps, one day, to meet some of the world's most celebrated cyclists that graced the pages of Stander's stash of American mountain bike magazines.
Since then Stander has traveled the distance from South Africa to Monterey three times to take his place on the Sea Otter start line among some of the world's current heroes of mountain biking but this year will be different. Now Stander is one of those heroes.
"Well growing up I always used to read about the race in the magazines; I must have been, like 12, when I first heard of the event," Stander said. "It was the racing season opener for the world's top pros so I figured it was super cool."
Last year Stander scored the world cross-country title for U23 men but don't expect to see Stander in the rainbow stripes of the world champion at Sea Otter. UCI rules dictate that a racer's race age is the age he will be on December 31, which in Stander's case will be 23 (his birthday is September 16). He joined the elite ranks this year but his consistent top-10 finishes in the elite races throughout 2009 suggests that Stander won't rest until he's added another rainbow jersey to his collection.
Kathy Pruitt, 27, professional downhill racer for Jamis
California native, Kathy Pruitt, would love to see off-road gravity racing become more radical and less "cookie-cutter"-like in hopes that a fresh perspective would revitalize interest and create opportunities for the swelling ranks of talented riders. Pruitt gets some credit for the talent pool growth since her dedication to gravity racing spans 13+ years and includes one world title and a bronze medal at the 2009 Mountain Bike World Championships. Pruitt first raced at Sea Otter in 1997 and, while her connection to the event is personal – her sister manages a significant part of the event production – Pruitt has been an independently loyal participant inspired by her singular allegiance to the sport.
"Racing is just one part of the cycling world and I like to develop my skills with coaching, photo/media/video trips and anything that will challenge me," Pruitt said. "Sea Otter is the biggest cycling festival in the whole world, I wouldn't miss it."
Sea Otter's dual slalom course consistently attracts the world's top gravity talent, who regard the course as one of the best around. For Pruitt, Stander, Nash, Wallace, Benjamin, Jacques-Maynes, and the rest of the racers, industry folks, friends, families and fans, Sea Otter offers one of the rarest chances to commingle with peers, rivals, and idols.
About the Sea Otter Classic
The 20th Annual Sea Otter Classic will be held April 15-18, 2010, at the Laguna Seca Recreation Area, Monterey, Calif. The four-day cycling festival hosts nearly 10,000 professional and amateur athletes and 50,000 fans. More information can be found at www.seaotterclassic.com or by calling 800.218.8411.
Sea Otter Classic - Media/PR
Donna Brown (local media)