By Sue George at Laguna Seca Raceway in Monterey, California
Under bright, sunny skies and in warm temperatures, the Sea Otter Classic opened day one of its expo and competition in, on and around the Laguna Seca Raceway in Monterey, California. Thursday's action offered the chance for some amateurs to compete on and off road while many pros and amateurs were checking out the courses for the coming days' competitions. In the infield of the raceway, cycling manufacturers of all sorts were onhand to showcase their wares in an expo open to the general public. Most major manufacturers offered bike demo opportunities to those looking to try out the newest rigs.
Elite racing will kick off Friday with the Super D, and the endurance action gets going with the short track on Saturday and the cross country on Sunday. In past years, Sea Otter has attracted some of the world's and America's best cross country racers, but in this Olympic year, most will be otherwise occupied competing at the opening round of the UCI World Cup in Houffalize, Belgium.
That leaves the door open for other talent, especially from Canada and the US, to make their mark. Carl Decker, Nat Ross, brothers Andy and Sam Schultz, Ross Schnell, Chris Sheppard and Federic Ramez Mendez will be some of the men to watch. On the women's side, Kelli Emmett, Mary-Ellen Ash, Zephanie Blasi, Lea Davison, Chloe Forsman, Shonny Vanlandingham and Kathy Sherwin are the favorites.
Emmett is scheduled to race the short track, cross country and the super D. "The Super D is the most fun for me," said last year's Super D winner to Cyclingnews. "It's bombing fast down some sweet fireroads."
She is looking forward to the cross country, too, which is a change of pace from the many-lap endeavors of many national series races. The pros will race two 19-mile laps. Cyclingnews previewed the course Thursday and noted very dry, sandy conditions. Each lap is a mix of open fireroads and smooth, fast singletrack, sometimes through shaded tree groves. With no roots and few rocks, flat tires will likely not play a role in deciding the outcome.
With no gravity events at this weekend's World Cup in Belgium, many of the stars have made the journey to California for the 4X and downhill competitions held respectively on Saturday and Sunday. Among the favorites in the men's competition are Dan & Gee Atherton, Sam Blenkinsop, Amiel Cavelier, Sam Hill, Greg Minaar, Steve Peat, Nathan Rennie, Josh Bryceland and Brendan Fairclough, just to name a few.
Rachel Atherton, Anneke Beerten, Melissa Buhl, Sabrina Jonnier and Kathy Pruitt will likely be some of the fastest in the women's gravity competitions.
Cyclingnews' staff will be on hand to bring you coverage of the pro races and a look at the latest in technology and products.