Short track and cross country US National Champion Todd Wells (Specialized) is predicting an interesting cross country race at the Sea Otter Classic on Saturday afternoon at the Laguna Seca Raceway in Monterey, California. Wells finished third in the elite men's short track on Friday afternoon after his teammate Max Plaxton rode to victory.
The 2011 Sea Otter cross country course is shorter - less than five miles - per UCI regulations. Organizers took out some of the singletrack that had featured in last year's course.
"Last year, we split up pretty quickly, but this year, we only go up to the top of the Laguna Seca Raceway hill where the dual slalom is once per lap, whereas last year, we went up it twice," said Wells. "I'm not sure how it will stay together. In a road race, a hill breaks up a group, so in a mountain bike race where there is a dirt, singletrack climb, it'll surely break up somewhat."
Racers will likely face very windy conditions and with plenty of road sections, including a portion of the paved raceway, so drafting will be important for riders who have the opportunity to do so.
"The course is not selective - there is a bunch of drafting and resting," said Adam Craig (Rabobank), who finished fourth in Friday's short track. "The fastest guy will still win, but it'll be a tactical race for sure."
The tactics that may play the biggest role are those involving teammates. In 2010, Wells worked with teammates Burry Stander and Christoph Sauser to dominate the elite men's cross country.
"While the short track course was fast and selective, the cross country course has a lot of drafting," said Wells. "It will be a benefit to have a strong teammate like Max. Hopefully, we'll be able to do the same thing tomorrow and win again."
"I'm excited for tomorrow," said Wells. "The past few years, I had Burry (Stander) and Christoph (Sauser), but they are in South Africa getting ready for the World Cup. Plaxton is riding great this year."
Privateer Sid Taberlay (Kenda H2O Overdrive), who finished second in the short track, said, "Tomorrow is like a longer version of today. I'm sure Max and Todd will use the numbers to their advantage again. Maybe the Subaru-Trek guys will chip in for some work, too, and to even things up."
Jeremy Horgan-Kobelski and Sam Schultz are the two Subaru-Trek teammates to watch in the elite men's race.
Organizers moved the cross country race from its traditional Sunday afternoon slot to Saturday afternoon, which should draw more crowds. The elite women will race late on Saturday morning.
Stay tuned to Cyclingnews for full coverage.