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Sea Otter Classic 2006 – MTB Gravity Omnium Preview

April 4, 2006 – Sea Otter Classic, the world’s largest bicycling festival, welcomes an International field of pro Gravity racers to compete in Downhill, Dual Slalom and Mountain Cross Events. This multi-sport, four-day ‘Celebration of Cycling’ begins on April 6 at Laguna Seca Recreation Area in Monterey, CA. The Festival draws the top Olympic, pro, and amateur athletes from over 30 countries for intense competition in front of audiences of 50,000+.


PRO DOWNHILL Finals: Sunday April 9, 10 am The Downhill (DH) course at the Sea Otter Classic is emerging from the long grass and mud of the spring’s heavy rains. DH course will be constructed as much by the weather as by riders carving in their lines during practice sessions.

“We’re burying the wood”, course builder Ryan Finney announced. Wooden “ladders” in the previous year’s course have been taken out, so it’s predicted that speeds should ramp up considerably.

Conceptually, the DH will feature mini “pump tracks,” tight rhythm sections that one could either double or single, a few step up jumps, a couple high-speed descents, a fancy hip jump, and off-camber corners. Riders experience all of this in two minutes of white-knuckled exertion.

“For this DH course a light, short-travel bike will probably be the wisest choice, especially if there’s some mud,” says Downhill goddess Marla Streb, (Luna Women’s Mountain Bike Team / Red Bull). “In addition to the right bike, the winner will need superb jumping skills, an ascetic’s aversion to brake dragging, and fitness especially on the short, steep, lung-busting, up-hill section.”

“Fleeting thoughts that will be bouncing around in the DH’ers’ helmets before and during their race run will be tire selection, lighter wheel sets, lock-out shocks, and maintaining the discipline and conservation to not blow after first pedal section,” say Streb. “Contrary to popular opinion, downhillers do think – but not always to their advantage.”

Still warm from the anti-podal summer, the Australian gravity set Nathan Rennie, Sam Hill, Mick Hannah and Jared Graves will be some of the riders to watch during the DH practice sessions.

It remains to be seen at the 2006 Sea Otter DH if Jared Graves will be the man to beat. In 2005, Graves started out strongly winning the Sea Otter DH and Omnium, the NORBA DH and MTN Cross Championships, and wrapped up the season with the Australian 4X Crown. Graves will be looking over his shoulder for Mick Hannah, who in 2004 stood on top of the Sea Otter Classic podium winning the DH, the Dual Slalom, and the Omnium. Hannah, the 2005 Australian DH champ, will be keen to find his way to the top of the DH podium once again.

Another Aussie, Nathan Rennie, still pumped up from his Guinness World Record attempt for the biggest, scariest, longest, bike jump – somewhere around 140 feet beyond the average weekend shredder’s personal best – has a ‘s afer’ chance of winning the Sea Otter DH once again.

“My shoulder is healed up from the world record attempt, and I’ve had more structured training,” Rennie confided. “My goal this year is to be more relaxed, and ride with no wasted movements. I’ll be riding a freeride bike, the Santa Cruz Nomad, which is lighter than the bike I used last year. These shorter, more basic courses suit me.”

There are other names who are likely to be found atop the DH podium: Kirkaldie, Gracia, current World Champion Barel, and Steve Peat. Unless a Lopes or a Carter catches a break, it’s a long shot for an American to be in the money for this competition.

For the women, the DH odds for an American to win the Sea Otter title are a little better. Kathy Pruitt has a good chance with her South African-based fitness and aboard her new Jamis, freshly built up only days before the event. Another top pick is the reigning US Downhill champ, Melissa Buhl (KHS).

“Fitness is very important at the Sea Otter. We have to run from practice to practice for each event all weekend long,” said Buhl, just coming off a solid off-season in Arizona. “By the time you get to Sunday’s downhill race, the less fit riders are toasted. I think ultimately the riders with a BMX background will excel. This downhill course requires a lot of jumping and sprinting skills.”

However, French rider Sabrina Jonnier (Iron Horse) and Brit Tracy Moseley (Kona) will likely be the ones to beat. Kiwi Vanessa Quinn (Dirt Mag/Intense), the 2005 DH World Champ, and the Chilean Red Bull rider, Bernadita Pizzaro (Cannondale) are also certainly worth placing a bet on.

PRO Mountain Cross Finals: Sunday, 2 pm In the Mountain Cross, the trail takes a different turn for the Americans as Brian Lopes who is the winner of numerous World Cup titles and American and World Championships will be sprinting for the hole shot against fellow Southern Californian and multiple champion, Eric Carter.

“To win on the newly designed Mountain Cross Course a rider must be extremely powerful and very, very smart,” says course designer Glen Jacobs who has designed 280 courses in 30 countries including Olympic and World Championship courses, and several MTB parks. “Being stronger and faster will not win this race. There are a lot of lines a rider can choose from. This new course is one of a kind.”

The Mountain Cross course is getting its International Debut at Sea Otter this year and the design is being considered for use as a template for future Mountain Cross events.

Always a crowd pleaser because of the fast action, the mid air maneuvering, and the corner digs, winning on the Sea Otter Mountain Cross will also require a mean gate snap and a gleefulness to shut the door in the face of competitors as though they were peddling multi-level marketing schemes.

Beyond Lopes and Carter, only the volatile chemistry of churning pedals and mixed elbows can propel other riders to the podium. Watch out for Rennie and Gracia. In the early rounds the tightest racing is not for the win, as much as for second place. Since only two racers will advance, competitors sitting third and fourth have nothing to lose by letting it all hang out, and very often the most aggressive attain the most reward.

As for the Women, Jonnier will be sprinting to stay ahead of Jill Kintner (GT), Katrina Miller (Jamis) and Tara Llanes (Giant).

Dual Slalom: Saturday April 8, 2 pm The Sea Otter Classic is the only world-class event that continues to host the Dual Slalom (DS). The DS, a former NORBA and World Championship Event, has become rare on recent racing calendars, save for the Sea Otter, where it looms large over the landscape, a revered anachronism. This DS event, because of its singularity, confers upon its winner the de facto bragging rights of a world champion. Because the race is set in the middle of the venue, with great sight lines from start to finish, this event is arguably the crowd favorite.

Last year’s DS winner Nathan Rennie states it best: “During that first pedal stroke out of the start gate, you get a very special feeling that it’s officially the beginning of the season.”

For a complete schedule of all Sea Otter Classic events, visit: www.seaotterclassic.com/event_schedule.asp

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