The Return of the Sea Otter Classic… or the Specialized Gran Fondo: Post Ride Review

Well, this review is going to be a bit of a quicky. We’ve been swamped with rides, activities, and have a lot of new content on deck as a result. Still, we couldn’t let the season pass by without a review of Monterey’s hottest cycling event.

This was the second year that Team Road Rash has participated in the Sea Otter Classic, newly dubbed the Specialized Gran Fondo. Yes, calling your century a Gran Fondo is clearly the trend in ’10. Regardless, the new name and a healthy amount of hype drove in substantial numbers and high expectations alike. Registration for the event jumped from a meager 150 last year to an impressive 1,300 in 2010.

As for the course, it is a beautiful combination of mixed terrain that comes together to provide each rider a challenging, rewarding journey throughout the green hills along the central coast. Beginning on the track of the Laguna Seca Raceway, then running through the valleys of Salinas, and finally onto the steep climbs toward home, the ride carries a deliberate pace and progression toward a challenging finish.

The start is one of the most exciting in the country. Rolling out to the staging area, the high pressure of your cycling tires has a very natural feel along the soft pavement of the Laguna Seca Raceway. Meanwhile the cool, humid morning air and the anticipation of the large, organized start drive a welcomed level of excitement as the sun gently rises above the rolling hills surrounding the track. Once the signal is given, riders get to experience the race track before setting out into Monterey County, and that alone may be worth the price of admission.

Following a fast paced start, the first fifty miles are generally flat, guiding riders through the valleys of Salinas. Offering great views of local vineyards, the route eventually delivers you to limited lunch consisting of mostly Powerbars and fresh fruit, graciously held by Zabala’s Vineyards.

After a quick lunch it was time to start the ten mile accent up to Cahoon Summit. The grade was reasonable, maxing out around 10%, and was a nice warm up for the upcoming steeper grades. However, upon arriving at the top of the climb to Cahoon Summit, I was shocked to find that the rest stop had completely run out of water…for a second year in a row!

Admittedly a tough location to bring mass amounts of water in, this was a major issue from the previous year and a big reason that many riders were forced to ride home in the SAG wagon in last year’s unseasonable heat. Taking a cue from the previous year, organizers advised incoming riders to continue to the next stop, 15 miles away. Still, running out of water at a key rest stop for back-to-back years is more than just an inconvenience. It is completely unacceptable and dangerous.

Putting my frustration aside, I continued to the final rest stop of the day at mile 85 for some much needed hydration. The end seemed near but the climbing was far from over. The next four miles took riders up Laureles Grade and taxed already tired legs with grades ranging between 10-12%.

Our reward for reaching the top was a stunning view of the Carmel Valley and a glance at our destination across a small valley. After a rapid descent downhill, the final challenge was a short 16% grade up the entrance of Laguna Seca Raceway.

A warm welcoming committee of Sea Otter volunteers were happy to block traffic for incoming fondo riders. Showers, massages, and a post ride feast awaited just past the finish and were all part of the Gran Fondo experience. A ride full of highlights and challenges, I am very happy to have participated in the event for a second consecutive year. Although, if their hydration issues persist you can be sure I’ll be touring a new section of California next April.

Next up: Chico Wildflower Century!

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