MONTEREY, CA (BRAIN)—Over the course of the next three days, some 8,500 athletes will compete in mountain and road disciplines; 325 bike companies will show their wares in the exhibitor area; and 4,700 spectators will see all the action unfold here at the Laguna Seca Raceway.
That’s a far cry from Sea Otter’s humble beginnings back in 1991 when 150 spectators saw 350 athletes battle it out for a place on the podium. And exhibitors? Well, they didn’t set up tent.
It’s a little known fact that the Sea Otter Classic wasn’t even called the Sea Otter Classic 20 years ago. And that its first year featured such activities as roller hockey, inline skating and a grass volleyball tournament.
“The early years we had a lot of freedom to do different things,” said Frank Yohannan, president and chief executive officer of the Sea Otter Classic, who founded the event with brothers Ron and Rick Sutton. “There was even one year that we had a wedding at Sea Otter.”
Today Sea Otter has blossomed into a major event on the cycling calendar—a kick-off to the mountain biking season for top pros and beginners alike, and a chance for companies to demo new bikes for the first time to consumers.
The Laguna Seca Challenge—as it was called the first two years—started off rather innocently. Yohannan, a former U.S. Marine Corps aviator who flew F-4s over Vietnam, wanted to get into event management after his 22-year military career ended; he just never thought the event he would manage would be a bike race.
“My business partner and I happened to be in a local bike shop and the owner said, ‘You guys should put on a mountain bike race,’” Yohannan said.
Yohannan also had no idea it would grow into what it has become. “I thought it would be a more regional event,” Yohannan said. But then a lot of recognizable mountain bikers from around the world started showing up in the mid ’90s, and with them came the media. “Then it just snowballed,” he added.
Sea Otter’s big break came in 1999 when Outdoor Life Network (now Versus) brought Mercury Automobiles on as the event’s title sponsor. “It was that funding that put us over the top,” Yohannan said. “These sponsorship funds gave us the opportunity to accelerate our growth over the next three years.” That same year gravity events were added to Sea Otter.
“Mountain biking is certainly our core,” Yohannan said. “We have a great riding course due to our relationship with the Bureau of Land Management.”
Yet at the same time by adding events like the 2010 Gran Fondo Yohannan has looked to put more of an emphasis on the road category. “We’ve actually done road cycling events for many, many years—road races around Fort Ord, circuit races around the track, crit races in downtown. We understand that road cycling is an important element,” Yohannan said.
Sea Otter’s Gran Fondo—new this year—will offer three fully supported ride distances: 28-mile and 45-mile coastal routes, and for more experienced riders, a 100-mile inland route. “We couldn’t think of a better way to ring in 20 years of Sea Otter than the addition of a Gran Fondo,” Yohannan said. “It promises to be a great opportunity for recreational cyclists to get out and ride with friends, see all that the Monterey Peninsula has to offer, and enjoy the terrific festival experience of Sea Otter.”
Recreational cyclists will also have the opportunity to go on a mountain bike tour this year. Distances of 10 and 20 miles cater to different fitness levels, and will take riders on a portion of Sea Otter’s XC course.
Looking ahead at the festival’s future, Yohannan envisions steady growth. “I’d like to continue to see Sea Otter as a gathering place for cyclists and those who loving cycling to come from around the world to kick off the cycling season with the focus on the consumer,” he said.
Click on above link for Sea Otter PDF Newsletter Day 1.