Santa Cruz Sentinel
By Karen Kefauver
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A sure sign of spring is the migration of thousands of cyclists to Monterey for the 23rd annual Sea Otter Classic, one of the world's largest bicycling festivals. The Laguna Seca Recreation Area and surrounding Fort Ord public lands will be packed with an estimated 50,000 visitors who will be watching races through Sunday, browsing the expo area and racing or recreationally riding road and mountain bikes.
For the first time, Sea Otter will offer night-time events with two free rides this year: a mountain bike ride and a road bike ride.
Joe Fabris will be among the hundreds of locals participating in Sea Otter Classic. Although he's attended the event for the past decade, Fabris hopes to accomplish something unique this year. He's planning to compete in two races in different disciplines on the same day.
"Most people don't have the chance to do a gravity and a road race in the same weekend, much less the same day," Fabris said. "I was compelled by the fact they had my age group and the novelty of trying to do both races in the day."
Before reporting to his road circuit masters race, the 55-year-old will first put on full-body armor, slip on heavy gloves and don a full face helmet to bomb downhill as fast as he can against an opponent on the steep, twisting track.
It's called the dual slalom, and it's one of Sea Otter's most popular spectator events. The riders take two runs together, switching tracks on the second run. Whoever has the lowest combined time of the two runs will proceed to the finals.
"It's the most fun per minute. You start in the gate and go downhill in a race that lasts about 40 seconds," said Fabris, who has raced dual slalom before.
"It's a ton of fun; adrenaline is high," he added. "It's pretty cool that way. The Sea Otter course is fun to do."
Fabris is excited by the challenge and will have his lightweight racing bike and gear ready to go for his debut on the circuit race. Competing with riders his own age could be a refreshing change for Fabris, who is accustomed to being one of the older racers in the downhill scene.
A Santa Cruz County resident, Fabris trains at the Aptos pump track and with his Santa Rosa-based road team, the Fightin' Bobas, who bill themselves as "a bunch of old, over-the-hill dudes who occasionally like to go out and race their bikes."
At the Santa Cruz Mountain Bike Festival in Aptos last weekend, Fabris said he got "sympathy cheers" as he raced the pump track events with 17-year-olds.
"I'm old and slow and people can't believe I'm out there," said Fabris, who is modest about his two prior Sea Otter podium finishes, which includes a second-place finish last year.
"He's very bold to do it all while everyone is watching," said Lori Fabris of her husband's downhill race, which is staged on the side of the mountain overlooking the festival grounds. "His dual slalom course is not like the cross country mountain bike course where you are hidden in the trees. In Joe's event, if you make a mistake, everyone likes to watch."
Lori Fabris had considered entering the cross country mountain bike race, which she had done before, but decided to skip the race.
"It's a hard course and I don't feel at my fittest," she said.
That challenging cross country course is Sea Otter's most popular event. But Ryan Simonovich, 16, is opting instead to race downhill in a harder division than when he made his debut at Sea Otter last year. The Scotts Valley High sophomore and member of the Santa Cruz Mountain Cycling Team will race the Category 2 junior downhill race on Saturday.
"I'm really excited but have to see who's there and how I compare to the rest of the field," Simonovich said when asked about his expectations for the race. He also noted his dad, Steve Simonovich, will race the cross country course on Sunday. When they are not racing, both father and son plan to watch other races and visit vendors.
"It's a fun thing if you are into bikes at all and I love bikes," Lori Fabris said. "There are a lot of things to watch in the jumping area, skills areas, kids' activities. I like to wander around and look at all the bikes, all the major manufacturers are there."
Santa Cruz Bicycles is one of the many local bike companies that will participate and Sean Bell, 14, of Lake Forest, is happy about the opportunity to visit with his sponsors. Bell, an independent rider, earned second place at his first Sea Otter race last year and will compete again this year in cross country, as well as trying his first road race.
"Last year was my first time at Sea Otter," Bell said. "It was really fun and one of my favorite races I've ever done. I got to meet new friends from different states."
"Now Sea Otter is on our calendar," said Bell's father, Mike, who plans to take time off work and drive to the festival at 4 a.m. "We're excited and I'm very proud of Sean. You have to dig deep when those races get tough. As a parent, you want your kids to have some goals and keep them out of mischief. This is a great way for him and other kids to be having adventures."
IF YOU GO
WHAT: Sea Otter Classic -- A Celebration of Cycling
WHEN: April 18-21
WHERE: Laguna Seca Recreation Area, Monterey
COST: Festival admission is free to children ages 12 and under, and free to all registered athletes. All others must purchase FESTIVAL PASSES: $12; for a One-Day Pass.