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April 17, 2005

Santa Cruz County Sentinel


MONTEREY—The road and mountain bike race action shifted into high gear Saturday at the 15th annual Sea Otter Classic.

Under sunny skies, thousands of spectators and athletes packed Laguna Seca Recreation Area to catch the day’s featured events: the short track mountain bike racing, the 100-mile road race, the downhill dual slalom finals and the dirt jumping semifinals.

Also, 700 non-competitive cyclists set off at a relaxed pace for the 10- or 20-mile Mountain Bike Fun Ride that wound through the hills dotted with purple, yellow and red wildflowers.

The nation’s biggest four-day bicycle festival attracts recreational and competitive road and mountain bike cyclists and is recognized as the major opening event of the cycling season.

About 200 Santa Cruz athletes are participating in competitive events while scores of county residents are attending to cheer friends. The event concludes today.

“The mountain bike short track is my absolute favorite event because of all the people screaming at you during a massive effort. The hometown crowds are the best,” said Santa Cruz resident Sarah Kerlin, prior to tackling seven laps of a punishing course that included steep climbs, tight turns and lots of bumps.

A professional mountain biker, Kerlin, 30, is competing in the four-stage mountain bike stage race.

John Brown, owner of Family Cycling bike shop in Capitola, cheered for Kerlin from the sidelines. “It is an intense effort in a short time period,” said Brown of the short track race.

Former Santa Cruz residents Amanda Butler, 34, and her boyfriend, Sven Sturm, 36, traveled from Vancouver, Canada, to compete in the pro mountain bike stage race. “I feel sick,” said Butler, shortly after crossing the short track finish line with a big smile on her face. “It was so fast. My adrenaline was going before I even left the start line because I was so nervous.”

She was happy she completed the race, placing close to the end in a field that included former mountain bike Olympians and national champions.

“I achieved my goal,” she said.

Saturday’s 100-mile road race marked the conclusion of the professional stage race that was open to only elite men and women cyclists. That distinguished field included members of the Santa Cruz women’s team, Velo Bella, as well as former local resident and star cyclist Ben Jacques-Maynes.

Winding through the Monterey Peninsula, the grueling race was the final event of the three-day stage race, which began Thursday.

“It was exhilarating,” said Jill McLauglin, 27, who rides for the Velo Bella team. “It was windy, hilly and beautiful,” she said of the course that climbed through Carmel Valley. “I am really happy to race in such a beautiful area.”

Saturday at Sea Otter also featured the popular dirt jumping contest, where Cameron McCaul, Jamie Goldman and Greg Watts were invited to compete, and the finals in the downhill dual slalom, where athletes charge downhill side by side on the steep and twisted dirt course.

Dozens of local will residents will compete in today’s cross country mountain bike race. Sea Otter today also promises dramatic battles in the finals of three mountain bike races: the mountain cross (four riders racing simultaneously downhill), downhill, and the elite mountain bike stage race (which concludes with the cross-country race).

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