Riders were bundled in jackets and leg warmers for the 6:30 a.m. pre-sunrise start to the Gran Fondo Giro d’Italia Sea Otter Classic in Monterey, CA. (Photos: CyclingWEST)
MONTEREY, CA - About 1,000 cyclists rode the Gran Fondo Giro d’Italia Sea Otter Classic Saturday over one of two courses that displayed the Monterey Peninsula’s world famous coastal scenery or the challenging and scenic hills east of the coast. CyclingWEST is here and rode and photographed both courses.
The Carmel Course riders encounter their first taste of Monterey terrain before the one-mark mark.
Both courses started and finished at the Mazda Laguna Seca Raceway as part of the four-day Volkswagen Sea Otter Classic Powered by SRAM. This is the first year the event’s granfondo event was held under the Gran Fondo Giro d’Italia brand.
The Carmel Valley Route was officially 96 miles (my Garmin measured 97.5 miles/156 km) with 6,200 feet of elevation gain.
The first 50 miles ran to the south-east through the Salinas Valley, an agricultural region made famous by novelist John Steinbeck. Roads here were mostly flat with a handful of rollers.
After 50 miles, riders turned north-west on Arroyo Seco Road then north-east on East Carmel Valley Road north and climbed 10 miles up to Cahoon Summit through twisty and well-maintained roads offering views of the surrounding hills with green and treed pastures.
This was the highlight of the course for CyclingWEST and is obviously a popular area for local cyclists. The road was in great condition for the climb, but a little rough for parts of the long and gradual descent, some of it through valleys shaded from the sun, making potholes tricky to spot.
The long and scenic grind up to Cahoon Summit.
Then came the Laureles Grade, a six-mile section featuring two 10% climbs and fast descents with busy traffic. A stop light at the bottom allowed riders to collect into pelotons for the final few miles along the busy Salinas Highway with a good cycling shoulder. Riders who flirted with the traffic lane were punished by an unpleasant rumble strip.
Finally, riders turned east up the South Boundary road to Laguna Seca. The road has a series of five steep steps up to the finish, made tricky for riders by a steady stream of traffic coming and going to the event venue. This same road was also the finish stretch for riders returning from their 49-mile Coastal Event. A few riders in both the Carmel and Coastal event were walking up the shoulder, further adding to congestion.
Once at the raceway, riders were marshaled to the finish line by skilled and enthusiastic volunteers.
The 49-mile Coastal Route went out to the Monterey Bay shoreline and back to Laguna Seca. Part of the course used the popular Monterey Bay Coast Trail. Riders went through Marina, Sand City, Monterey and Pacific Grove. Turnaround was at the Pebble Beach gate, then back home along the same route. The scenery was breathtaking, as expected in this world famous venue.
This was a first-class event. Organization was great, volunteers knowledgable and enthusiastic. The venue was nothing short of exciting: Starting on the Laguna Seca track was a rush. The Italian as well as the United States’ national anthem was a nice touch.
Both courses were also great. Challenging and scenic. Riders stopping to take photos were a common sight on both the Carmel and Coastal routes. Organizers gave riders a clear option of difficult or relaxed.
The early morning start was obviously a necessity caused by this 1,000-rider event needing to mesh with the dozens of professional and amateur racing events on the Sea Otter schedule. Nevertheless, riders who couldn’t find their way in the dark to the parking lot by about 5:30 a.m. were hard pressed to line up at 6 a.m. and start the ride at 6:30. Many riders were late, although it was clear that organizers did their best to work within their mandate. Example: The complicated route from the parking lot to the starting line was lined with blue lights. Whoever came up with this idea (plus the workers who set up the lights) get a hearty slap on the back.
Furthermore, it was not simple to get to the parking lot in the dark. The race bible explained the correct route from Monterey to the event parking lot, but there were no signs or arrows to help riders find the right roads in the dark. Several riders told us they couldn’t decipher the race bible’s directions to the correct parking lot.
As I said earlier, traffic up the final stretch to the finish for both the Carmel and Coastal event riders was busy. The congestion forced some riders to walk or weave around cars.
The Carmel route is the kind of bike ride to which you want to return. Scenic, difficult. It certainly meets our challenge test for an event calling itself a granfondo. However, the roads were not perfect and riders should be cautioned not to set out on this ride without spare tubes. This is a caution that should be heeded by entrants of nearly all granfondo and century events: Bike manufacturers are turning out bikes for granfondo riders with exactly these kinds of courses in mind.
The Coastal route was postcard heaven. Perfect for cyclists looking to max out on scenery. Nevertheless, these riders still needed to return back to Laguna Seca over the final steep stretch, so fitness is definitely a necessary prerequisite for this course. Elevation gain overall is 2,900 feet (882 metres).
Rider support for this event was terrific, in our view. Aid stations were ample, well-stocked and run by helpful volunteers. Motorcycle police patrolled the course. On one of the several occasions when I pulled over to take photos, a mechanical support vehicle pulled over to ask if I needed help. Another time, a water/sag vehicle asked me if I needed water. (Furthermore, riders also asked me if I needed any help.) Nevertheless, mech support can’t be everywhere at once. I did encounter a handful riders at various locations replacing tubes without support, but none that said they were having any problems they couldn’t handle.
Above, Coastal Route riders used part of the walking/biking path along the shoreline. Below, it was hard keeping attention on the pathway and pedestrians while also gawking at this amazing scenery.
A lone rider from the Carmel Valley event crosses the finish line at Laguna Seca.
As if a great bike wasn’t enough of a reward, each finisher received a medal.
Hungry and parched riders were greeted with pasta, beer and wine at the post-event meal. The cookies, brownies and cheese cake were also popular.
More photos tomorrow.