Sea Otter Classic 2023 Fuego, La Gravilla, et al

I’m racing La Gravilla this year, but have many friends doing Fuego XL, so I decided to take advantage of this Sunny Weekend in Northern California to do a pre-ride of the NEW Fuego course with a buddy of mine. Here’s my pre-ride take-a-ways.

Overlap between Fuego and Gravilla is considerable, with Fuego having more new sections, so we did a single lap of Fuego.
Really great course. I haven’t had my Scalpel for a year yet, but the more I get it dialed in, the faster I can go and the more fun I have. Fort Ord is a great place to do it.

What to expect on the Fuego course in four weeks.

  1. It’s still going to have lots of wet and goopy parts. I think there was only one puddle/crossing that was so deep it stopped my momentum. The rest just required one to keep a good spin going until the other side. Lots of places where there is water running right down the middle of the trail. That’s the line you want to take, because either side of that is mud.
  2. Second part of the course has a LOT of deep speed sucking sand washes. Like a dozen at least. There’s one stretch about mile 25 where you take a hard left off of a fire road descent BOOM 200m sand wash right into a climb.
  3. Ruts on longer descents and climbs going parallel with the trail. There was one descent like that where there was a single line. The rest of the drop is just crap and it’s going to freak less experienced riders out. The rutted climbs are going to be a handful. as they do have a couple of lines, but you’re gonna need to keep momentum as some of them are steep enough that a bump you don’t have enough to keep rolling over, you’re not going to be able to just remount in the middle of that particular freakshow.
  4. Paved and fire road climbs/descents abound. There are a couple that have hard turns off into single track so managing the transition is going to be critical as momentum is still the name of the game.
  5. Passing opportunities on singletrack = slim to none. You do it, it’s going to be a ballsy move.
  6. The last 2.7 mile climb is going to be the test. about the first half of it is a sand wash riddled single track climb, that will drop you on to the same final fire road climb as last year, but the fire road is ultra rutted with a couple sections that have a single line because the road is best described as gone with ruts that are about 5 feet deep. So that’s lovely.

Two laps is going to be a test even for the Pros/Lifetime racers.


I imagine when they get out there to mark the course there will certainly be some reroutes due to mud, insafe ruts, and various other issues. At least they are running the gravel race and mtb race on different days this year…last was a shit show with the mtb guys catching the gravel racers…I must have lost 10 minutes due to gravel guts being over their heads on downhill sections.

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There were about 3 places on the Fuego route where it said turn and there was either no trail AT ALL or the area was closed for good reason.

Fort Ord being what it is, in some places there aren’t many reroutes available. There was a high school XCC racing going on that over lapped the course. We went through in the gaps, but it was a perfect example of the course marshall asking us it go around knowing full well that there was no detour to be had. It was easy enough to stay out of the way of racers.

Should be a better experience for all classes on race day this year.

To add on some thoughts:

XL course is good… could be better. I will say they got the first 11 miles right but then starts skipping some of the best trails in the park for cement road. Why ride down on Jacks road instead of descending Red Rocks? Why then go up Jacks instead of going up and over 49 to 82? (Only thing I can think of they are using it for enduro?)

Not sure why but they have you ride up 18 (it is a full on stream right now and will be for a long time) then 17 rather than take you up Itchy McScratchy → 51 ->52 → 23 → 16 → 56 to machine gun.

One of the worst parts is they have you going up 69. It’s a rutted beach. I guess if you like a mile of off & on uphill sand you’ll enjoy the challenge. They should have gone up Watkins Gate to Watkins Spur then cut over on 70 & up 92 and Mars hill. But again…trail choice… as they choose road and sand over some of the best xc singletrack out on the north side of the park. I will say this… once the course gets on craters (one of my favorites) it is back on track to near perfect. (Side comment, it would be nice if they make the most epic course possible and just stick with it).

As mentioned it is a tough course. I don’t think anyone will hit the sub 3 hour mark for the gold corral at Leadville.

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I’ve been racing Sea Otter since 2013 (minus 20 & 21). I have often wondered if the guy who designs the courses even goes out to look at it or if he does it from his desk. There is that uphill sand hike a bike section way out on the eastern end of fort ord that comes to mind…we have had to run up it and ride down with multiple guys going OTB. Just last year when they routed everyone into the sand 100 yards from the start when they could have used the race track. Just saying I have seen some stupid sections over the years.

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Yeah not sure what the course designer is thinking. There were a hand full of turns to trails that just weren’t there for whatever reason.

Maybe @Jolyzara can drop the designer a very discreet line and get things sorted for '24.

Was just looking at my strava from last year and this years course is basically the same as last year.

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For the short course… yes. For the XL there is an additional loop that includes trail 69 west (the sandy uphill known as “the beach”) out to eucalyptus.

Yep and this added section SUuuuuuuuCKS so much. It was tough just going through once, it’s going to be a real test with 50 miles in the legs. So glad I don’t have to do this for the Gravel race.

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We have gone up and down that in past XC races…it sucks either way. No way you can ride up it.

Well I have bad news for XL racers. you’re riding up it. Come down the fire road at speed take a hard left and BOOM! into the sand. Have a great race!

Its a run up for sure.

I road the whole thing. It’s sandy at the bottom, but all the rain has made it ridable when it starts to pitch up.

Thanks for all the info here! Would you say that the course is still suited for a fast XC tire (Aspen, Race King, Fast Trak/Renegade, etc.), or do the likely conditions warrant something else?

Well I ran the Ray/Ralf combo and they were great. there are lots of sand washes and it’s still going to have a fair number of mud crossings too. I reconsidered running Thunder Burts, that won’t happen.

I’m doing the gravel race. I will NOT be running GK SS or SK. I’m waffling between WTB Nanos and Maxxis Ramblers. I can get a wider Rambler to fit on my bike, but Nanos have better lug even if they are a tad bit narrower.

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Kinda tough to describe the trail conditions right now because it’s such a mixed bag (and will likely change by race day anyways). Vernal pools are full and overflowing onto the trails in some places (trail 18, 57, 56, etc). Other places it is straight up hero dirt. Expect LOTS of ruts and sand (because, well, that’s Fort Ord) but if we get a break in the rain the trails could very well be the best you’ll ever see out here. If we get hit by a few more atmospheric rivers expect a muddy mess.


This was my bike after one lap.

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Yeah, yesterday I hit a mud pit so deep half my bike was submerged (up to the bottom of my rotors). Going to be fun!

Looks like my bike after a TBF race at Folsom lake last weekend.

Did another pre-ride, this time of the La Gravilla course. More fire road/gravel than the XC and XL courses, but still just as much climbing.

Overall conditions are much drier with the exception of low points that are all gonna still have mud and puddles even two weeks from now.

I’m not convinced that a drop bar bike is the best choice for the gravel course. I may kit up my XC bike for it instead. I’d like to finish under my own power rather than get flown out in a helicopter after going over the bars because my drop bar handling skills aren’t as good as my XC skills.