Sea Otter organizers change race start times after student project causes a stir

Race organizers to amend start times to decrease passing issues

Hayley Yoslov
(Image credit: Hayley Yoslov)

Hayley Yoslov's done it.

Just weeks after she launched a petition, calling on the organizers of the Sea Otter Classic to amend their race start times, the organizers of the Fuego XC mountain bike race reached out to Cycling Weekly to inform us that changes will be made at the 2023 event. 

Yoslov is a high school senior and off-road racer.  When asked to complete a social justice project at school, Yoslov decided to look into the social and clinical gender gap in sports, and found that she didn’t have to look very far. 

In April, she raced the Fuego 40 mountain bike race at North America's biggest cycling festival, the Sea Otter Classic in Monterey, California.

Part industry show, part racing festival, the four-day event hosts thousands of athletes as they compete in some 300 pro and amateur events.

Racing in her age category, Yoslov was quickly catching the men's category in front of her and spent the majority of the race trying to pass slower riders from other categories instead of being able to race her own race.

"This is massively disruptive for female athletes' races because we are forced to deal with passing hundreds of men throughout the entire course, most of which is single track,” Yoslov commented.

“It ruins the racing experience, and shifts the challenge of the race from a physical challenge to simply navigating other racers. There is absolutely no reason why capable young women should be starting behind 70-year-old men.” 

In talking to other women racers, Yoslov learned this experience was far from unique to her. Together with her teacher, she started crunching some numbers. Looking at the start and completion times, number of riders, etc, her data-processing came up with some powerful figures. 

Looking purely at the Fuego 40 XC race at the 2022 Sea Otter Classic, the data showed that on average, a female racer aged 17 to 29 had to pass 78 men as she made her way through the course. The leaders in these races had to pass a staggering 218 riders that were not in their own field. 

Those numbers do not include repeated passes, those who did not finish the race or passing competitors from within their own field. 

 Her data also revealed several simple solutions.

“If the two fields had been separated by one additional hour, a female racer would've passed, on average, only 14 male racers, which is a 82% decrease,” Yoslov told Cycling Weekly.

“We [also] found that if the men’s and women's category start times had been, the average male racer aged 15-29 would’ve passed, on average, 19 women throughout the course — a 75% decrease from what women faced— with the leaders passing up to approximately 43 women.”

With her petition — today 2,118 signatures strong— Yoslov called for the implementation of either of the following data-driven solutions:

  • Sort riders by ability (i.e: Cat 1, 2, 3, etc.) in addition to gender and age
  • Sort existing categories by the median course completion times per category from this year's event. 
  • Start men's and women's categories at much larger intervals 
  • Switch start times according to gender. 

Yoslov took her findings and petition to the Sea Otter Classic race organizers, who initially pointed out their tight time and venue constraints.

Today, however, we were informed that Yoslov's work inspired the following changes at the 2023 Fuego Cross Country event:

- Elite Men and Elite Women will now start first, followed by all remaining Women's categories.

· Following a 95-minute gap, all remaining Men's categories will start. 

While there will still be some overlap between racers from different disciplines, the race organizers anticipate this to occur only during the last five miles of the course, which takes place predominantly on a fire road climb with ample space for passing.

"It’s important to us that we listen to feedback from the community and pivot where it makes sense for the athlete experience," Kimo Seymour, President of Life Time, told Cycling Weekly.

"We are looking at potential changes to other events throughout the weekend as well, to ensure we are providing the best athlete experience possible."

Any other changes, if made, will be announced closer to the event date in April 2023.

"I think the changes are going to be a massive help and eliminate the inequality that women have faced. I really liked that they not only put women first, but also separated men and women by a large amount of time, so the leading male riders aren't held back on single track either," Yoslov responded upon receiving word.

"I also really appreciate their commitment to evaluating other races for change."

Read more:

- “There is absolutely no reason why capable young women should be starting behind 70-year-old men” 

- Imagine having to pass 218 riders from different fields in order to contest your own race

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Anne-Marije Rook
North American Editor

Cycling Weekly's North American Editor, Anne-Marije Rook is old school. She holds a degree in journalism and started out as a newspaper reporter — in print! She can even be seen bringing a pen and notepad to the press conference.

Originally from The Netherlands, she grew up a bike commuter and didn't find bike racing until her early twenties when living in Seattle, Washington. Strengthened by the many miles spent darting around Seattle's hilly streets on a steel single speed, Rook's progression in the sport was a quick one. As she competed at the elite level, her journalism career followed, and soon she became a full-time cycling journalist.