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

Women racers call for improved gender equality at the Sea Otter Classic

The Fuego mtb race at the Sea Otter Classic
(Image credit: Robert DeBerry / Sea Otter Classic)

The Sea Otter Classic in Monterey, California, is the biggest cycling gathering in North America drawing some 74,000 people from all over the world to the Leguna Seca Raceway venue.

Part industry show, part racing festival, the four-day event hosts thousands of athletes as they compete in some 300 pro and amateur events, including the first round of the Life Time Grand Prix off-road series

Held since 1991, just about every bike racing discipline is on offer, including gravel, cross country, downhill, dual slalom, short track racing, circuit, criterium, and road racing — all held in high regard.

But, in a recent petition on Change.org, female bike racers claim that in the gravel and xc mountain bike events, “Sea Otter's high standards are not upheld.”

With exception of the pro event, every women’s age category was started behind the men’s, often of lower categories.

“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,” states racer Hayley Yoslov of the Branson Mountain Bike Team. 

“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.” 

With the petition, the women are presenting the organizers of the Sea Otter Classic with two potential solutions. 

One, to sort riders by their category in addition to gender and age. Or two, start the men and women's categories at significant larger intervals to reduce passing issues.

"We urge the Sea Otter Team to create a more equal system of categories and start times that give athletes of any gender the opportunity for a fair race," Yoslov states.

Find the petition here. 

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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. She's now been a cycling journalist for 11 years.