The Sea Otter Classic Dual Slalom is many things. It is the “Unofficial Dual Slalom World Championships”, it is unpredictable, it is a party; it is both a rider and fan favorite and a mix of new school and old. It’s racing in one of its’ finest and most exciting forms, and in racing, anything can happen.
Saturday afternoon’s at the Otter can cement the legendary status of some, and catapult other unknown faces into the spotlight. Yeti Fox Factory Team's Cody Kelley fits into the latter category—while the world now knows and loves his signature style and hair, he was a virtual unknown when he won here as a teenager in 2014. Turquoise factory rides, EWS results, and #manimonday’s followed, but this is where it all started.
We had the pleasure of following Cody through this years’ Slalom event and got a window into the world of one of mountain biking’s fastest gated racers as he sought to reclaim his title in one of the most electric races on the calendar.
Morning practice—just seven hours before the gate drops on finals—is the first time pros put tires to track. The 2017 course had some major changes compared to tracks of the past, and every lap counted as racers tried to get up to speed before qualifying. With lots of the track being either new or quite tight, there was lots of line scoping and discussion among racers. Cody and Joey Foresta are like brothers. With slalom podiums for both in their teenage years, we'd like to know what's in that Utah water. Qualifying. The first time the clocks come out; a timed run on each course to set the bracket for the big show. ...3rd spot in qualifying for Mr. Kelley.
When results went up, Cody was sitting in third—a great spot for someone who felt like he had faster runs in him. Relaxed and modest about the riding that slotted him that high in the order, Cody had a few hours to go eat and chill before finals.A top pro, enjoying the same culinary experience as his fans at Sea Otter. One of the amazing things about this sport.
With a childhood spent racing BMX across the country, family is a huge part of racing for Cody. As amazing as having a professional mechanic and team crew around you all the time can be, there’s a certain kind of support that only Mom can give. While his international race schedule means his family makes it to fewer races these days, Cody was stoked to have his original race support crew around this weekend.Slalom is a full day of explosive riding, and staying fueled is key. More carbs and protein before heading back up the hill.
The crowd was lined up deep along the fences as the first racers slotted into the gate. Slalom is the marquee show at Sea Otter, and spectators enjoy an event that is the festivals’ biggest party and at the same time some of the most test and unpredictable racing on two wheels. Wind and dark clouds arrived in the afternoon and gave this slalom an extra dramatic feel—and the racing would meet the mood.Round of 32, Run 1. An impressive display of positivity and showmanship after a climactic mistake from one of the race favorites.
After staying tight on the slower course during the first run, Cody just needed a smooth run and a small win to move on. But racing is unpredictable, and dual slalom is some of the most uncertain racing out there. After a small mistake up top during his second run, Cody was pushing and went down in a berm mid-course. Though his day was done, Cody’s head was down for only a second before he was back on the bike and styling the rest of the course for the fans.
“That’s racing”, said Cody at the bottom. He was a little bummed, but was pretty quickly flashing big smiles and chatting with fans. Then he was off to watch his buddies race and see Mitch Ropelato, another one of Cody's childhood friends, take the win. There really must be something in that Utah water.
Thanks to Cody Kelley of the Yeti Fox Factory Team.
Words and photos by Satchel Cronk.