Late last month, our Chief Cowbell Ringer, Andrew Yee, warmed up his legs for cyclocross season by entering the Lost and Found race at Lake Davis, California. At the end of this grueling gravel grinder, he caught up with second place finisher, Brent Prenzlow, and snapped some photos of his gravel bike, which really was his cyclocross race bike with a fresh coat of dust. [See other Lost and Found bikes: Ron Shevock’s sixth-place Felt F1X singlespeed build and Jesse Reeves’ Custom Titanium Triton Adventure Bike.]
Cyclists and manufacturers may debate the differences between cyclocross bikes and gravel bikes until the end of time, and Prenzlow’s Focus Mares is proof that a cyclocross bike can be a fine tool at a gravel race. There’s also plenty of evidence that the new crop of gravel bikes are reincarnations of 80′s-era road bikes with better brakes and more tire clearance.
Ignoring the debate over the definition of a gravel bike, with the exception of a few differences in component selection and color scheme, readers might notice Prenzlow’s Focus Mares CX setup is remarkably similar to Jeremy Powers’ National Championship-winning bike from the 2014 Cyclocross Nationals in Boulder, Colorado.
At the Lost and Found gravel race, Prenzlow vaulted into second place behind Jared Kessler during the final climb that saw one of his opponents flat and another lose the fight in his legs. For cyclocross racing, and kept constant for the Lost and Found ride, Prenzlow modified his 10-speed SRAM Red drivetrain with an interesting selection of 44/34 WickWerks chainrings, which are a few teeth shy of the 46/36 crankset that comes stock on most off-the-shelf cyclocross bikes.
For the rocky, high elevation Lost and Found ride, Prenzlow made some risky choices with his tire selection as he opted for tubular wheels instead of the more popular setup—tubeless clinchers. Riding without even a spare tubular, Prenzlow wasn’t planning to flat and be forced to walk out of the remote country. When asked about his decision, he told us that the determining factor was that he didn’t own a good clincher wheelset, and his tubular wheels, a Zipp 303 in the front and Silk 3800 in the rear, simply provided less rotating mass, something important to him as he was racing for the win.
While he anticipates the gravel tires arriving soon from Challenge, his Focus was equipped with a tubular selection that should be familiar to those who race cyclocross in the drier areas of the country. His Silk 3800 in the rear sported the Challenge Grifo XS, which has a file-tread center surrounded on both sides with a slightly more aggressive tread. Challenge’s Chicane, first used by Helen Wyman in Cyclocross Worlds back in 2013, was Prenzlow’s choice for the front tire.
Prenzlow felt comfortable with the rewards of tubulars over their risks. Even at the common 40 psi pressure of gravel grinding, Brent lauded the supple feel of his Challenge tires, which came in handy during the Lost and Found. Unlike other gravel events with well manicured roads, the high elevation at the Lost and Found included weathered pathways where Prenzlow discovered his handling skills being put to work.
While bicycle companies have been quick to respond to the growing interest in gravel grinders with gravel-specific endurance bikes, Prenzlow’s great finish is testimonial for the versatility of traditional cyclocross bikes and geometry. With his current set up, he would only need to remove bottle cages and seat bags and he could head right to a cyclocross course.
See our full photo gallery below, and stay tuned for more gravel bikes, racing and adventures in our new gravel section on cxmagazine.com.