In pouring rain, Brandon “Big Red” Gritters (Rock n’ Road) shoots to an early Men’s A lead. © Phil Beckman

In pouring rain, Brandon “Big Red” Gritters (Rock n’ Road) shoots to an early Men’s A lead. © Phil Beckman

by Phil Beckman/PB Creative

ORANGE, CALIFORNIA — You know it’s a challenging course when a two-time national cyclocross champion like Ryan Trebon describes it as “pretty hard.”

Round 17 of the 2012-13 SoCalCross Prestige Series took place at a new venue, the Baja Beach Club at the eastern end of Irvine Lake. The location had a lot to offer in terms of course layout, and designer Jeff Herring made full use of it all. Add in a couple of days of rain showers leading up to “Cross Into 2013” and this, the penultimate race of the season, was declared by most to be the toughest of the year.One feature in particular proved to be decisive: a long, wheel-sucking, soul-crushing climb on a surface that could best be described as creamed spinach. It was slicker than deer guts on a doorknob from the first moment tire prints were made. Just walking on this gorilla snot was like taking a sobriety test.

And then the rains came.

An unexpected, cold thunderstorm rolled in from the north early in the afternoon, just as the elite Women’s A class completed their first lap. The already insolent 2.5km circuit, with its off-camber turns, numerous deep sand sections and that gruesome hill, got progressively nastier to man and machine from that point on.

Hannah Rae Finchamp (Cynergy Cycles) was able to keep her white kit relatively clean by jetting out to a quick lead in Women’s A. Amanda Schaper (Ritte CX Team) tried to hold Finchamp’s wheel but cartwheeled in the fast beach volleyball court turned sand pit and that was all Finchamp needed, other than to stay on two wheels.

Finchamp’s closest competitor was the surprising Amanda Nauman (Felt), riding in her first cyclocross race. Nauman is a 23-year-old triathlete who competed for Team USA at an ITU World Championship event in New Zealand this past October. She ended Cross Into 2013 as second-best female to fellow triathlete Finchamp, while riding in the B class. “I just came here today to watch, but decided to slam the seat down on one of Dave Sheek’s extra bikes and was like, ‘I’ll try it, whatever.’ It was fun,” said Nauman.

Finchamp was suitably impressed with the unfamiliar rider: “She was solid. She definitely gave me a run for my money. I kept looking over my shoulder the whole race.

It was good fun. It got a little slippery towards the end, but I think that’s the art of ‘cross, being able to just go with the elements.”

Schaper picked herself up for second in Women’s A, followed by sisters Maddy and McKenzie Melcher (The TEAM SoCalCross).

A dramatic clap of thunder signaled the call to staging for the remaining races — the Single Speeds and Men’s A — all lumped into one due to the rapidly deteriorating conditions.

Brandon Gritters (Rock n’ Road) grabbed the Men’s A holeshot and a few seconds’ gap on lap one, but it wasn’t long before Ryan Trebon (Cannondale/ — visiting SoCal from his native Oregon for some “fair weather” training — bridged up. Then Gritters went down and Trebon rolled by, never to be seen again by the rest of the 16-rider field.

As the liquid sunshine intensified, Gritters regrouped and spent the majority of the remaining six laps in the company of John Bailey (Bailey Bikes) and Canadian Aroussen Laflamme (Xprezo-Borsao). After a bike change, “Big Red” drilled it on the climb with two to go to secure second place ahead of Laflamme, who had likewise gotten away from Bailey in the closing moments. Dave Sheek (SDG/Felt/IRT) enjoyed his best Men’s A race of the season to secure fifth place on the podium.

Trebon had made it look easy, as you would expect from a competitor of his stature. “It was cold, a little bit wet, but I felt good, riding around having fun. You’ve got to like days like these if you want to race ‘cross. The course was pretty hard with that uphill slog and it was getting greasy in some sections. It was challenging enough to let me practice my skills a little bit before Nationals in two weeks and then Worlds,” he concluded.

For full results and more, visit the SoCalCross Prestige Series website.