by Philip Beckman
POMONA, Calif. – An axe chopping through a bedroom door; spiked fingers slowly rising from a fetid swamp; crimson liquid circling a bathtub drain; fangs sinking into young, quivering neck flesh; an alien baby bursting from a writhing astronaut; a chainsaw blade spewing bits of … ahem. Sorry, getting a little carried away with the season.
But if you want to see something really scary, watch the Gritters brothers grab the holeshot in any Elite Men’s A cyclocross race. Like the creak of a cellar door at midnight, it usually means doom for the rest of the field.
This horror show played twice at the Spooky Kross Weekend. As the script was apparently written, Kyle Gritters blasted out to an early lead with older brother and Blackstar/Rock ‘n’ Road teammate Brandon Gritters on his wheel. These two set a blistering pace that shreded the pack and scared everyone from even trying to join them.
Nobody could, during Spooky Kross, presented by Jensen USA, or at Sunday’s Krosstoberfest by SPY and Voler. Rounds five and six of the 2013-14 SoCalCross Prestige Series at the Fairplex in Pomona were like a Tarantino flick: stylishly and ruthless. Both times Team Gritters mock-sprinted across the finish line wearing devilish grins and huge leads, with big brother and defending series champion Brandon Gritters being boosted to the top step of the podium.
Brennan Wodtli (Speedvagen), who traveled down from Bend, Oregon in a converted Brink’s Security truck filled with gold bikes and teammates, gave it a go during Spooky Kross but flatted at the beginning of the third lap. That was all the Gritters clan needed. Despite Brandon Gritters’ face-plant exit at the unique “pit of death” as well as a broken rear spoke, the Gritters boys completed the hour-long seven lap event with a 24 second lead.
Gareth Feldstein (Ritte CX) nipped Tucson, Arizona’s, Jason Tullous, in a cameo ride with Blackstar/Rock ‘n’ Road-for third, after Tullous suffered a thrown chain within sight of the finish. Wodtli recovered from his flat for fifth.
Less the 24 hours later it was the same story for the red-bearded brothers, and this time the sequel was even better than the original. What more can you say about a another side by side, soft-pedaling final pass over the timing wire with more than 46 seconds on third-placed Wodtli?
Jason Siegle (SDG/Felt) completed a come-from-way-behind ride for fourth, while Chris Jackson (Castex/Felt) rounded out a beer-guzzling podium.
Brandon Gritters surprised no one by stating afterward, “We had a plan from the beginning to get a good start and go really, really hard. As hard as we can, for the first two laps and then see how things settled out. It worked perfectly. We both got good starts.
“We race crits, where you race to the last corner, and that’s what starts are like here. There are a lot of areas in the first part of the course where you can’t pass; It’s one line. This course is suited for both of us. It’s really fast, kind of like a dirt crit. It’s not overly technical anywhere, so you could really just open up the gas.”
As Sir Walter Scott famously wrote, “Oh what a tangled web we weave, when first we practice to deceive.” At the beginning of the season Brandon Gritters stated that he would not defend his title. He had even booked a vacation to Mexico in the middle of the SoCalCross schedule. Now, Kyle Gritters revealed all, “We’ll figure out the points and make sure we can definitely win the overall. The key is to make the lead safe. Originally, at the start of the season, we weren’t putting pressure on the championship. But with this turn of events it’s like yeah, we might take advantage and try to win the series.”
A rider’s best ten finishes out of approximately 18 events are counted for final SoCalCross series standings, so the plan might stand.
The Elite Women’s A race during the Spooky Kross weekend was much more diverse. The previous round’s winner and national road “studette” Alexis Ryan (the TEAM SoCalCross) came out to support longtime friend and SoCalCross promoter Dorothy Wong. The 19-year-old outsprinted the race-long breakaway partners Laura Winberry (Speedvagen), Amanda Nauman (SDG/Felt) and, losing ground in the waning moments, Nicole Brandt (LaGrange/Michelob Ultra). Elicia Hildebrand (Trek CX) completed the podium.
“I knew I had to be out front and into that pit first because it’s a little sketchy on the first lap,” said Ryan. “Then I just kept going. I felt good but needed to rest so I let a couple of girls get in front of me. There was a group of four of us together for most of the race.
“Then on the last lap I attacked going into the barriers and led to the finish line. It was nice to be hurting, to have people to race with. Most of the time we’re all just separated and riding and doing [our] own thing. I like that it was dark; it made it exciting. You’re not quite sure about what’s under your tires; you could slip out really fast.”
Runner-up Winberry stated later, “I liked racing at night because it reminded me of playing soccer when I was a little kid. After a week in a car I didn’t think my legs were going to feel any good, but they did. The course here was very different. We’re not used to having what is like a dirt crit. It had a lot of road tactics, which was really cool and a mental challenge. The best part was that BMX track sort of section. I liked that. It was definitely worth the drive. I’m having a lot of fun with my team. Tomorrow I’m going for the win.”
And she did, making the four-lap race a nightmare for the rest. In the absence of Ryan, Winberry secured an early lead and went wire-to-wire for the victory by nearly half a minute over Sacramento, California’s Emily Kachorek (Ghetomoto/Voler/Vanderkitten). Nauman saved “SoCal” face with third, followed five seconds later by Brandt. Hildebrand, again, made a podium appearance in fifth.
Relative cyclocross newcomer Kachorek was bloodied by the hard clay several times over the weekend at the hands of others, but was satisfied with the experience. “It would have been nice to have had a clean race today,” she stated. “Both the crashes were right in front of me and I plowed into them. It’s a little disappointing, but that’s bike racing. It’s a good experience. I learned a lot about passing people. I had planned to be here in the hope it would be UCI sanctioned; unfortunately that fell though. But Dorothy does a phenomenal job with the races so I still wanted to come out and support her. I had heard it was a great race and a great venue, and it is awesome.”
The SoCalCross Prestige Series heads north for the next round of racing with the SLO Cross weekend, at San Luis Obispo’s El Chorro Regional Park. To stay fully informed of all SoCalCross activities, be sure to bookmark SoCalCross.org.
Spooky Kross Photo Gallery: