by Philip Beckman and Kenneth Hill
LONG BEACH, Calif. – The only thing that might stop Black Star Rock N’ Road reder Brandon Gritters this season is a banana daiquiri. The defending SoCalSeries Men’s Elite A champion captured two more victories during Long Beach CX Weekend, making it seven out of 11 events so far. He’s now on his way to Mexico for a family vacation.
The elder Gritters brother says he does not plan to race again until the last event on the schedule, Santa Cross, just before Christmas. Even though a rider’s best 10 results for the series are counted in the final standings, he already has enough points to kick back and sip a tall, cool one – or three.
Gritters’ ride on a perfect Saturday at El Dorado Park was as strong as Bacardi 151. On a very rough, grassy, twisty, dry, mostly flat 1.7-mile course, Gritters got out to a third place start behind holeshot artist, brother and teammate Kyle Gritters. Third place then became second when Kyle Gritters slid out and went down with a crunch, on a brief section of gravel-covered concrete near the end of the first lap. SoCal CX legend Brent Prenzlow (Celo Pacific/Focus) assumed the lead.
Just a lap later it was Brandon Gritters out front and pouring it on. Prenzlow was trying desperately to remain in his draft, but soon had something else to worry about as Kyle Gritters had regrouped, passed Jason Siegle (SDG/Felt p/b IRT) and was closing in. That was basically last call for Prenzlow.
Just as it’s written up in the team tactics handbook, Kyle Gritters sat on Prenzlow’s wheel for the next seven laps, then attacked with just a little over a lap to go in the nine-lap race. Prenzlow was reeling, and could only watch as the Gritters went 1-2 once again, with Brandon Gritters nearly half a minute in front. Siegle was a lonely fourth, with only teammate Anton Petrov nearby to keep him company.
Brandon Gritters stated afterward that he was just trying to avoid the hard feelings that had brewed during the previous race after the family’s teamwork had gotten a little too close for a competitor’s comfort. “I didn’t want any controversy this week,” Gritters said with a wry grin. “I felt really good on the flat, straight, bumpy stuff where it wasn’t much fun but it suits me really well. I got a little gap then, and just kept the gas on.”
Sunday was not quite as much of a party for Gritters, but he still went home with the cake. Kyle Gritters once again grabbed an early lead and once again took a first-lap soil sample, handing over the front of the race to Gareth Feldstein (Ritte CX), who was down from Bakersfield for the day. Lining out behind were Brandon Gritters, Prenzlow, Siegle and a re-righted Kyle Gritters.
Siegle was obviously feeling fresher on day two and charged into the lead on lap three, with Brandon Gritters in tow. Little bro Kyle Gritters was also on the move, getting past both Prenzlow and then Feldstein.
Siegle – winner of three races this season – managed to drop Brandon Gritters by mid-race, but Gritters fought back and then attacked when Siegle hit the turf with two to go. This was all that Gritters needed, and he was able to maintain a 15-second gap all the way to his final pass over the timing strip. Kyle Gritters finished his weekend all alone in third, while Prenzlow rolled in for fourth after catching and passing Feldstein in the waning moments.
Despite a couple of falls on Saturday, the first of which involved a nasty impact between her right shoulder and the large tree in the hairpin first turn, Nicole Brandt (LaGrange/Michelob Ultra) was a decisive winner of the small field in the Women’s Elite A race.
Defending champion Hannah Rae Finchamp (Luna Chix), just back from earning the overall amateur women’s crown at the XTERRA World Championship, was a contender but dropped off Brandt’s wheel with two to go in the five-lap show. A scrape with the same bit of concrete that claimed Kyle Gritters in the men’s race, not to mention a cross-country running race earlier in the day, sealed Finchamp’s fate.
As series points leader Brandt put it, “I caught Hannah Rae on a good day, for me. I’ve got to make the most of it when I can.”
Early race leader Christina Probert-Turner (The TEAM SoCalCross), Nancy James Klinger and series promoter Dorothy Wong (The TEAM SoCalCross) rounded out Saturday’s podium.
Finchamp returned the next day as competitive as ever, riding together with Brandt for the first two laps as they escaped the field. Then Finchamp rode away to win by half a minute. Saturday’s third place finisher, Probert-Turner, suffered a mechanical issue just after the start and had to abandon, leaving the podium to Maddie Melcher (The TEAM SoCalCross), Amanda Schaper (Ritte CX) and Robin Kaminsky (Black Sheep Squadron).
“After Saturday I was out for a little revenge so I gunned it from the beginning,” said Finchamp. “I was feeling much more like myself on Sunday than on Saturday. I didn’t crash this time, and I was able to ride the sand while she ran it, which gave me a little gap each time around the course.”
Next up for the SoCalCross Prestige Series is one of the classics in this part of the country. The Thanksgiving-themed Turkey Trot CX takes place at Verdugo Park in Glendale on Sunday, Nov. 24.
This serves as a nice warm-up for CXLA Weekend, just a few days later, with two days of internationally sanctioned UCI racing and Saturday’s Cross After Dark Series finale. All that and much more will go off at Los Angeles State Historic Park November 30 through December 1. Don’t miss it.
To stay fully informed of all SoCalCross Prestige Series activities, go to SoCalCross.org.