Hitting the Flyover and catching air. © Philip Beckman/PB Creative

Hitting the Flyover and catching air. © Philip Beckman/PB Creative

Words and photos by Philip Beckman/PB Creative.

Hallelujah. More than 500 of Southern California’s cyclocross faithful made a pilgrimage to Los Angeles State Historic Park the last weekend of September to celebrate the spirit of the sport and worship in the house of hurt. It marked a day on the calendar that’s anticipated almost as much as Christmas: the opening of the SoCalCross PRESTIGE SERIES season. Can I get an amen?

The aptly-named Rally ’Cross Weekend was a congregation of both ’cross fanatics and cycling advocates. Saturday’s events featured a ride/hike led by The TEAM SoCalCross in the morning, preaching the need for L.A. area waterway restoration and revitalization as well as a dedicated bicycle route from the San Gabriel Valley to downtown Los Angeles. An impressive number of political leaders stepped up to the pulpit in front of several hundred onlookers in Marsh Park with stirring sermons in support of the “Alternative 20” plan. For more, visit  www.LARiverRally.org.

A family friendly day in SoCal. © Philip Beckman/PB Creative

A family friendly day in SoCal. © Philip Beckman/PB Creative

The activities then moved to the race venue in the shadow of downtown L.A. for some Empire Bikes-sponsored pre-race giggles that included food and brew and some casual competition. Many Rally ’Cross competitors were obviously saving their legs and lungs for the next day’s foray.

And foray they did, with gusto. Under a sweltering sun on a relatively flat course that proved to be deceptively evil, some of the largest fields ever to mass in SoCalCross showed they were ready for the season to begin. The racing was fast and furious. The heckling was fresh and lively. The cyclocross-family atmosphere was welcomed back like a long lost friend. It was time to rejoice, brothers and sisters.

Nauman (left) battles with Finchamp. © Philip Beckman/PB Creative

Nauman (left) battles with Finchamp. © Philip Beckman/PB Creative

There was a bit of an upset in the Elite Women’s race, as defending SoCalCross champ Hannah Rae Finchamp (Luna Chix) had to bow to first-time series race winner Amanda Nauman (SDG/Felt/Spy/IRT). These two sped away from the field early on and worked together for two laps, but a tangle on a stair runup put Nauman in front with a small gap, one that would grow to the finish.

According to Finchamp, “I hoped to pass but didn’t quite have enough room and our bikes hit each other, holding me up for a few seconds. With the straightaway right after the staircase, a few seconds was all that she needed. I had been pulling through in the more twisty-turny sections but she was quite powerful on the straights. It was very cool to see the women’s field so strong today. I can’t wait for the rest of the season.” Finchamp will be one of the top contenders at the XTERRA World Championships on Maui at the end of this month.

Nauman, who also has a triathlon background, concurred with Finchamp’s summary. “Coming up the stairs something happened and I clipped her a little bit. That got me a two-second gap. I’m a little bit stronger on the straightaways and she wasn’t able to get back on my wheel. This course played to my advantage because of all the straights and no crushing climbs. It was awesome, a great start to the season.” Nauman, with less than one year in the sport, revealed that she has her eyes on some UCI racing around the country very soon.

Completing the podium at round one were Christina Probert-Turner (The TEAM SoCalCross), Amanda Schaper (Ritte CX) and Maddie Melcher (The TEAM SoCalCross).

Brandon Gritters was unstoppable. © Philip Beckman/PB Creative

Brandon Gritters was unstoppable. © Philip Beckman/PB Creative

The Elite Men’s race was less dramatic, at least at the front. Defending champion Brandon Gritters (Blackstar/Rock ‘n’ Road) led from wire to wire and stretched out a commanding victory. “I got a good start so I just went hard from the beginning,” he stated. “Usually this race stays together because there’s a lot of drafting involved. Today I went hard from the gun and was able to break it up early. Cory Greenberg was coming across in the first couple of laps but after about two and a half laps he was gone. I just rode steady and hoped I didn’t get a flat.” Ooops—his car had a low tire when he got back to the parking area.

Greenberg threatened, but the Pedalers Fork/10-Speed Coffee rider was stymied by a crash and two chain derailments. This dropped him into the clutches of Chris Jackson (Castex/Felt), who was moving up from a sketchy start. These two both held second place several times during the course of the hour-long race, depending on Greenberg’s mechanical status.

With two laps to go, Greenberg found himself on Jackson’s wheel once again and made a move that stuck. “I noticed I was catching up to him pretty easily,” recounted Greenberg, “so I used him through the headwind section and then coming out of a tight, technical section I just jumped really hard and saw he was gapped. It was full gas from there.”

Jackson rolled in with the needle on empty but a comfortable third place in hand. Anton Petrov (SDG/Felt/SPY/IRT) pulled off yet another late-race comeback for fourth, while Scott Lundy (Serious Cycling) rounded out the podium.

The men's podium. © Philip Beckman/PB Creative

The men’s podium. © Philip Beckman/PB Creative

This epic weekend would not have been possible without the support of Voler, SPY, Pedalers Fork/10 Speed Coffee, Jenson USA and Castex. Pricepoint.com hosted a social media lounge during the day. The SoCalCross PRESTIGE SERIES appreciates the backing of a number of local bike shops, and this weekend a nod goes to Montrose Bike Shop, Golden Saddle Cyclery and Orange 20 Bikes.

Cyclocross has returned to SoCal. © Philip Beckman/PB Creative

Cyclocross has returned to SoCal. © Philip Beckman/PB Creative

Pro photos from this event can be found at pbcreativephoto.com. To stay fully informed of all the SoCalCross PRESTIGE SERIES activities, be sure to bookmark us at SoCalCross.org as well as follow us on Facebook and Twitter.