Top fuel drag racing. One of the largest county fairs in the country. Gun expos. Tractor pulls. RV shows. Motorcycle dirt track. Horse racing. In January there’s even a Reptile Super Show. There’s always something happening at the Fairplex in Pomona, California.
But it’s never seen anything like the L.A. Bikefest presented by Planet Bike. For two days in mid-October this venerable venue just east of Los Angeles became bicycle central. Cyclepalooza. From bike polo to recreational road rides to BMX freestyle to a velo swap meet and more, this was the place for two-wheel enthusiasts of all stripes. There were no red-eyed tree frogs or spotnose ball pythons in sight.
Ninja turtles, yes. Along with a pirate on a unicycle, Batman and Robin on a tandem, Evel Knievel on a Yeti. Over there — Pac-Man, Thing 1 and Thing 2, ghosts, bumblebees, fairies, monsters and more walking dead than you could shake a crossbow at. There was even a Lance Armstrong sporting an IV camelback. Hunter S. Thompson was on the mic, doing commentary for a live web feed on Cyclingdirt.org. Nothing gets the creative juices flowing among bike freaks like the infamous Spooky Cross Costume Race (this year benefiting the John Wayne Cancer Foundation).
And oh yeah, there was some big-time cyclocross taking place as well. Rounds four and five of the 2012-13 SoCalCross Prestige Series drew an impressive crowd of local competitors as well as a number of elite riders from around the country and beyond. They came in search of valuable UCI points available at Saturday’s Spooky Cross presented by Jenson USA and Sunday’s Krosstober-Fest presented by SPY and Square One.
The finish of the Elite Men’s race under the lights on Saturday night was one of the most climactic in SoCalCross history. For most of the hour-long race it had been a freight train of ten riders swapping positions and probing for weaknesses while posting consistently torrid lap times. With three to go it was down to eight, nose to tail.
Mike Sherer (Optum p/b Kelly Benefit Strategies) led at the bell but Chris Jackson (Castex Racing p/b Felt) put in a big effort with half a lap to go and gained a slight advantage. Coming up the long, wide finishing stretch on the horse track, Jackson thought the rapidly approaching timing stripe was his. He lifted his arms in celebration, only to have Sherer duck under his right elbow and execute a perfect bike throw to snake Jackson in a photo finish. The costumed crowd went wild.
As winner Sherer described the scene, “I kind of thought he had it because he had a decent gap coming around the last corner. I just didn’t give up and kept going and he saluted a little bit too early. Once I did the bike throw I knew I had it.”
For Jackson it was a disappointing finish that has characterized his season so far. “It’s all learning, you know,” he said sheepishly. “Every weekend I learn a new lesson. It just hasn’t worked out in my favor yet.”
Finishing a close third was Tobin Ortenblad (Cal Giant), with Mitchell Hoke (Clif Bar) just behind. Brandon Gritters (Rock n’ Road) rounded out the top five.
The earlier Elite Women’s Spooky Cross finish was much more clear-cut but the race itself was dramatic in its own way. Elle Anderson (Ladiesfirst Racing) jumped away from three early breakaway companions and led most of the race, but Teal Stetson-Lee (Luna Pro Team) waited until the two-laps-to-go-card was shown and then shot forward to reel in Anderson and completely detonate the group. On the last lap all four were by themselves.
“I wish I could tell you I had a plan, but I was kind of winging it to tell you the truth,” said victor Stetson-Lee. “The last two laps or so I just got a second wind and was able to lay the power down.”
Courtenay McFadden (Clif Bar/Bicycle Centres/Voler) ended up in second, followed by Anderson, Mical Dyck (Stan’s No Tubes CX) and Caroline Mani (Raleigh/Clement).
Anderson earned some redemption during the next day’s Krosstober-Fest. The storyline was much the same, with the same four riders moving away together on the opening lap. This time it was Stetson-Lee on the attack at the midway mark, but Anderson was able to drop the other two and close the gap. She leveraged the momentum she had built and simply said goodbye on the final lap to triumph over Stetson-Lee, McFadden, Dyck and Mani.
Anderson was thrilled with her first UCI win. “When I bridged up to Teal I still felt good so I just decided to keep going. I’m definitely not used to being in this situation so I had to really keep myself calm and focused on that last lap.”
The Krosstober-Fest Elite Men’s race was another tight, fast-paced affair. With three laps to go it was any of nine riders’ race to win. Emerging on the front with less than half a lap to go was the relatively unknown Canadian Mike McConnell (Synergy Racing). This bike messenger from Calgary had led the first three laps the night before but then finished well behind in ninth.
He got the crowd hooting when he bobbled in a bowl turn on the BMX section of the track within sight of the finish line and ended up making shoulder-to-shoulder contact with the second-place rider, Cory Greenberg (VRC Get Crackin-MS Society). McConnell was determined, however. He kept it upright and up front and even opened a bit of a gap in the final run to the line.
As he related, “Last night I went at it a little too aggressively, so today I decided to play it cool. I flew a ways down here and wanted to make it count. I’m trying to make the Canadian team for the World Championships so I need as many chances at points as I can get.”
Greenberg ended up second, trailed by previous night’s winner Sherer. The top Under 23 rider on both days, Tobin Ortenblad, was fourth, with Kevin Noiles (Cyclocrossracing.com) filling out the top five.
The SoCalCross Prestige Series now heads south to San Diego for a round five-six, Saturday-Sunday doubleheader at Morley Field. Round eight will be the Velocity CX in Chino on Sunday, November 4. For additional series info, visit SoCalCross.org.