Upon his return to base camp after summiting Mount Everest for the first time, Edmund Hillary was asked how the attempt had gone. He replied, “Well, we knocked the bastard off.”
This was undoubtedly how most every rider participating in the 2012 Southern California/Nevada District Cyclocross Championships must have felt about one particular obstacle encountered during every lap of the 1.7-mile course at Hart Park in Bakersfield, California.
The prominent feature at this venue is a runup that would have impressed even Sir Edmund. Carabiners, static rope and crampons could have been more useful than a carbon fiber cyclocross bike. It’s not often a cyclist needs to use his or her hands to maintain forward momentum. This sod runup is steep and daunting. Language filling the pleasant San Joaquin Valley air at its crest often got quite a bit saltier than “bastard.” If a rider could speak at all.
Very formidable, very Euro, very much in the spirit of cyclocross. Hillary also once said, “I think I rather enjoyed grinding my companions into the ground on a big hill.”
Hannah Rae Finchamp was up to the challenge in the Elite Women’s class. After all, this young Cynergy Cycles athlete had just returned from a stunning performance at the XTERRA World Championships on Maui. The 17-year-old Altadena, California, resident had swum, mountain biked and run to the overall female amateur title. Her time would have placed her 13th in the Pro Female division.
Emily Georgeson (Helen’s/Cannondale) shot out ahead of the small Elite Women’s field and put more than ten seconds on Finchamp during the first lap at Hart Park. But Finchamp — who had won the Junior Girls 17-18 gold earlier in the day — was able to close that gap post haste, make the pass before the halfway mark and then pull away to a 40-second victory. Georgeson held on for a comfortable second place, while Holly Breck (SC Velo/Incycle) claimed the bronze medal.
As Finchamp explained, “Emily just has a really fast start, and I had a couple of fumbles running up the hills that pushed me back further. But I maintained my composure, kept it going and was able to slowly catch up. Then she fumbled around a little and I was able to overtake her. It was a pretty good day. I felt blessed out there.”
At the other end of the spectrum was Chris Jackson. After suffering through a season of so-close-yet-so-far, this Castex Rentals-backed rider was starting to feel absolutely cursed after Bakersfield.
Jackson claimed the lead early in the Elite Men’s championship and built a substantial gap on a strong group that included Brent Prenzlow (Celo Pacific), John Bailey (Bailey Bikes), Gareth Feldstein (Ritte CX Team) and Jason Siegle (SDG/Felt).
Siegle jumped from this bunch on the third lap and began a relentless chase of Jackson, but progress was minimal and two laps later he had even lost a few more precious seconds on a confident looking Jackson. Prenzlow, meanwhile, had constructed a solid third place but was in a different zip code than the leaders.
Suddenly the gap between Jackson and Siegle was gone. With four to go, a connection in Jackson’s electronic shifting system had come unplugged and locked him in one gear. Jackson pitted for a bike change and re-entered with Siegle nearly on his wheel. Siegle closed that margin over the next lap and when Jackson reached down for his water bottle, attacked.
A flustered Jackson responded but then stumbled on the massive runup, giving Siegle some breathing room that would never be relinquished. Siegle would grab gold by 17 seconds, Jackson rolled in for silver, and Prenzlow took the bronze a minute later. Anton Petrov (SDG/Felt) had come from way behind for fourth, while local hero Feldstein prevailed in a good battle for fifth with Bailey.
“Chris is really strong this year,” admitted Siegle. “I didn’t know that I was going to bring him back for a long, long time, especially when he opened it up a couple extra seconds. Then he pitted and it put me within shooting distance. I just kept the pressure on and when he bobbled on the runup it was a matter of getting through the tricky parts without making any mistakes and then going back to trying to make myself puke.”
Jackson was once again left wondering about what could have been. “If it’s not one thing it’s another,” he said with a groan. “I rode a great race and had wanted to make a statement. I felt like I was, and then this happens. It’ll come together.”