by Phil Beckman/PB Creative
Cyclocross season could not come soon enough for riders in Southern California. A near-record crowd swarmed Fairview Park in Costa Mesa for the opening round of the 2012-13 SoCalCross Prestige Series, dubbed “CX in the OC.” As season kickoffs go, this one connected like a Clydesdale on a Red Bull bender. Event organizers were admittedly a bit overwhelmed by the turnout, but promised to be back to their historically solid status quo next weekend.
It was the first appearance for Fairview Park on the SoCal CX circuit. Located just a few miles from the Pacific, the new course layout featured a combination of lush park grass and African savannah-like coastal bluff — fitting, since it was hot enough to make a python perspire. The generally flat, fast and dusty course utilized the usual inventory of ‘cross obstacles, as well as a unique BMX-style dirt bowl that proved to be highly entertaining for athletes and spectators alike. As poet David Lee Roth once said, “Go ahead and jump.”
With bulging race fields full of amped-up competitors looking to make a strong start on their season, the racing itself was fast and furious. Several class wins were decided within the last few meters. And with so many riders on course during certain times of the day, there appeared to be a single line of bikes strung out around the entire loop, nose to tail like rush hour on the nearby San Diego Freeway. Add in the occasional intermingling of the classes and there were more than a few precarious passes and R-rated exchanges.
Keeping her cool was Carolin Shiff (SDG-Felt), winner of the Elite Women class. You’ll be seeing a lot of this name in the upcoming months, as she plans on racing the entire series. It was only her second race in the United States, having recently moved from her native Germany to take an internship with Felt Bicycles. This former swimmer and runner has only been cycling for five years, dabbling in road and mountain bike racing as well as “not much” cyclocross.
As Shiff stated in charmingly accented English, “It was a good race. I didn’t know how my form would compare to the others’, and was surprised and impressed. It was a totally different course compared to in Germany — and we never have this kind of heat. But I like it; it was nice.”
The language barrier caused just one small problem. She didn’t perform the traditional victory salute across the finish line because she thought she had another lap to go. Apparently race announcer Larry Longo is going to have to learn German.
It was not a runaway victory for Shiff by any means. Amanda Schaper (Ritte Racing) and Shiff broke away from the field early, but then Hannah Rae Finchamp (Cynergy) bridged impressively to make it three. Schaper soon dropped away, leaving Shiff and Finchamp to a last-lap battle.
According to Finchamp, a Junior-class national champion triathlete, “I hoped to stay with her until we got to the technical stuff later in the lap, where I think I was better. But she got away at the top of the run-up and was able to stay clear.”
Unlike the relative newbies who starred in the Elite Women event, it was a cast of series veterans who stood in the Elite Men spotlight. Brandon Gritters (Rock n Road) led the way out of the expo area and into the boonies, and it didn’t take long for him, brother Kyle Gritters (Rock n Road), Brent Prenzlow (Celo Pacific), Jason Siegle (SDG-Felt) and Chris Jackson (Castex) to dig a moat between them and the rest of the 24-rider field.
With two laps to go, only three remained on point as Siegle had apparently done too much time at the front, while Kyle Gritters’ job of softening things up for his bro was complete.
Brandon Gritters led the way as this trio approached a tight left-hander just two turns before the finish. Just behind, controversy ignited when Prenzlow and Jackson tangled, sending Jackson to the sod. Gritters grabbed a shockingly simple victory, with the slowed Prenzlow coasting across a few seconds later. A peeved and unchained Jackson, meanwhile, was able to easily hoof it in for the final step of the podium. Emotions ran high, but did not boil over.
From Jackson’s point of view, “Prenzlow threw a wheel in on me; it was not clean. But anyway, it was a good first SoCal race. I’ll be doing the majority of the series, so there will be another time.”
Defending series champion Prenzlow saw things differently: “I had a nose on him; you can’t come back in on a guy when that happens. He has to back off. I’m not going to back off — I was just trying to follow Brandon. I don’t want to take anybody out, but that’s bike racing.”
“We were feeling each other out a lot on that last lap,” said a smiling Gritters, “and I knew I had to be first into the last few corners. I heard buzzing and bumping behind me and knew that it had been a good decision. It was fun. My goal is to win the series this year. I almost did last year but got sick at the last race and had to settle for third.”
One down, 19 to go. It’s going to be a dramatic season.
Round two of the 2012-13 SoCalCross Prestige Series takes place October 7th at Los Angeles State Historic Park with “DTLA Historic CYCLO-VIA!” followed on October 13th by “Pacifica Crossfest” in Camarillo. And then it’s time for a real “must-do”: October 20-21 is Spooky Cross and Krosstober-Fest, part of the L.A. Bikefest taking place at the Fairplex in Pomona. This is a UCI-sanctioned event. Be sure to get your entry in on time!