Two Norcal former national champions take to the front. Ex-collegiate champ Jacques-Maynes leads ex-30-34 champ Robinson. © Tim Westmore

Two Norcal former national champions take to the front. Ex-collegiate champ Jacques-Maynes leads ex-30-34 champ Robinson. © Tim Westmore

by Paul Guerra

Beautiful blue skies, a clear view of the ocean to the west and rare tacky course conditions brought the Northern California cyclocross faithful and a few surprise faces out to historic Golden Gate Park in San Francisco on November 28th for the fourth race in the five race Bay Area Super Prestige Series.  Heavy rains the day before dampened the course and left a few mud puddles, giving racers tacky conditions, a rare treat compared to the dry, dusty conditions typical of this venue. But spirits were still dampened as news from promoter Tom Simpson that the race series would be discontinued in 2011 made racers worry that this may be the last Golden Gate Park cyclocross race for a while. It’s been quite a run at the San Francisco landmark park that’s hosted cyclocross races since the 70’s and even hosted the GP Clark Natwick USGP event in 2005. 

Recent rains created mud pits instead of the usual sand pits. © Mauricio Astacio

Recent rains created mud pits instead of the usual sand pits. © Mauricio Astacio

The year’s course consisted of two extended dirt sections punctuated by an false flat paved straightaway where the start and finish lines were placed.  The dirt sections ranged from wide fire road to rooted, steep single track.  Although the course was wide enough to pass in all places, racers starting with the juniors early in the day had worn more or less mandatory lines into the dirt, grass and forest floor.  A steep, sometimes rideable section was placed centrally to the venue and close to the finish line, giving the large spectating crowds a convenient place to cheer their favorite racers and heckle those who attempted but failed to negotiate the climb.  While tacky, technical riding was in no short supply, race entries were as at least the Men’s C category filled during race day registration, sending some novice riders to the B category races.

Cal Giant Strawberries Dominates the Masters Men’s Race

Elite level racing kicked off with the Masters Men’s races.  The 35+ group was led by teammates James Coats and Todd Hoefer of Cal Giant Strawberries.  With one lap to go, Coats and Hoefer had time to confer with each other as their nearest competitor, Don Myrah of Ibis/, was 30 seconds off the lead.  The leading duo stayed together to the finish with Coats taking top honors.  Cal Giant continued its winning ways in the 45+ category with Gannon Myall, David Anderson and Robert Meighan coming in second, third and fourth to Kevin Merrigan’s (Team Rambuski Law) first place.

Barnholt Dusts the Field

Kerry Barnholt, Masters 35-39 National Champion, in command. © Paul Guerra

Kerry Barnholt, Masters 35-39 National Champion, in command. © Paul Guerra

The women’s Elite race was graced by the presence of a strong field, and for once, tacky and muddy conditions instead of the typical sand pits and dust bowls. It didn’t matter though as Barb Howe of Ibis & The Danger Twins, Karen Brems of Team Rambuski Law and national road race champion Katheryn Curi Mattis (Webcor Builders) were just some of the competitors left in the dust by Scott /Ritchey’s Kerry Barnholt who was easily identifiable in the red and white series leader’s jersey.  Barnholt, in defense of her leader’s jersey, developed a commanding lead over the pack and held as much as a minute lead over the nearest racer at one point.  After Barnholt crossed the line, sealing her win, Howe came in second, making way for an exciting sprint for third between Brems and Sarah Bamberger (who listed her team as I Heart Rats).  Cal Giant’s Gina Hall, used to being closer to the front, suffered a mechanical pushing her back to 15th place.

After the race, Barnholt reflected on her day.  “It was a super fun course, great conditions for a cross race and Golden Gate Park brings out a great crowd.  I rode my own lines, at my own speed for the whole race.”  Using the damp course to test a new set of tires for Nationals, Barnholt remarked that ‘It was fun that we’ve had some greasy, wet conditions this year instead of the usual dust.”

Ben Jacques-Maynes and Ned Overend Surprise

Scott Chapin got the early holeshot and would stretch it out to a first lap lead of 10 seconds. © Tim Westmore

Scott Chapin stretch out a first lap lead to 10 seconds before Jacques-Maynes took over. © Tim Westmore

The Elite Men’s Race had a well-seasoned lineup as serious leader Steve Reaney of Cal Giant Strawberries found himself in the presence of last year’s series winner, Josh Snead (Bay 101/HRS/Rock Lobster) and several former cyclocross national champions including Cal Giant’s Justin Robinson, Bissell Pro Cycling’s Ben Jacques-Maynes and the tireless Ned Overend (Specialized).  Bay 101/HRS/Rock Lobster’s  Dave Wyandt grabbed the holeshot and then teammate Scott Chapin took over at the front, but his opening salvo was answered forcefully by Jacques-Maynes.  Lapping the field starting at four laps to go, Jacques-Maynes built a commanding lead in the race, his speed was only nearly matched by Robinson.  In the end, it was Jacques-Maynes, Robinson and Chapin completing the podium. Overend would finish 10th.

After the race, Jacques-Maynes commented on being able to race at Golden Gate Park – “For one reason or another, I’ve never been able to make it to any of the races here like USGP Finals.  I heard we might lose this venue so, it was now or never.”

All racers seemed to feel similarly to Jacques-Maynes and the question of whether racing would return to Golden Gate Park in 2011 was on everyone’s mind.  With the high caliber of racing on display this year, the swelling field sizes and strong future of the sport as shown by the Cat C numbers, it’s not a question of if, but how, as other promoters are already eying the venue if Simpson does not return to promoting cyclocross races in 2011.

Photo Gallery by Tim Westmore:

Photo Gallery by Scotty Paz, Paul Guerra, and Mauricio Astacio:

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