The Elite Men at SoCal's Storm the Beach cyclocross race. ©David Lawson

The Elite Men at SoCal's Storm the Beach cyclocross race. ©David Lawson

by Scott Reeves

Mud, rain, snow, cold weather. Those are words synonymous with cyclocross. Here in southern California we don’t have any of them. But other words shared in this growing sport such as suffering, family, friends, fun, heckling, blood and beer are quite alive from San Diego to San Luis Obispo. (Come to think of it, those are the same words I’d use to describe my last family reunion.) While the laid back style of this region becomes part of your persona, it would be a mistake to think you can take a perfunctory approach in the races and still be competitive.

The usual reasons why people race ‘cross apply in southern California as well, ranging from the dedicated, hard core participants to someone who gets the bug and queues up for a Cat 4 race to see what it’s all about. Southern California cyclocross has grown dramatically in the number of races and participants over the last few years thanks in large part to Dorothy Wong, a well-accomplished racer who’s been on the podium at nationals. Her indefatigable efforts continue to pay dividends drawing out larger fields and bigger names. The SoCal Series has matured into more than a dozen races with stops in San Diego, Orange County (sorry no Housewives showed up) and the Los Angeles region.

So what’s cross racing really like in southern California if cold weather and sloppy terrain aren’t a factor? First off, let’s dispel any possible myths that might be circulating out there. We don’t race for prizes such as implants (for the calves, of course), look to be discovered by a Hollywood agent or carbo-load the night before at Spago’s. Mudslides, earthquakes and thousand-acre fires are, usually, not part of the course design.

Registration is always outside under a portable tent rather than inside a gymnasium. Races take place in several different locations with a good mix or grass, loose dirt, gravel, pavement and the creative use of playgrounds for the sand pit. The ground is almost always dry and races are fast. You’ll see plenty of mountain bikes on the course because of the dry conditions. Navigating through loose dirt on top of hard ground or cornering through gravel is no picnic on any bike though. When you go down, it does as good a job as any terra firma in removing layers of skin. And, yes, there’s always the obligatory crash at the barriers.

Prenzlow's fine barrier form © Kate Ybarra

Prenzlow's fine barrier form © Kate Ybarra

The weather actually can be a factor when you are racing here. How about a desert setting, as was the case earlier this year in Anza, CA? Temperatures hit triple digits. Racers were packing water like camels. The SoCal Cross Series also takes full advantage of the scenery here with the annual “Storm the Beach” race at Camp Pendleton, north of San Diego. As you’d expect, there’s lots of sand to contend with as you enter the beach shouldering the bike, ride parallel to the ocean for a few hundred yards, then dismount again to charge back through the thick seashore sand and up a short, steep hill. No matter how laid back you are, the heart rate redlines after that experience. We use a pressure washer afterwards to get the sand out, so we can sort of relate to the mudders.

Southern California cyclocross also puts on its best for themed races. The Spooky Cross night race in Irvine, CA, brings out the best both with the sport and southern California culture. In years past, there was moto-cross jumping entertainment. This year saw live bands, a DJ mixing grooves and the annual costume contest race. Thanksgiving time brings the Turkey Cross in Glendale, CA as the leaves finally start to drop and riders have to contend with a tough run-up and soft mulchy ground over off-camber turns, then navigate through a long playground sandpit. The series season finale has a holiday theme and overall series winners are recognized for their consistency.

The Elite field has seen some tough competition and close races this year. As friends, family and riders from earlier events enjoy the sunshine, they are treated to some great racing with the likes of professionals Tony Cruz, Ned Overend, Syd Taberly (Olympian and five-time Australian national mountain bike champion), father-son duo Mark and Chance Noble, and southern California’s own Brent Prenzlow, who has over 100 victories in cyclocross at the Elite level. You may see some of them and several other southern California competitors at Nationals in Bend, OR, this year as well.

Spooky Cross 2008

Spooky Cross returns for a bigger scare in 2009. by Eric Colton

And while we don’t have to worry about a pit bike in the event our sled is overtaken by the mud monster and we can wear the same jersey on the same day in two different races because it’s still clean, the spirit of cyclocross is not only alive in southern California, it’s thriving. It may not reach the level it does in other parts of the country or have the crowds, but the race intensity is high and the atmosphere is inviting.

So if you race ‘cross, don’t live here and are planning a trip to the area to perhaps see Mickey or walk down Rodeo Drive, try and schedule it around one of the SoCal Series races. There are usually bikes to demo for a small fee or you can bring your own. We’ll provide a well organized race, challenging course, great weather and the best competition we have to offer. And since your bike and jersey won’t be full of mud, why not do two races while you’re at it? We’ll have a cold one waiting for you when you finish.

Think your areas needs to be here?  Have some stories you’d like to share?  Just want to let the world know that you ride with the best part of the ‘cross community?  Let us know – just drop a line to [email protected]