Round two of the SoCal Cross Prestige Series. © Philip Beckman

Round two of the SoCal Cross Prestige Series. © Philip Beckman

by Philip Beckman

CHINO, CALIFORNIA   Cyclocross challenges in the traditional sense are characterized by mud, snow, ice, rain, ruts and generally wintry conditions. It is, after all, considered a winter sport in the cycling world.

Cyclocross in Southern California, however, is far from traditional. Comparing ’cross here to ’cross in say, Rhode Island, is like comparing a Sunday morning mass to a Saturday night rave. Here it’s about dust, sand, gravel, deep grass, the occasional rattlesnake and – even more dangerous – wood chips. SoCal ’crossers know what that means.

And heat. H-e-double-hockey-sticks heat. Hotter than freshly laid Georgia asphalt. It was sweltering at round one of the 2013-14 SoCalCross Prestige Series in Los Angeles and, even more so at round two in Chino (about an hour farther inland).

But that didn’t stop hundreds of fun-loving cyclocross fanatics from converging on lovely Prado Dam Regional Park for Velocity Cross, presented by Team Velocity. They were presented with a flat, fast layout defined by an extremely bumpy surface dug up by a plethora of gophers, ants and various other underground dwelling critters.

You know it’s rough when the second-place finisher in the Elite Men’s class walks up to the podium with massive blisters on both hands. Kyle Gritters (Blackstar/Rock ‘n’ Road) had rocketed out to an early lead and, after three laps, was joined by his brother and teammate – and round one winner – Brandon Gritters. These two quickly built a 45 second lead which they maintained for a long time over a solo Scott Lundy (Serious Cycling), the chasing Cory Greenberg (Pedalers Fork/10-Speed Coffee) and then the duo of Ted Willard (G2) and Anton Petrov (SDG/Felt/SPY/IRT).

But there was trouble on the home front with a lap and a half to go in the hour-long race. As Kyle Gritters explained, “I haven’t really raced hard in a while, so I needed to figure out how I felt. I was lucky to get out front early and then just hold it. I felt okay the first half and then hit a wall with four laps to go. I was trying to give Brandon a little bit of rest. I was just trying to maintain the pace and stay smooth, but I ended up rolling a tire and falling with a lap and a half to go. I popped it back on and decided to just stay on that bike and try to be careful rather than switch to the spare bike. I just tried to stay focused and cautious to the end. I can’t complain about second place.”

With Kyle’s issues it was the elder Gritters – last season’s champion – on his own with a big lead to the finish just like the weekend before. From Brandon’s perspective, “Early on it was Kyle, me and Lundy, with Willard chasing. On the second lap Lundy and I bumped right after the barriers and he had a problem with his shoe, which created a little gap. I caught up to my brother and we went hard for a couple of laps, which created the separation. I was trying to pace it so I didn’t drop Kyle. He said he was hurting. I was just trying to keep him there so we could get first and second. After he rolled his tire he had to work hard to stay in front of Scott. It was good; it still worked out.”

Lundy – the fastest dentist in the series – was pumped about his best finish yet in third. Greenberg fought through a weeklong illness for fourth, while Petrov eventually got the best of Willard to round out the top five.

Round two of the SoCal Cross Prestige Series. © Philip Beckman

Round two of the SoCal Cross Prestige Series. © Philip Beckman

Amanda Nauman (SDG/Felt/Spy/IRT) once again outmuscled the Elite Women’s class to also make it two in a row for the SoCal season. A surprising Nicole Brandt (LaGrange/Michelob Ultra) grabbed an early lead but went down, handing over to Nauman and defending series champ Hannah-Rae Finchamp (Luna Chix). Just like the previous race, these two built a solid gap after just a couple of laps, but it was clear that Finchamp was not as comfortable as usual. That was no doubt because she had competed in a triathlon event earlier in the day (with excellent results). Two words: hard core.

Nauman eventually dropped Finchamp, but Brandt was another story. Having taken a season off for family, Brandt was on the comeback in every sense of the word. She moved around a fading Finchamp and kept the leader in her sights to grab a satisfying second, while Christina Probert-Turner (The TEAM SoCalCross) and Amanda Schaper (Ritte CX) tussled over the remaining podium positions. These two would also reel in Finchamp by the finish, going 3-4, respectively.

No one was catching Nauman, however. “I came in a little tired after some hard training this week,” she said. “We’re going to Colorado next weekend for a UCI race so I wanted to use this race to put some hard work in. If I didn’t do well here it would have been fine as long as the training is going well. But I had enough rest in the past two days apparently, and it was good enough for a win today.

“I had never seen [Brandt] before so I didn’t know what to expect,” Nauman admitted. “She had the lead for a little while on the first lap and I was like, ‘Alright, she knows what she’s doing.’ She definitely has power. She was a good matchup.

“It was hot again today. We definitely needed liquids on this course. And oh my god, my hands have blisters and I even had gloves on. You’d think the grass would be soft and fluffy but you can’t see the holes so it’s actually worse.”

Brandt was all smiles as she explained her sudden success: “Two seasons ago I did cyclocross for the first time and I absolutely fell in love with it. I was so excited for last season but I got pregnant and sat out the year. My husband Matias races too. I was out here watching and rootin’ and wishing I were out there. So I had a baby, Maia; she’s 10½ months now. I’m getting back into shape and am so excited to be out here again. I’m having a great time. I raced in L.A. last weekend but whatever could have gone wrong did. It was a bad day but I had a good time anyway. I was out to try to redeem myself today.”

Mission accomplished. “I crashed on the first lap but got back up and just thought, ‘Keep it consistent.’ That’s what I did and kept a pace going and it worked out. I’ll keep on doing what I’m doing and hopefully get quicker and be able to challenge [Nauman]. I’ll be at as many ’cross events as I can. We’ll see. Traveling with a baby is hard. Matias and I trade off childcare depending on who is racing when during the day. I almost missed the start today because our races were back to back. It’s a juggle and it’s crazy but it’s fun.”

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