by Alia Salim and Lee Slone
BAKERSFIELD, CA – Strong local turnout led Southern California to convincing victory this past Sunday at the NorCal vs. SoCal Cyclocross Championships while Northern California riders claimed wins in the Elite Men’s and Women’s races.
With $5,000 on the line, easily one of the season’s largest cash payouts for a non-UCI race, top talent from both regions made the trip to the centrally-located Bakersfield. But local and southern racers easily outnumbered their northern counterparts, with the final point tally at the inaugural regional showdown – brainchild of Action Sports manager and Master Men’s 35+ winner Sam Ames – 520 to 1061 for SoCal.
The course had a balance of twisty turns, quick sharp ramps, a flyover, two tough run-ups, fast downhills and a bit of singletrack with a long pavement start/finish, and it drew rave reviews from newbie and seasoned racers alike, with early categories wearing in the course for the faster, later groups.
With a pile of money on the line, the Elite Men’s race broke up quickly. Eventual winner Josh Snead (Bay 101/HRS/Rock Lobster) and Brent Prenzlow (Celo Pacific) led a group of six that included Snead’s teammate Scott Chapin as well as Chris Jackson (Cal Poly) and SDG Factory Team riders Fritz Bottger and Anton Petrov.
Snead said, “I would have liked for it to be two-on-one with me and Scotty [Chapin], and Brent [Prenzlow]” – but that didn’t come to pass. When Prenzlow turned up the pressure, only he and Snead went clear. The pair opened up a substantial gap and left Chapin to head up the new chase group.
It was soon clear that Snead and Prenzlow were going to stay away, but it wasn’t clear who was going to take the win: Several laps passed with the pair trading positions at the front. Prenzlow led out of the second run-up on the the last lap, but Snead saw an opportunity in the final section through the trees to make the winning pass.
“I thought I’d lost,” Snead said. “It’s the greatest feeling in the world to win a race like that when you thought you were totally finished.”
In the chase group, Scotty Chapin would eventually yield two spots to Frtiz Bottger and Chris Jackson, who finished third and fourth. Chapin held on for fifth place, with Anton Petrov finishing a close sixth.
Brent Prenzlow was already on his third race of the day, having handily won the men’s single speed and finished second in the Masters Men 35+.
Emily Thurston (Missing Link) dominated the women’s race, leading from the start and finishing with nearly two minutes in hand for her first-ever cyclocross win. In her debut year, Ellen Sherrill (Davis Bike Club) held off Nancy James-Klinger (TEAM SoCalCross) for second place.
Though she faced no serious challengers, Thurston praised the course – and raced it for a second time hours later alongside the elite men.
“That to me is fun,” Thurston said. “A lot of variety and change that allows me to vary my pace.”
“I liked the singletrack rhythm sections because they were kind of Belgian-like, a little tacky – you could pretty much go as fast as you wanted,” said Masters Men 45+ winner Mark Howland (Bay 101/HRS/RockLobster).
True to cyclocross spirit, the event offered plenty for non-racers, too: Spectators – more than 800 of them – enjoyed Belgian-style frites and waffles and heckled riders from the course-side beer tent.
An enthusiastic Ames has high hopes that growth in SoCal ’cross combined with stronger NorCal attendance will make the event a statewide favorite in years to come.
“Next year we’ll be back bigger and better. The giant will be awakened, I have no fear of that. We’re going to pack this party.”