by Philip Beckman
October 25, 2014, (Orange, CA) – Went to a Halloween party the other night and a cyclocross race broke out. The sixth edition of Spooky Cross had the distinction of being Round 5 of the SoCalCross Prestige Series, this year haunting the Baja Beach Club area of Irvine Lake on the eastern outskirts of toney Orange County.
As always, Spooky Cross was as much rave as race. Sure, a full slate of classes started being ticked off just after lunch until well past sundown, with some righteous two-wheeled war being waged on a hilly 1.74-mile/2.8km course that was half lawn bowling, half gravel grinding.
But the reason Spooky is one of the most popular CX events in these parts is its pervasive All Hallows theme and, most of all, the after-dark costume race and contest. Quite a number of grown men and women put a lot of time and effort into looking like prepubescent trick-or-treaters, then line up and tear out on a short loop to wreak a bit of good natured, well-lubricated havoc for ten minutes (or when the Easter Rabbit barfs). It’s not every weekend you get to see how riders handle a pumpkin barrier. Now that’s entertainment.
How about that racing? The Elite A Women’s race got the whistle just as the sun was setting, making for rapidly changing light conditions and an impossible choice in lens color. Amanda Nauman (SDG/Bellwether/Krema Peanut Butter) made her return after skipping last weekend’s event, and picked up right where she left off: snaring the early lead and never looking back. Scoreboard: leading every lap of every race she’s participated in with SoCalCross this year; chalk up five wins so far.
In the absence of her biggest rivals—Christina Probert-Turner and Nicole Brandt, the latter of whom was scoring UCI points at the Gateway Cross Cup in St. Louis—Nauman was again in a league of her own. Up-and-comer Summer Moak (Felt/K-Edge) was able to keep “Amanda Panda” in sight for a lap, but the 15-year-old, recently arrived in SoCal from Katy, Texas, was soon relegated to best-of-the-rest status.
Behind them, AJ Sura (G2 Bike) made her series return for this season and became ensnarled in a skirmish for third place with Christine Pai (Knobbe Martens Intellectual Property Law). Pai prevailed, Sura was fourth and uber-consistent McKenzie Melcher (The TEAM SoCalCross) rounded out the podium.
“The way the light was changing was a challenge,” stated Nauman. “It was dusty but fun. Summer was riding strong on the first lap. That’s good, it keeps me honest.” Nauman also beamed that she had taken her first-ever dollar hand-up. You’ll have to forgive her—she’s only been doing this a couple of years.
Portable lighting had been towed in to allow for night racing at this facility, but several parts of the course were still as dark as a tall espresso. About a third of the 21-rider Men’s Elite A field elected to mount lights for their 60-minute event.
Frenchman Jean-Louis Bourdevaire (Blackstar) and defending series champ Brandon Gritters (Rock N’ Road/Big Red Coaching) jostled for the holeshot, with Gritters leading the way out of turn one. After a lap or two to sort things out, Gritters found himself in the company of Elliot Reinecke (Famous Horsemen Masters Development Team), Alfred Pacheco (Buena Park Bicycles) and Garreth Feldstein (Famous Horsemen).
This was Feldstein’s first race of the season, having spent the last couple of months transferring his job with Chevron from Bakersfield to the Bay Area. With no points, he had to start on the last row but was on the charge. If you’re wondering about that team name, it’s derived from a line in a Saturday Night Live skit, delivered by Sean Connery. There are three Horsemen, actually, the third being the always-entertaining Alan “Danger” Zinniker, who won another Singlespeed A race just minutes before. Fun and games.
Anyway, Feldstein finally bridged to the break and promptly face planted at the barriers. With five to go, it was Reinecke, Pacheco and Gritters with a comfy gap on Bourdevaire and a recovering Feldstein. Kyle Gritters (Rock N’ Road) was suffering an off night and riding a lonely sixth.
Pacheco became unhitched as the paced picked up on the penultimate lap, and Reinecke came by just ahead of him with a genuinely desperate look in his eye. Of course it was Gritters leading the way, placing everyone else into the hurt locker. On the last lap he flipped the lid and snapped the locks. The ginger ninja crossed the line 11 seconds in front of Reinecke, who had taken a soil sample on the final lap. Pacheco dug deep to secure an impressive third place with a soft tire half a minute in arrears. He had started near the front but got tangled in some course tape on the first lap and dropped all the way to seventh before rebounding, so he was a happy camper. Bourdevaire prevailed in a semi-close battle with Feldstein to set the final podium positions.
According to Gritters, “I was better on the climb, and Elliot was more daring on the grass and in the dark. I put the pressure on going up the hill, then just sort of rode the rest of the course.”
Run concurrently with this final race was the Elite Under 23 class. At the finish, Dillen Maurer (Montrose Bike Shop) had claimed the division win and 11th overall, followed by Nick Padilla (G2 Bike) and Michael Barker (Team Velocity).
Full results from Spooky Cross as well as the following day’s Dia de los Muertos ‘cross at the same venue (hint, Nauman and Gritters did the double) can be found at socalcross.org.
Next on the SoCalCross schedule is a return to Ojai, near Ventura, for the Peloton Cross on Saturday, 11/1, and Gravel Mob ride on Sunday, 11/2. Riverside is the place to be the following weekend, for the inaugural Anza Crossing on Saturday and Dirt Grinder on Sunday (the same day the USA Cycling CX District Champs—Udo Cross—take place in Escondido, just a few miles south).