Everyone into the mosh pit! © Philip Beckman

Everyone into the mosh pit! © Philip Beckman

by Philip Beckman

ESCONDIDO, Calif. – An alien life form was discovered in Southern California early Sunday morning, shooting fireworks from both its mouths while cavorting on four pairs of spoke wrenches. Just kidding, people. “LOL.” But judging from the reaction of the participants at Udo Cross presented by SPY Optic when first confronting a unique obstacle on the shore of Lake Hodges, it may as well have come from outer space.

Had this been the alien’s first encounter with human beings, it would have learned much about the English language, especially words consisting of four letters. There was considerable intrigue and gnashing of teeth. Riders stopped, inspected and went introspective. Many shook their heads and walked around it. Some grinned like loons and charged onward.

A collection of comments, from competitors and onlookers alike – verbalized to no one in particular revealed a genuine division in mindset over what is and isn’t “real” cyclocross: “Stupid, banzai, this thing could swallow a little kid, mud and bike parts don’t mix, he who hesitates is lost, I just washed my bike last night, we should hand out binkies, I call bull [explative], ride it, wuss, not cool, why stop with two holes in the ground? We should throw in some logs and hot electrical wires.”

What was the source of this angst/entertainment? It was Nothing less than a pair of man-made, side-by-side mud holes. Racers had to ride the first one going out and the second coming back half a minute later. The entry to the first hole was mostly blind, exiting a section of sand followed by a left-hander directly into the, what is it even called? This two-headed monster needs a name!

Mud is like an alien being in SoCal. © Philip Beckman

Mud is like an alien being in SoCal. © Philip Beckman

Among the interested spectators was Dave Hekel, an official Park Ranger and the man who gave the go and ultimately used a small skip-loader to sculpt this section of the course. He suggested, “Dave’s Dastardly Dueling Ditches of Doom.” Mr. Hekel appears to have a bit of Jekyll and Hyde in him.

This race’s course designer and a few unnamed bystanders then decided to bucket up more water during the morning, much to the delight of the burgeoning crowd. SoCalCross management, after receiving an earful from cx purists quickly shut this down. The crowd dispersed. Move along, nothing to see here.

Cyclocross fans from other parts of the globe looking at the photos attached to this story are probably laughing their, you know what off. Mud has a “whole ‘nother” meaning elsewhere. In perpetually sunny, hot and dry SoCal, however, a “couple-three” inches of mid is an apocalypse.

By the time the Elite Women’s A race came around after lunch, the muck was mostly an afterthought. It was fun while it lasted. And it’s not like this course didn’t have more than its share of challenges, even without the ooze. A considerable amount of sand and some seriously demanding ascents had many competitors breaking out their mountain bikes instead of skinny-knobbed steeds.

Christina Probert-Turner (The TEAM SoCalCross) was the dominant victor in that race, in a field of just five riders. This 42-year-old former series champion won by 42 seconds in a four-lap race and stated later via Facebook, “I did a road ride up Palomar Mountain on Saturday, so I wasn’t sure how my legs were going to feel. It was great that the super fast girls were doing secret training this weekend so I could just race my race. Haha.

“The course was a little bit CX and a little bit XC MTB, so it fit my riding style of being a mountain biker. I had a slow start but when we hit the first sandy section heading down to the beach I had to go. I like the sandy, techie sections, so I wanted to get ahead of the ladies. From there I was able to keep my lead to the end. It was a beautiful day and wonderful to ride for Udo and his family.”

The 42-year-old Christina Probert-Turner rode away from the small Women’s A field. © Philip Beckman

The 42-year-old Christina Probert-Turner rode away from the small Women’s A field. © Philip Beckman

This race was named for and dedicated to Udo Heinz, who was killed in a traffic accident while riding this past August. Heinz was a longtime cycling advocate in this region as well as a dedicated husband and father. He was also an active member of the host club Ranchos Cycling Team.

Laura Morris (Troupe Racing) finished runner-up to Turner in only her third race in the A class. “It required a lot of technical skills today,” Morris said. “It was nice they had a climb in there for me. I’m a climber. It was definitely geared toward mountain bikers. It was a lot of fun, despite a disastrous start to my day. I locked my keys in the car, then got lost getting here.”

Sticking firmly to this season’s Men’s A script, Kyle Gritters (Blackstar/Rock ‘n’ Road) rocketed away from the starting grid to lead through the first few turns, with older brother and teammate Brandon locked firmly to his rear wheel. Team SDG/Felt’s Jason Siegle slotted into third. Through eight rounds of the 2013-14 SoCalCross season, defending series champion Brandon Gritters and Siegle have been the riders to beat: Gritters with five wins, Siegle with three.

After two of seven laps, the Gritters brothers and Siegle had established a decisive gap in front of the relatively strong field, with Elliot Reinecke (Velo Hangar) making his first appearance of the CX year in fourth. Anton Petrov (SDG/Felt/IRT/SPY) trailed by a few seconds in fifth, as Brent Prenzlow (Celo Pacific/Focus) chased hard in sixth after suffering a rear flat only 20 seconds into the race.

The top three were untouchable, stretching out a minute’s lead by the time the bell rang for the last lap. As in most fights when it’s two against one, the Gritters worked Siegle over as if in a back-alley mugging. When Kyle Gritters attacked on the sandy beach section, Brandon Gritter’s elbows got very wide. Siegle was thwarted in every pass attempt the rest of the way, as Kyle Gritters’ lead grew to over seven seconds.

In the final paved straight, Kyle had enough time to sit up, acknowledge his young daughter and wife, straighten his jersey and roll across the line for his first cx win in two seasons. Gritters then out-powered a highly frustrated Siegle to make it yet another Gritters 1-2 finish. Prenzlow completed his comeback in fourth place, having overhauled Reinecke in the waning moments.

Brandon Gritters offered no apologies for the application of team tactics. “It’s tough to pass here,” he explained. “There are only a few chances, and you can kind of dictate what’s going on behind you when you’re on the front. When Kyle got away on the last lap, Jason was behind me and I could kind of slow down in the corners and give Kyle a gap. Then up the hill I just kept him behind me. He tried to come by a bunch but I could dictate the pace when my handlebars were in front of [Siegle’s].”

This win was a long time coming for Kyle Gritters. © Philip Beckman

This win was a long time coming for Kyle Gritters. © Philip Beckman

According to Kyle Gritters, “Siegle was riding steady and keeping us on our limit. We definitely weren’t comfortable. It’s a tough course no matter what, and it played to team tactics. Brandon and I could let each other in on the corners, whereas Siegle, we could close the door on him. Once I got a gap after the climb I could really enjoy the downhill coast to the finish. It’s nice to get one.”

Although Siegle was frustrated about what he felt was excessive blocking and “negative racing” on the part of the Gritters, he remained professional at the podium ceremonies. The Gritters finished the day by donating their winnings to the family of Udo Heinz.

The SoCalCross Prestige Series has a double-header on the calendar next. It’s Long Beach CX weekend is going off at El Dorado Park Saturday and Sunday, November 16-17.