October 4, 2014, Long Beach, Calif. Words and images by Philip Beckman/PB Creative
Pouring rain—bring it on. Ankle-deep mud—sounds like fun. Frostbitten fingertips—just the ticket for stirring a post-race margarita. We all have our ‘cross to bear. In the SoCalCross Prestige Series, it’s choking dust, powdery sand, relentless gopher mounds, the occasional Santa Ana wind flagellation, and heat. Sweltering, stifling heat. Enough heat to qualify for a volume discount on intravenous drips. Gasping, blistering, ice bucket challenge heat. You traditionalists go ahead and brag up your “real” cyclocross torments. Horizontal sleet sounds lovely right now.
And so it was at the third round of the 2014-15 SoCalCross season, this time held at a tropical El Dorado Park in Long Beach. Much respect to all the hard core CXers who actually decided to give “’Cross at the Beach” a go despite the National Weather Service’s dire heat advisories.
The Elite classes took to the course during the warmest part of this Saturday event. Despite the triple-digit thermometer reading, Amanda Nauman (SDG/Bellwether/Krema Peanut Butter) appeared as cool and collected as ever. Just as she did at the previous weekend’s doubleheader, Nauman rocketed off the start and then kept a smooth, solid pace all the way to finish.
Three starts, three wins, leading every lap so far this season. That’s a hot streak of a different color.
Nicole Brandt (LaGrange/Michelob Ultra) tried hard to stay on Nauman’s wheel. Perhaps a little too hard. Brandt took a spill on the second lap and that was all the advantage Nauman needed. As she extended her lead into another time zone at the finish, Brandt regrouped for a lonely second place while McKenzie Melcher (The TEAM SoCalCross) had one of her best Elite performances yet with a come-from-behind third place.
It took about two laps for the Elite Men’s A field to sort itself out, with a formation of five finally getting away at the front. The surprise of this bunch was Justin Abbott (Vacation Forever), an unknown quantity in these parts. It was later learned that this 25-year-old is from Pleasant Hill, Calif., and has deep roots in NorCal competition, with much success on CX and mountain bikes. He’s spent about a year working in San Diego, dabbling in SoCal’s road scene, but is now moving back north.
Abbott seemed more than happy to take time on the front, and was putting on a show for the fans by bunnyhopping the barriers as well as this course’s signature tree trunk. He was also riding a short but steep stair section that everyone else was running. It was clear that the other four with Abbott—Kyle Gritters (Rock N Road/Rokform), Elliot Reinecke (Velo Hangar/Focus), Chris Jackson (Castex/Felt) and Brandon Gritters (Rock N Road/Big Red Coaching)—were becoming somewhat concerned after several laps of this.
A few conspired attacks by the SoCal regulars eventually dropped the interloper, who would abandon altogether in another lap due to mild heatstroke.
When Brandon Gritters surged with five laps to go, it seemed as if the thermostat had been kicked up even a few degrees more. Reinecke took a soil sample almost immediately in trying to hold onto Gritters, and subsequently collected Jackson in his mistake. Brandon took full advantage of the gift and was never seen again. Kyle Gritters and Reinecke were left to untangle and chase; Jackson was left behind, fumbling with a dropped chain.
The elder Gritters was quickly out of sight, while Kyle sat on Reinecke for a couple of laps. Following a script that has proven so effective so many times before, Kyle attacked with two to go, leaving Reinecke gasping. Once again it was Gritters 1-2, the ginger ninjas having delivered yet another lesson in ‘cross domination.
Reinecke rolled in for third, Jackson fourth and Jason Siegle (SDG/Bellwether/Krema Peanut Butter) fifth.
Full results can be found at socalcross.org.
This event also served as round three of the California Cyclocross Series, one of ten races scheduled across California intended to determine the best racer in the state while showcasing the grit, the fun and the culture of the sport! Details on CXCX can be found at www.CaliforniaCX.com.
Next on the SoCalCross schedule is the Legacy Cross & Angeles Forest Gran Fondo, a doubleheader weekend taking place 10/18-19 at Crescenta Valley Park and the Rose Bowl in Pasadena. After that it’s one of the favorites among competitors and spectators alike. Spooky Kross Weekend goes off at Irvine Lake 10/25-26. In between those two weekends is something new for local CXers: the inaugural race of the new SPYclocross Series. The Velocity Cross happens Sunday, 10/12, in Chino, CA.
For more information and to stay connected to all SoCalCross PRESTIGE SERIES activities, be sure to bookmark SoCalCross.org as well as follow it all on Facebook and Twitter.