One of the many unique features of this SoCalCross event. © Philip Beckman

One of the many unique features of this SoCalCross event. © Philip Beckman

by Philip Beckman

Camarillo, Calif. – “Variety’s the very spice of life.” Credit one William Cowper for this age-old adage. Bill the poet would have liked the Pacifica Crossfest, had he not expired in April of 1800.

This fourth round of the 2013-14 SoCalCross Prestige Series had more spice than wasabi: fast grass, tricky sand, a long straight stretch of pavement, a circular concrete “thingy” with a painted blue maze. There was even a barn turned gym to pedal through for Cowper’s sake. Add in the usual cyclocross barriers and a stairs run up, and all the riders who turned out on this pleasant day at Casa Pacifica, a lovely campus serving abused and neglected children and adolescents, had enough variety to make chili powder seem bland.

Well-rounded cyclocross competitors had the advantage at this event, as was evident in the Elite A class. Defending champion Hannah Rae Finchamp (Luna Chix) dominated the Women’s field despite having run a three-mile cross-country race at her high school in the morning finishing second, breaking her PR by over 30 seconds. This was all in preparation for the XTERRA World Championships in Maui next weekend.

The early leader was 46-year-old Christina Probert-Turner (The TEAM SoCalCross), but was quickly passed by Nicole Brandt (LaGrange/Michelob Ultra), who promptly stuffed her bike in the sand. Probert-Turner officially led at the end of the first lap, but Finchamp was soon in the lead and on the way to her second comfortable victory in a row.

Probert-Turner put in one of her best cyclocross rides in years to finish runner-up, 13 seconds ahead of rising road star Alexis Ryan (The TEAM SoCalCross). Brandt and Team Rambuski Law rider Katrina Baumsteiger rounded out the podium.

Women’s A race winner Hannah Rae Finchamp (Luna Chix) navigates the barn. © Philip Beckman

Women’s A race winner Hannah Rae Finchamp (Luna Chix) navigates the barn. © Philip Beckman

Ryan is enjoying her offseason after an international campaign with the NOW and Novartis for MS and U.S. National teams. Next year she’ll be on the new UnitedHealthcare Pro Cycling women’s squad. Ryan lives nearby and decided to catch up with old friends.

“I’m just home hanging out,” she said. “I wanted to come see everybody and decided to race too. Since I haven’t really been training intensely I decided to go slow and not blow myself up. I just worked myself into it, on a borrowed bike. I haven’t been off-road in months, so I figured I should take it easy the first laps and not crash myself out. It’s a good atmosphere here, a good family.”

Finchamp was happy with her day. “With the running event this morning, I started a little more conservative here. Going into the second lap I knew that I was feeling strong so that’s when I took the lead. There was one slightly exciting incident when we were all coming around towards the backside on a flatter section. Going into one of the turns a few of use were pretty close and Nicole [Brandt] slid out and I was right behind her and our bikes kind of locked. We had to pull them apart but we were able to get right back up and both finish top five, so it was good.

“The women were more aggressive today, which is fun. This whole day, including the running race, was a huge confidence boost. I feel really good and really ready for world’s,” Finchamp concluded.

Probert-Turner was philosophical: “We had a tough field out there today. I decided after last week that I have to play to my strengths. There were some technical sandy sections and some tight turns and whoops, so I just had to use my mountain bike skills. I thought it was fun. I tried to keep my lead as long as I could but I knew Hannah was going to be blowing by any second.”

Gareth Feldstein (Ritte CX) shot out to the early lead of an entertaining and eventful Men’s Elite A race. He was joined by brothers/teammates Brandon and Kyle Gritters (Blackstar/Rock ‘n’ Road). These three collaborated to build a healthy gap over Cory Greenberg (Pedalers Fork/10-Speed Coffee), Brent Prenzlow (Celo Pacific/Focus) and John Bailey (Bailey Bikes), who had earlier captured the 35+ Men’s A division.

The Men’s Elite field heads for turn one. © Philip Beckman

The Men’s A field heads for turn one. © Philip Beckman

By the midway point of this hour-long event the top three remained the same, with Prenzlow chasing alone and the Greenberg, Bailey duo falling back.

Things got very interesting at the front when Kyle Gritters clipped a pedal in a deceptive depression in the middle of a grassy chicane. Riding second wheel at the time behind Feldstein, Gritters went down and collected his brother in the process. Feldstein decided to sit up and wait, and it wasn’t long before these three had regrouped without losing a significant amount of time. Their cause was aided when Prenzlow made a bike change because of a suspected flat tire at the same time the drama was taking place ahead.

Just a lap later it was Feldstein’s turn to go down in the very same corner, his issue being a rolled tire. The Gritters brothers in turn waited for Feldstein as he got back going and then made two bike changes in successive laps. The pace, the fall and the fact that Feldstein had put in a hard ride to finish second in the earlier single speed Men’s A class (just behind teammate Alan “Danger” Zinniker), finally took its toll, however. Feldstein waved the Gritters brothers on.

A couple of laps later they freewheeled across the line with big smiles, defending series champ Brandon Gritters being handed the honors by his brother. In the meantime, Prenzlow was completing a furious charge all the way up to and around Feldstein for a solo third place. Greenberg who would end up fifth, just three seconds behind, aided Feldstein’s comeback effort, in no small part.

Kyle Gritters paces brother and Blackstar/Rock ‘n’ Road teammate Brandon Gritters through the sand. © Philip Beckman

Kyle Gritters paces brother and Blackstar/Rock ‘n’ Road teammate Brandon Gritters through the sand. © Philip Beckman

Brandon Gritters had a look of amusement when he stated, “I think all three of us in that front group at one point either crashed or crashed each other in that third or fourth corner. I know Kyle and I both ended up on the ground together one time.”

When asked about the finish order, Kyle Gritters laughed and said “I didn’t want to embarrass him by taking the sprint. It was fun, mixing it up a little out there. I’ve been feeling better every week in these races. It’s good to come out and have some fun instead of just suffering the whole time.”

Or as William Wordsworth wrote in Cowper’s day, “There is a pleasure in poetic pains.”

The next event on the SoCalCross schedule is one of the favorites—the Halloween themed Spooky Cross—followed the next day by Krosstoberfest. This L.A. Bikefest weekend takes place on Saturday and Sunday, October 26th and 27th, at the Fairplex in Pomona, California.

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