Cyclocross racers in Southern California covered more sand this past weekend than a Cancun cabana boy. Rounds nine and ten of the 2012-13 SoCalCross Prestige Series were held at two completely different venues, but the story had a common theme: deep, gut-wrenching, gear-grinding, ankle-rolling sand. Sven Nys would have been proud.
Saturday was at the most unique location on the circuit, perhaps anywhere. Aptly dubbed Storm the Beach, this test of man and machine took place at the Pacific shoreline near Oceanside, on a portion of the training grounds for Camp Pendleton. And while the sand was certainly a challenge, it was a long, long pull into a cold, hideous headwind at the smooth and relatively firm water’s edge that had riders tripping on lactic acid.
The elite Men’s A race was quickly whittled down to a two-man collaboration between Brent Prenzlow — who designed the course for the host club and his team, Celo Pacific — and CX rookie Elliot Reinecke (Velo Hangar). Reinecke led at the start of the final lap, but the wily 44-year-old Prenzlow, a sand master and multi-time winner of this event, executed a perfectly timed move to take the victory by five seconds. Anton Petrov (SDG/Felt p/b IRT) came in over two and a half minutes later for a lonely third place.
“It’s my home course and my team’s race, so it’s good to win this one,” said Prenzlow. “We had fun out there and raced hard on the last lap and I got a gap coming onto the beach. Then I was able to hold him off going into the headwind, which was really tough; worse than the sand.”
Reinecke, a mountain bike racer during the summer, was obviously happy with his performance. “I knew the move was going to be made by Brent in the last lap or two,” he admitted. “I had a little fumble right before we came onto the beach and lost a couple of seconds, right when Brent went hard. I had a good day. I’m learning a lot; I love ‘cross.”
For Sunday the troops picked up and moved inland a few miles to San Dieguito River Park in Escondido for the SPYclocross. It was a change from saltwater to freshwater, but the song remained the same: a significant portion of the course ran on the beach sand of Lake Hodges. Much of this Ranchos Cycling Team-created layout also included the most climbing the series riders had encountered this season, on mountain bike-friendly singletrack trail and fireroads in the hills above the lake.
This event had special meaning on Veteran’s Day as it benefited Operation Rebound. Backed by the Challenged Athlete’s Foundation, this is a sports and fitness program for American military personnel, veterans and first responders with permanent physical and emotional disabilities. It provides opportunities to pursue active, athletic lifestyles by offering access to funding for equipment, training and competition expenses. Two program participants raced at SPYclocross.
Prenzlow and Reinecke were on the starting line here as well, and they were joined by title contenders Brandon and Kyle Gritters (Rock n Road). As usual, Kyle Gritters went out hard in an attempt to set something up for his brother. This time it actually succeeded.
Prenzlow was forced to do much of the work to catch the younger Gritters, and when he, Reinecke and Brandon Gritters — who had distanced themselves from the rest of the field early — finally closed the gap with two laps to go, Brandon Gritters put in a blistering attack. It was almost instantly ten seconds, which would nearly double at the line. Kyle Gritters, in the meantime, outsprinted Reinecke on the final paved run to the timing strip after they had dropped an exhausted Prenzlow. It was a perfectly executed display of team tactics.
According to Kyle Gritters, “It’s usually the plan, but there’s always been some factor this season that messes it up, like flats or a crash. It was a good course to use these kinds of tactics: sit on, ride a wheel up the hill. I dropped my chain when I hit it with my elbow during the run up from the lake. That closed the gap with three to go, but it allowed me to sit in a little bit for the finish.”
Brandon Gritters had a sly grin when he said, “I only went hard for just a little under two laps. I got a pretty good gap in one lap and then just rode comfortably and steady, didn’t make any mistakes, stayed on my bike and got down to the finish. I got to watch the sprint for second, which turned out well.”
The elite Women’s A class at both Storm the Beach and SPYclocross was the sole domain of Carolin Schiff (SDG/Felt/IRT/SPY). She now has eight victories in ten events for the SoCalCross season, and like most of them, she was all alone at the line this weekend.
These victories did not come without issues, however. The German revealed that she had been ill the previous week and wasn’t sure she would be able to attend. On Saturday she rode the last half of the race on a flat rear tire. Class rival Amanda Schaper (Ritte CX Team), second on Saturday, loaned her a wheel for Sunday. At SPYclocross a gust of wind blew the course tape into her handlebar, which cost her some time to Hanna Rae Finchamp (Cynergy) while untangling. In the end, it was another clean sweep.
“Yeah, I had a nice weekend,” she understated.
The Prestige Series takes a one-week break for the SCNCA District Cyclocross Championships at Hart Park in Bakersfield November 17-18. Round 11 of the 2012-13 SoCalCross resumes with the Turkey Trot Cross on Sunday, November 25, followed the next weekend with a biggie: CXLA, which includes two days of UCI racing, the Cross After Dark series finale, the Single Speed CX World Championships and more. Mark your calendars for November 30 – December 2.
Story and photos by Phil Beckman/PB Creative