In terms of genuine Rivalries (with a capital R), this wasn’t exactly Hatfields and McCoys. Coke and Pepsi. Cats and dogs. Leno and Letterman. As much as race promoter Sam Ames would like to stir things up, the 3rd Annual Nor Cal vs. So Cal State Cyclocross Championship was more like Bert and Ernie. Homer Simpson and Ned Flanders. Warm and fuzzy and perhaps talking a little funny after a couple of trips to the beer tent. It’s rivalry with a lower case r.
Maybe some hostility will germinate now that the So Cal corps has gotten its collective nose bloodied. That’s right, we lost.
This time around the riders from “up state” seemed to be taking the event more seriously than of those from “down south.” There had been quite a bit of friendly social media smack talk going on between the two groups leading into the event, and it was no secret that some campaigning was being done to get more northern riders to make the long drive to Hart Memorial Park in Bakersfield. A change in the championship points structure added to Nor Cal’s chances. Add in the fact that many top So Cal riders had pulled the plug on their CX seasons a week or two earlier, and change was in the air.
After three years it’s So Cal 2, Nor Cal 1.
Read it and weep. The final score had the North with more points — 310 to 233 —and more than twice as many individual class championships: 11 to 5. The running tally board was close for much of the event, but strong North representation in the later Cat 3 and Cat 4 Men’s classes tipped the scale toward that end of the Golden State.
The final Elite Men’s race sealed the deal, as Santa Cruz natives Tobin Ortenblad (Cal Giant/Specialized) and Aaron Bradford (Bicycle Bluebook/HRS/Rock Lobster) were unstoppable on a long, fast course punctuated by several hideous run-ups.
Local hero Gareth Feldstein (Ritte CX Team) grabbed the early lead but jammed his chain on the third lap and had to change bikes. By this time Ortenblad and Bradford had separated themselves from the 16-rider field, with only Eric Bostrom (Sho-Air/Cannondale), representing for So Cal, able to hang.
These three worked together for the next three laps and built a mammoth gap back to Justin Robinson (Cal Giant/Specialized), the ageless Don Myrah (Ibis) and Anton Petrov (SDG/Felt/IRT).
With three to go it was down to two, primarily because Bradford and Ortenblad were bunnyhopping a critical barrier leading into a brutally steep run-up, while Bostrom — a former motorcycle road racing champion but relatively new bicycle racer — could not. After being yo-yoed half a dozen times, Bostrom was cooked.
Ortenblad made his move on the last climb on the last lap, a jump that Bradford could not counter on the final long, paved, slightly downhill stretch back to the finish. Ortenblad punched the banner as he crossed underneath several seconds ahead of a freewheeling Bradford.
“I waited and thought maybe I’d try something with two to go, but I wasn’t confident enough,” stated the 18-year-old Ortenblad. “Aaron has come back from injury and is riding strong. I knew he wouldn’t be easy to beat. So I waited till one to go and then let Aaron pass me at the bottom of the run-up so I could be on his wheel the rest of the lap. I went by on that hill and kept the pressure on and it worked out. It was good training for the World Championships in Kentucky in a couple of weeks.”
The 28-year-old Bradford, just back from Nationals with a Single Speed silver medal, was philosophical. “It’s not the first time I’ve gotten second to Tobin and it probably won’t be the last,” he said. “It’s really hard to outride that kid, but it’s always fun, clean racing with him. We popped out on the road and he got a little bit of a gap and that’s all he needed.”
Bostrom rolled in alone for third, Petrov completed his usual come-from-behind charge in fourth, while Feldstein benefited from a 30-second penalty to Robinson to round out the podium. Robinson, who had earlier won a compelling battle with David McNeal (SPY/Giant) for the 35+ title, finished his day at the first aid tent with a chainring gash in his ankle.
The Elite Women’s race was far less dramatic, but it would turn out to be one of the bright spots for So Cal supporters. In only her third cyclocross race, 23-year-old road triathlete Amanda Nauman (Felt) moved past early leaders Elicia Hildebrand (Team Rambuski Law) and Katie Melena (Bicycle Bluebook/HRS/Rock Lobster) to win by over a minute.
“I’m not gonna lie — it’s pretty awesome,” she beamed. “It was a lot of fun. I’ve been doing a lot more practicing in the dirt and I think that’s paying off. Plus I was riding a bike we built yesterday that actually fits. My first two ‘cross races, I was on a borrowed bike. I love this sport. It’s such a different, family atmosphere and people are so supportive. I’m totally psyched about it. I totally plan on killing it next season.”
She will have a chance to defend her title, since promoter Sam Ames has already committed to a 4th Annual Nor Cal vs. So Cal State Cyclocross Championship at this same venue a year from now. “Absolutely,” he confirmed. “This event and cyclocross in general are so near and dear to my heart. We’re going to keep it going even if we have to go in the hole. I think it was a fantastic race today and that it will become a great end-of-season finale for California cyclocrossers in the years to come.
2013 California State CX Champions
* = So Cal riders
Elite Men: Tobin Ortenblad (Cal Giant/Specialized)
Men Cat 3: Quinten Kirby (The TEAM SoCalCross)*
Men Cat 4: Justin Russo (Cal Poly San Luis Obispo)
Men 35+: Justin Robinson (Cal Giant Cycling)
Men 45+: Gannon Myall (Cal Giant Cycling)
Men 55+: Henry Kramer (Cal Giant Cycling)
Single Speed Men: Ryan Rinn
Elite Women: Amanda Nauman (Felt)*
Women Cat 4: Carolina Gomez Villafane
Master Women 35+, 45+, 55+: Lindsey Collins
Single Speed Women: Ellen Sherrill (Bicycle Bluebook/HRS/Rock Lobster)
Youth: Jenner Hutson
Junior Girls 10-14: Cheyenne Comer (The TEAM SoCalCross)*
Junior Boys 10-14: Parker Rous (Bolthouse Farms/AIAGE Cycling)
Junior Girls 15-18: Courtney Comer (The TEAM SoCalCross)*
Junior Boys 15-18: Quinten Kirby (The TEAM SoCalCross)*
For a gallery of photos from all classes at this event, click here.