Report & Photos: Mountain Bikes Shake Things Up at San Diego SoCalCross


Controversy brewed like a medium Arabica at the SoCalCross Prestige Series weekend in San Diego: delicate flavor and low acidity, slightly sweet and toasty in flavor. This coffee is not dark or bitter. And the controversy was not particularly heated. Iced decaf, perhaps. The good-natured personality of cyclocross rarely generates a harsh buzz. But there was a buzz nonetheless.

Such were the emotions of CX purists during and after rounds six and seven on the 2012-13 SoCalCross schedule, held at the San Diego Velodrome in Balboa Park. The cause? Riders on mountain bikes had stolen a significant amount of the spotlight from dedicated cyclocross bikes and their fans. The usual heckling became a tad more, um, “pointed” with this one.

There was no denying that the diverse and technical course layout played a large role in the debate. Competitors started and finished on the pool table-smooth surface of the oval track. On the other side of the fence they grappled with a section of loose, mulchy tree droppings, numerous tight and often off-camber sod turns and more desertlike rocks and silt than any Mars rover could discover. On Sunday the promoters even tossed in a log at the exit of a downhill hairpin turn, which effectively made the following short, steep uphill a dismount and runup.

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Photos By Phil Beckman/PB Creative

Or so they thought. Riders with strong bike handling skills were able to hop the log and carry enough momentum to grunt up the climb. Especially riders on mountain bikes. And as it played out, this seven-second moment during a typical six-minute lap was a game-changer.

Brandon Gritters (Rock N Road) made a hardtail MTB his weapon of choice for the day, and in the end was able to use it to his advantage against ‘cross-mounted Brent Prenzlow (Celo Pacific). When Gritters was in the lead he was able to hop over and ride it. On the final lap he fought for the position, won it, and was able to gain a couple of precious seconds on Prenzlow, who had to hop off and run.

According to Gritters, “I think today actually came down to bike choice. This venue is pretty rocky and bumpy in sections. Last year I broke a set of wheels on my ‘cross bike. Plus I could ride over the log on the mountain bike. I got a gap there on the last lap and there are a couple of rocky sections after that so the gap stayed the same to the finish.”

Prenzlow concurred. He knew very well that even though he preferred his ‘cross bike, a mountain bike was at the very least not a disadvantage. After all, he was forced to ride his MTB for most of the previous day’s event and put in an astonishing performance to finish in third place.

In that one he started on his ‘cross bike and was up front when he rear-flatted near the end of the first lap. Prenzlow hoofed it a long way to make it to the pits, where his spare bike — a mountain bike — awaited. While Antron Petrov (SDG/Felt presented by IRT) was running away with it alone out front, Prenzlow chased from last place. And chased. And chased.

One by one he whirred past the competition and on the last circuit recorded the fastest lap of the weekend — by almost nine seconds — to finally move into third place for the day. Prenzlow commented, “When I flatted I thought, ‘Do I pull out and save it for tomorrow or do I keep going?’ I’m glad I stayed in it and was able to come back. The mountain bike wasn’t too bad with some of the rocky sections but I think I would have been faster on the ‘cross bike.”

One rider who was not surprised by Prenzlow’s rebound was winner Petrov. “It may not have looked like it, but I was pushing it,” he stated. “I knew Brent could come back. A few more laps and he would have been on my wheel. I just rode as hard as I could and kept an eye on the gaps.”

Finishing second on Saturday was ‘cross bike-mounted Elliott Reinecke (Velo Hanger). But he too chose a mountain bike for Sunday’s event and for much of the race was right there with Gritters and Prenzlow, the three of them well ahead of the rest. But Reinecke broke his chain while hopping the log with under two laps to go and ended up finishing the race in sixth place — on his ‘cross bike. Oh, the irony.

Johnny Weir (Mudfoot/Shimano) ended up in third place, just ahead of Under 23 winner Doug Hall (The TEAM SoCalCross). Petrov had elected not to race this day, while another contender, Kyle Gritters (Rock N Road), was having mechanical issues for the second day in a row.

Having no issues at all either day was Women’s A winner Carolin Schiff (Felt/SDG/IRT/Spy Optics). Schiff was able to shake off Emily Georgeson (Helen’s/Cannondale) early both days to ride unopposed ahead of a depleted field.

Well, almost no issues. “I had cramps in my fingers today for some reason, maybe because it’s so hot and dry,” said Schiff. “I was making a lot of mistakes today I think because that was breaking my concentration.” This runaway points leader has learned that she will not be able to finish the series due to her residency status. She’ll return to her native Germany at the end of November with hopes to be back in the U.S. in 2013 for some MTB and road racing.

For full results and more, visit the SoCalCross Prestige Series website.

Photos & Report By Phil Beckman/PB Creative