Caroline Mani (CC Etupes) and Ryan Trebon (LTS-Felt) won the Spooky Cross on Saturday in Irvine, California.
The Halloween-themed event also served as the finale to the four-race Cross After Dark series, which began September 14 with CrossVegas in Las Vegas.
In the women’s race, French national champion Mani jumped into the lead right from the start.
“I saw a gap and I said, ‘OK, now I have to go,’” said Mani.
Sue Butler (Team River City Bicycles-Ridley) and a handful of chasers followed. Meanwhile, former U23 national mountain bike champion Chloe Forsman (Race Club 11) slipped out on the first corner and found herself in last place by a large margin, seemingly out of podium contention.
Teal Stetson-Lee (Cal Giant Cycling Team) was lying eighth after dropping her chain in the sandpit.
“I was happy to start on the front line and I was excited to go out and shoot for the holeshot,” said Teal. “When I went through the sandpit for the first time I was really sloppy — I knocked my chain off, then I had to stop and put it back on.”
At the start of the second lap, it was Mani, Butler, Devon Haskell Gorry (Rambuski Law), Stetson-Lee and Sarah Maile (Ventana Mountain Bike) in the top five. By the time they hit the first set of barriers, Stetson-Lee had overtaken Maile, cementing a podium finish for the evening.
By the third lap, local favorite Alison Mann (Rock ’n’ Road Cyclery) had moved up from eighth to fifth behind Stetson-Lee. Meanwhile, Forsman had fought her way back up to eighth.
With three laps to go, Mani and Butler had 11 seconds on Gorry and Stetson-Lee, and by the time the chasing pair hit the first set of barriers on the lap, Stetson-Lee had overtaken Gorry. Seconds later, Forsman overhauled Mann, and the two spent the next two laps battling for the fifth and final step on the podium.
In the end, Forsman gapped Mann to make on the podium despite her first-lap foul up.
“I crashed right off the start. I might have run a little too low pressure for this course. Way to get a good handicap at the start,” said Forsman, who was racing for the first time in Southern California. “It was the first time I encountered a sand pit like that.
“That was hard. It was a drag race out there.”
Butler knew first was out of reach but never gave up on second.
“I knew Teal was closing in, I wanted to just stay ahead of her — I knew I wasn’t going to catch Caroline,” she said.
The Portland mud queen had to use a different skill set on the dusty, hard packed Southern California course.
“It’s just fast cornering, something I am not as good at and I need to get better. Following Mani is always a good way to work at it,” she said.
Stetson-Lee fought hard to get to third, taking advantage of the tight corners, the sand and the run-up.
“I had some really quick running tonight, my legs felt really strong,” she said. “Caroline and Sue are awesome to chase down. They are great competitors!”
As for Mani, who is living in Chicago, she credits her strong season so far to a quicker start. In the past she has always missed the lead group and wound up chasing for the entire race.
”This year I am pretty good in the starts because I am racing every weekend,” she said.
“I just care about my bike because I only have one bike and I have no spare wheels, so if I have a flat then my race is done.”
And Mani took the Halloween theme very seriously indeed. She sported an outlandish set of Seventies-style shades — “I wanted to be fun with my sunglasses,” she said — and issued a mock warning to Butler before the race got under way.
“Sue and I we are always together,” she said. “I told her, ‘I want to kill you today,’ and I did.”
Who’s that wearing the Brian Lopes costume?
That would be Brian Lopes, a Laguna resident and multi-time world champion in gravity racing, who snatched the holeshot as the men’s race got under way.
His lead would be short lived as Trebon roared past, leading Belgian champion Ben Berden (Ops Ale-Stoemper), Ryan Knapp (Bob’s Red Mill Cyclocross), Allen Krughoff (Boulder Cycle Sport), Chris Jones (Rapha-Focus) and Kevin Noiles (Sportique) through the remainder of lap one.
Trebon continued his push into the next lap with Krughoff and Berden on his wheel. A chase group containing U.S. national champ Todd Wells (Specialized), Lopes and Jones followed at five seconds.
By lap three, Wells had made it to the front group, and he would stay there with Trebon, Berden and Krughoff. Kyle Gritters (Rock ‘n’ Road Cyclery) and Lopes trailed at three seconds.
With six laps to go, the lead group was down to three, with Wells, Trebon and Berden trading pace and the occasional attack. The Cross After Dark title was on the line, and if Trebon could win the race, he would take the series.
On the final surge to the finish, Wells fell off the pace and Trebon led Berden out of the final corner. It was all out for the last 100 yards, neck and neck, and Trebon took the win and the series title.
“I had to win,” said Trebon. “It was a hard race. Ben was riding good tonight. Luckily I just had a little bit more at the end.”
Wells, who hung on for third, is focused on making the 2012 Olympic team and will hang up his ’cross cleats after Jingle Cross in late November. Still, he gave the race his all, knowing he was at a disadvantage.
“It takes me until late November to get the speed these guys come into the season with, and these high-end surges these guys have. But it’s fun to be out here and mix it up with them.”
- 1. Caroline Mani, CC Etupes, 42:13
- 2. Susan Butler, Team River City Bicycles-Ridley, at 0:15
- 3. Teal Stetson Lee, Cal Giant, at 0:19
- 4. Devon Gorry, Team Rambuski Law, at 1:15
- 5. Chloe Forsman, Race Club 11, at 1:42
- 1. Ryan Trebon, LTS-Felt, 1:03:53
- 2. Ben Berden, Ops Ale-Stoemper, same time
- 3. Todd Wells, Specialized, at 0:15
- 4. Allen Krughoff, at 0:50
- 5. Christopher Jones, Rapha-Focus, at 1:02