Randy Angel

A golden day for Chevron Manhattan Beach Grand Prix

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Jonathan Cantwell, Carlos Alzate Escobar and Jacob Keough eye the finish line at the 50th Chevron Manhattan Beach Grand Prix. Photo by Randy Angel

Whizzing through the final turn and heading down the final stretch, three cyclists emerged to the front of a pack that began with 99 riders. Jockeying for position amid the cheers from thousands of onlookers, the trio were neck-and-neck as the riders approached the finish line. With a late burst of speed, Colombia’s Carlos Alzate Escobar escaped with a victory holding off his closest competitors to capture the Pro 1 race at the Chevron Manhattan Beach Grand Prix last Sunday.

The exciting finish seemed a fitting way to cap off the 50th edition of the annual event that included eight races plus a number of community kids’ races.

Racing for Team Exergy, Escobar held off favorite Jonathan Cantwell (Fly V Australia-Virgin Blue) and Jacob Keough (UCI PCT: UnitedHealthcare). A 2008 Olympian in Beijing, Escobar took home $3,140 for his winning effort.

Jennifer Valente became one of the youngest riders to win in the 50-year history of the Chevron Manhattan Beach Grand Prix. Photo by Ray Vidal

The Women’s 1-3 race was equally exciting as 17-year-old Jennifer Valente beat a field of riders at least seven years older to win her sixth road race of the year.

Riding for G.S. Adams Avenue Bicycles, the junior at Cathedral Catholic High School in San Diego out rode Beatriz Rodriguez (SC VELO/Empower Coaching) and Julia Lafranchise (NOW-MS Society) for the victory.

Although a number of crashes shortened the time of some of the races, sunny skies and a cool ocean breeze made for ideal racing conditions.

“I ordered this weather,” Manhattan Beach Mayor Richard Montgomery said jokingly.

It was a day of celebration, and not just for the race winners. Ted Ernst beamed as he watched spectators of all ages cheer for the racers on every lap.

A year after starting the South Bay Wheelmen in 1961, Ernst founded the Manhattan Beach Grand Prix and has never looked back.

Jill Brunkhardt, Chevron Public Affairs, MBGP founder Ted Ernst, Manhattan Beach Chief of Police Eve Irvine and Mayor Richard Montgomery take a short break before returning to their duties. Photo by Randy Angel

“It’s an exciting day but all of the races have been that way,” Ernst said. “I believe this will go on for a long time.”

The MBGP is considered the second oldest single day race in the United States.

“This is part of the community and ‘Real America,’” Ernst explained. “It’s people doing things together from all walks of life and background. From the corporate level to the civic level to the home level, it’s all just great and it all functions. It’s what made America strong and what will keep America strong.”

Cycling was one of the charter sports when the modern Olympic Games began in 1896 and Ernst is proud to see how not only his race has grown, but the sport of cycling.

“Cycling is one of the oldest sports and one of the oldest activities that actually began with the Industrial Revolution,” said Ernst, who was inducted into the USA Bicycling Hall of Fame in 2006 for his contributions to the sport. “I was on the Citizen’s Advisory Board that helped create bike lanes. Manhattan Beach was one of the prime movers for the bike path. This has always been a very active, sports-minded community and I’m proud to be a part of it.”

An exhibit of racing cycles displayed the evolution of the sport. The oldest was built in 1933 for a 6-day racer who rode for Ted Ernst’s father, Ted, Sr. Photo by Randy Angel

From elite racers to weekend riders to curious spectators, the day was filled with action starting with the Cat 4 race at 7 a.m. The event also included an exhibit of antique racing bikes, programs and trophies. The oldest bike displayed was built in 1933 for a 6-day racer who rode for Ernst’s father, Ted, Sr.

Winning the Cat 2 race was Ryan Schneider (Team Simple Green/Bike Religion) who edged last year’s winner Jordan Itaya and Andrew Sjogren.

In the Cat 3, Mike Faello (Surf City Cyclery) placed third defeating Dereck Butterfield and last year’s winner Hime Herbert. The Cat 4 title went to Derryl Halpern who held off Justin Herd and Chris Ayers.

Paul Che had the best finish of the day for the South Bay Wheelmen, placing third in the Masters 35+ race behind Tommy Robles (Sho-air/Rock ‘n Road) and Aron Gadhia (Breakaway-UBS Elite Masters) who duplicated his second-place finish of 2010.

Hermosa Beach residents Bonnie Cohn and Lori Herold were on hand to sell the popular 50th Anniversary T-shirts. Photo by Randy Angel

After taking second place a year ago, Richard Meeker (Breakaway-UBS Elite Masters) won the Masters 45+ this year defeating John Slover (Team Helen’s) and Taylor Fenstermacher (CA Pools/DeWalt).

The Masters 55+ title went to Keith Ketterer (Breakaway-UBS Elite Masters) who out rode Michael Birditt (Swami’s Cycling Club) and Fred Hoblitt (Santa Clarita Velo).

Mike Marotta (Action Sports/Simply Fit) took top honors in the Masters 60+ division, beating last year’s second-place finisher John Rubcic (UC Cyclery/JW Floors) and Kenny Fuller (Team Simple Green/Bike Religion).

Fuller returned to Manhattan Beach to celebrate the race’s Golden Anniversary. The Corona Del Mar resident competed in the inaugural Manhattan Beach Grand Prix in 1962.

“I don’t always make this race because of other commitments but I had to come back for the 50th,” Fuller said. “It’s been a few years since I’ve been here but I’ve probably raced in it over 30 times in my career.”

The next generation of cyclists cut their teeth at the annual kids races. Photo by Ray Vidal

Fuller reminisced about his first MBGP race when he was 13 years old.

“The biggest difference now is there are a lot more people and a lot more racers than way back when,” Fuller said. “With the exception of the railroad tracks being taken out, the course is basically the same but the bikes are close to half the weight from when I started 50 years ago so the race is faster. I had 10 gears back then, now I have 20.”

The competitive Fuller still mustered a smile despite what he termed a disappointing finish on Sunday.

“I’m still winning but took third today,” Fuller said. “I’m kind of a marked man right now since I won the World Championship the last three years in a row.”

World Champion Kenny Fuller returned to the course where his racing career began. Photo by Randy Angel

After a couple of tune-up races, Fuller will compete in August at the National Championships in Bend, Oregon before heading to Belgium for the World Championships in October.

The South Bay Wheelmen, along with the Lion’s Club, host the annual Chevron Manhattan Beach Grand Prix supplying numerous volunteers. The Wheelmen were led by riders Paul Che and Luis Che who each raced in two events. After Paul Che’s third-place finish in the Masters 35+, he placed 15th in the Pro 1 division. Luis Che had an 8th-place finish in the Cat 4 race and placed 39th in the Masters 35+ competition.

David Wehrly finished 5th in the Masters 45+. Also representing the South Bay Wheelmen were Cat 4 competitors Chadd Artinger (37th), Raimon Trezevant (47th) and Stephen Murphy (62nd), Thomas Buescher (27th, Masters 55+), Leo Longo (13th, Masters 60+), Bruce Steele (Masters 60+) and Julie Riccardi (18th, Womens 1-3).

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