Chico Stage Race hosted by Chico Corsa Cycling Club and managed by Mike Painter is the event I’ve been most looking forward to in the early race season, I’ve been planning for this race weekend since November really. A 90 mile road race with two laps through a four mile stretch of gravel and a few well placed climbs, a challenging time trial that is usually windy, and Downtown Criterium finale add up to one epic race weekend. My team has similarly been planning to hit this stage race for months. Curt Mills setup a rental house; complete with pool, four bedrooms, three couches, multiple flat screens, and a large kitchen with bar stools for planning race strategy over beer, wine, and great food. We had a near full squad of cat three guys ready to race (Curt Mills, Andrew Shimizu, Eric Brickler, Tyler Janke, and Casey Fallon), while a few key players were temporarily sidelined and sincerely missed due to injury (Patrick Callan, Travis Retzger) or family travel (Nate Dunn). Collectively we planned to take this weekend by storm, and luckily for me the guys were willing to put together a race strategy aimed at landing me on the top step. Their confidence in me was apparent upon arrival when I was forced to take the master bedroom; while some of the others took up couches, shared beds, or slept in a twin. Confidence is a rare feeling for me but I did my best to start translating their humble support into a focused approach to the stage race weekend. Here is how the race unfolded…
Chico Stage 1 – Paskenta Hills Road Race
The crew headed out from Chico northeast to the small town of Paskenta, CA about 8am to get pinned up and rolling for a 10:20am start. We discussed race strategy the night before and landed on a stellar plan concocted by Mr. Eric Brickler; cover any break that looks threatening, mark a few of the key competitors, and keep Casey safe with fresh legs for a late move. Simple enough, hopeful we wouldn’t be caught having to chase with some weight on my shoulders for an attack from the gravel, but I was ready. Nerves ran high as the start heading east from Paskenta included a crucial cross wind. No sharp attacks before the first turn but a small rotation at the front had the whole field lined out past tenth wheel for a good section of the first 20 miles, I was getting battered there for a few minutes but mostly kept out of the wind by either Curt or Tyler while Eric and Andrew slayed the front keeping things fast and safe. Heading into the first right hand turn on lap one with a clearly marked right hand turn by a sign 100 meters before, cones lining the inside of the turn, and at least three guys pointing out the turn itself an Audi rider to the right of Eric did not get the memo while the whole field leaned into the turn and he rode straight into Eric sending him off his bike and abruptly to the pavement. I could not believe what I had witnessed, it was as if the Audi rider was simply out for a cruise all alone and momentarily lost all senses and brain function as the whole field prepared for a nice easy turn, then he snapped back to reality when there was contact, somehow managed to correct his line without going down and put his hand up as if to say “hey bud what are YOU doing, didn’t you see the turn?” …Eric is on the ground and I roll by with blood starting to boil and eyesight going red…I popped off as many F bombs as you can fit into a one minute period until Andrew talked me down, “don’t worry about Eric, Curt stopped with him, he will be fine, focus on the race”…the young gun gives the old guy timely advice. Okay so back to it, fast forward to the gravel on lap one…the Limitless Crew was marshaling the field through the gravel at a good pace and I comfortably sat in the safest position I could find towards the front. No major carnage through the gravel or following climb, then a quick decent and back to the cross wind. Halfway through the cross wind Garrett Marking and one other sneak away to form a two man break and the field hesitated, they would be off the front for at least half of the second lap. Unfortunately by mile 60 or so the field was getting lazy and my teammates Andrew and Curt were put into a position to chase. I tried to attack once or twice and hoped the field would sense the urgency with the dynamic duo still up the road but nobody seemed to be interested in racing, it would be a race of attrition in the last 20 miles apparently and while the two continued to hold a gap out of sight, I did my absolute best to sit patiently while Curt and Andrew put in relentless efforts to close things down while a few other teams contributed infrequently. At mile 80 just after the rollers and with about 2 miles to reach the gravel we could see the two man break was within reach and fading, a few minutes later one of the riders sat up and Curt was able to meander off the front of the remaining field of 25 or so and make a bridge to the lone rider once connected the two then continued to hold out front for a few more miles until the field hit the gravel. At that moment Curt snuck away I could not understand why no other man in the field went with him, I was completely baffled, it was a free ride up the road with a team that had numbers in the chase and nobody even flinched. In that moment I knew the field was either too tired, nearly cracked, or just not interested in racing to the line and I would have my opportunity to attack sometime in the gravel. We hit the gravel and picked up the speed after the first kicker and approached the next rise with Curt and his break mate still suffering just 50 meters ahead of us, as the field sensed their closeness and hesitated as to who would take the lead up that rise and continue driving through the gravel the opportunity was clear, now is the time, GO. I attacked the group hard up that rise, kept the gas on full for about 1 minute and established a small gap and put my head down trying to solidify a pace where I could slowly pull away as they tried to organize. When I hit the bigger rollers in the gravel I looked back and saw that the chase was still two wide telling me they continued to hesitate so I went deeper. After the rollers my gap was slightly bigger, maybe 15 or 20 seconds at the turn onto smooth pavement. I looked up the hill, looked back to the chase, then looked back upward and wished I could see the top having ridden the majority of that gravel solo in the pain cave, the field would be thinking who is going to lead the chase up the climb once they reached this point so I knew I had to go even harder upward and if I could maintain the gap by the top of the climb I would have a decent where I would be out of sight, I could recover slightly and gear up to smash the remaining 4 kms of mostly flats with the final 1km uphill to the line. I reached the top of the hill cross-eyed and looked back briefly, it seemed like my gap had grown and the chase was still fanned out. I was still so far from the line, but could I make it? A couple quick shakes of the quads as the road pointed downward, I flipped to a big gear and started going all out, at the bottom there was a turn and I’d be momentarily out of sight. Once the road flattened I could see the 3km sign approaching, looked back, the group had not come through the corner, the moto-ref was coming after me, I hit the 3km mark and the moto said I had a 30 second gap…
I could not believe it, a hundred pro races flashed across my mind where the poor lone racer up the road put everything they had into the final few kms while the chase organized quickly closing a 30 second gap in a breeze, chewed them up, and spit them out. No way, they aren’t going to organize, I put my head down again and drove for the 1km mark…I seemed like the longest most painful interval ever prescribed but I made it to 1km, I looked back expecting them to be right on my wheel and the gap was the same…as the road kick up I weaved through some shrapnel from the prior fields screaming “GET THE F’ OUT OF MY WAYYY” trying to take a perfect line, every pedal stroke after the 1km I was more confident I had the win, by 500 meters I was screaming like a little girl, “aaahh, hahaha” fist pumping and throwing dice…they were not going to catch me, they weren’t even close! I’ve attacked every single race I’ve ever participated in, I’ve ridden my absolute hardest each time, and up to this point I’ve never experienced a win. To win the Paskenta Hills Road Race off the front, completely solo, after watching my teammates slay themselves all day setting me up for that move, and all the race efforts I’ve tried in the past only to come up short…a culmination of teamwork, friendships, coaching, training, and learning from mistakes…I had this win in clear sight. I crossed the line for the win and claimed it with a FUCK YEAH. Clearly bad form with kids in earshot, but in that moment I was talking to my teammates, friends, and coach who helped me get there. I managed to hold a 28 second gap and got a +10 second time bonus…was GC leader by 38 seconds. Thanks to Curt, Andrew, Tyler, and Eric for your efforts and focus all day, big surprise when I looked back and saw that Andrew had won the field sprint after corralling the field up to the line! Data Driven Athlete Racing double podium, doesn’t get much better than that.
Chico Stage 2 – Time Trial
There isn’t much to say about time trials; you gear up, warm up, take a quick break…approach the start line, then ride like hell until it’s over. “Riding like hell” usually means reaching a max race heart rate within the first few minutes then suffering to the line, but after the effort the day before and racing a time trial at 8am in 50 degree windy weather I was coming up about 10% short of a max race HR out on the road. I felt like I was going fast and was averaging about 27-28 mph and definitely suffering but going last as the GC rider and only catching guys that were riding in their drops I wasn’t sure how my time would stack up. At the start the official said it was a 9 mile course, I had thought from the prior year it was 10 but his number stuck in my mind. My Garmin hit 9 miles before I had even reached the 1km sign and I had already started to empty the tank, looks like I’d have to hold it for another mile. Finished with a time of 22:20 with my teammates waiting and cheering for me at the line, i didn’t want them to see me puke so I turned into a neighborhood gagged in front of a woman walking her dog, kept it together and circled back for some high fives. It seemed like I had put down a good time, turns out it was good enough for 3rd place, another podium, and held onto GC by only 9 seconds after Liam Stewart (Roaring Mouse) and Aaron Obelleiro (Davis Bike Club Race Team) who finished in the chase group the day before put down incredible times for our field, their times would have put them just outside the top 20 in a stacked +100 pro1/2 field, impressive Gents.
After some celebrating, lunch, and packing at the house we planned to race the crit like we usually do. We’d stay at the front, be aggressive, and mark Liam and Aaron late in the race to ensure they didn’t somehow sneak off the front or win to pick up the 10 second time bonus and put me out of GC. Andrew put in an awesome two man break effort for a number of laps and picked up some primes while Tyler, Curt, and I wrangled the field. I kept looking at my Garmin hoping we were nearing the 45 minute mark and still no lap cards each time we came around the start/finish, my nerves were running high, I wasn’t giving anybody an inch and claiming third wheel like my life depended on it. Finally 6 laps to go showed and I continued to stay in the top 3 to 5 spots out of danger. 3 laps to go Garrett Marking goes up the road solo, no threat to GC so we didn’t react and marked Liam and Aaron while they’ve appeared towards the front late in the race hungry for the finale. 2 laps to go and Curt takes the front drilling the pace to keep things lined out and safe as I’m plugged in third wheel, 1 lap to go and Curt is cooked, there is a reshuffle through the start finish and I take the front myself to stay out of trouble, Tyler comes around me in the last few corners where a few guys attack, we are in the front 5-6 positions at the final corner and I’m looking left and right for a Mouse or Davis kit, I don’t see them and sprint my eyeballs out to the line finishing 7th with the GC contenders behind me and Tyler scoring another podium spot for third! We did it, yellow jersey for Data Driven Athlete Racing for the GC win!
Thanks to my teammates Tyler, Andrew, Eric, and Curt for setting me up for this stage race win. It wouldn’t have happened without your support all weekend, including the guys that weren’t able to race but cheered from the sideline and afar (Patrick, Travis, Nate). We also get an incredible amount of support from Gary Brickler who comes out weekend after weekend, posts up to keep us hydrated from feed zones, and is a calming presence before every race. Our team races on RaceRims from one of our main sponsors, Sean Lollar. I rode a pair of 50x25mm carbon clinchers through the Paskenta gravel on 25mm tires and never once thought about a flat or wheel mishap, incredibly strong and responsive wheels that I plan to put through the ringer all year. Folsom Bike is another sponsor we are grateful to have supporting our squad for the second year in a row. It was a great weekend racing against some of the stronger teams like SquadraSF and Limitless Cycling, these guys always show up to race. I am especially impressed with Limitless Cycling, congrats to Gerrett for sticking that late race solo move in the crit for the win! Lastly, Chico Corsa puts on an incredible Stage Race every year, this year in particular I was more impressed with the organization, professionalism, and increase in prizes, primes, and support through the whole weekend, seems they are finding a new stride. Thank you Champion Systems for the Yellow Jersey!