2016 Chico Stage Race
Race report by Chris Flower
I’ve been fortunate enough to complete three editions of the Chico Stage Race and each edition has grown quite a bit in size and prestige. It is a well run event that offers a variety of racing environments and continues to draw in some of the bigger teams from across the US. Due to a conflicting work meeting, I wasn’t able to participate in any of the Friday races and as a result, I jumped into the Masters 35+ 3/4 event (skips the Friday Thunderhill Circuit Race). The registration list included forty challengers with some familiar names and a handful of guys that could really smash the TT. With that in mind, I hoped to maximize results from the road race and crit and possibly grab a few bonus seconds to have a fighting chance in the GC.
Stage 1 – Paskenta Road Race
The road races travels across a great course with some light rolling hills and the always exciting Paskenta gravel. The gravel is challenging, but a fun component of the race. The only drawback is the hint of luck needed to make it through the gravel without flatting. You can run more durable tires, hope to pick a better line than your competitors, or just hope you’re able to avoid the sharp rocks when running through that section. Regardless, surviving this section is a win.
In the week leading up to the race, Nate (my coach and owner of Data Driven Athlete) and I talked a bit about strategy and we thought the race would come down to a reduced field sprint. If that proved to be the case, our plan was to go for a longer sprint and hold off the group for the win. Race plan in hand, we set off from the Buckhorn Recreation Park toward Paskenta. For the most part, the pace was light and I sat near the back of the field opting to pick my own lines before the gravel to avoid any pinch flats through the rougher sections of road. Luckily, our field was small enough that if any attacks were to take place, I could move up and around to be in the break.
Approaching the gravel, we were all together and catching the field that started 5 minutes in front of us. I chose a pretty bad line entering the gravel and dropped off the back of the field quickly. Not a great feeling and a bit of panic set it, but I was able to grind back onto the back of the group. Riders from our field and the field we were passing were falling off the pace one after another adding the additional challenge of navigating around these riders while maintaining contact with the field. My Race Rim 50’s handled the terrain with ease for a second year in a row and I was thrilled to make it through safely. Ultimately, a dozen or so of us came out of the gravel together and we kept the pace high through the feed zone roller to establish our little break.
As we neared Paskenta, our group was down to 11, but we were all motivated and began working together quite well. In years past, the stretch of road from Paskenta to the turn off of Paskenta Road was into a head cross wind, but this year’s version felt like we were in a tail cross wind. We took advantage and kept the pace high preventing anyone from catching on. No attacks were attempted and the collective efforts saw us gaining on the field that started 10 minutes ahead of us. At the turn off of Paskenta Road, the gap to the field in front of us was down to 30 seconds and the moto refs neutralized them allowing both groups a cleaner shot at the finish line.
With some 6 to 8 kilometers to the finish, we were cleared to race, but our pace started to drop as race tactics began. Unfortunately, our pace dropped enough that we were then neutralized for to allow a small group from the trailing field to pass through us. At around 5 kilometers to the finish, we were given the green light again and we resumed racing. As the only rider in the group without a teammate, I moved toward the front to be in position to cover any early attacks. At 3 kilometers to go, the moto ref rolled by with some instruction that I didn’t hear, but we kept on. By 1 kilometer to go, no one had made any attacks and we were quickly nearing the 500 meter sign.
Sticking to the plan, I jumped away with 500 meters to go and quickly had a gap and the field didn’t respond. With 200 meters to go the gap hadn’t changed and I had a sinking feeling that the moto ref had given us some kind of neutralized instructions back at 3 kilometers and I was the idiot sprinting for nothing. Looking back one more time, it was clear that the gap was safe and I rolled through the finish with a few seconds on the group. No post up, just a bit of confusion and worry from me. Once the field caught up to me, there was some congratulating and they confirmed that moto ref just reminded us that the center-line was in effect through the finish. So, the early jump worked and the win was in the bag.
Relieved that I wasn’t a fool, we rolled back to the cars. In the end, I picked up 3 seconds on the group and a 10 second bonus to take in to the next day. In addition to the bonus seconds, I would get to wear the yellow jersey the following morning in the crit. Fun.
Stage 2: Downtown Criterium
With a 10 second bonus carrying over from the day prior, my goals were pretty small: don’t crash, don’t give up time to the field. The crit covers about 0.8 miles across a really fun L shaped layout with corners that can be navigated at high speeds. Wearing the yellow jersey and having David Towle calling you to the front of the race was a new experience and added some excitement to the race. Shirking yellow jersey honors, I elected to start at the back of the field and avoid the early scrum for positioning in the first few turns.
All in all, the race was limited in excitement. There were enough teams ready to pounce on anyone that tried to get away that we generally stayed together. With 15 minutes or so to go, a Pen Velo rider rolled off the front and built up a 15 second gap on the field. With the yellow jersey and no teammates to cover, the field let me put in the chase to bring him back. Since we had time, I bumped my pace up to a hard tempo effort and slowly reeled the rider back in. It took about 4 or 5 laps to do so, but it was at a pace that would allow me to respond to any counter attacks once he was caught.
Back together with a handful of laps to go, I just hung around the front of the field and kept on eye out for any last minute attacks. None transpired and the last lap was upon us. With the pace high, I sat in around 5th wheel and tried to remain as safe as possible. The last turn was a bit bunched up as we rolled through 5 wide.v I took the safer inside line and came out 5th, but with a clean shot to the sprint and gave it all I had. The sprint from the corner is pretty
short and I ran out of room to take the win, but secured second place. That effort allowed me to retain the yellow jersey and pick up a few more bonus seconds for the TT.
Stage 3 – Time Trial
Sean from Race Rim was kind enough to let the Data Driven Athlete racers use the back of his tent as a staging and warm-up area for the crit and TT. He was also kind enough to trick out my TT bike with a disc and 80 mm front wheel.
With a decent buffer to second place, I was just hoping put up a decent TT. The opening 5 miles were solid. I was hitting power targets while staying in a good aero position and gaining on both my 30 second and 60 second riders. The second 5 miles were a disaster. I hadn’t spent much time on the TT bike this year due to a shoulder injury and it really showed in my performance. I had to come out of position frequently as my arms were incredibly fatigued. Power and speed were all over the map, but I was able to eek out a 5th place and knock 90 seconds off my effort from last year. So, some silver linings.
Sadly, the buffer seconds weren’t nearly enough as three of the TT superstars in the field worked me over with TTs more than 60 seconds faster that mine. Impressive performances from Victory Velo’s Rich Hufford, Sierra Nevada Racing’s Jeremy Barnes, and Team Revs’ Robb Herrick and Jeff Dale. I had a 19 second advantage over Jeff heading into the TT and he put 20 seconds on me knocking me down to 5th in the GC by 1 second. Ugh
In the end, the weekend went better than expected with a win in the road race, a second place in the crit, and a big improvement in the TT netting a 5th place in the GC. I’d also like thank the field for a great weekend. Everyone raced hard and were incredibly motivating and encouraging to one another … made the experience all the better.
And again, a huge thank you to Nate of Data Driven Athlete for the racing plan and fitness, to Sean at Race Rim for wheels that just work amazingly well, and to Kinetic Bicycles for keeping the Venge running smooth.