words: Craig Fellers images: Alex Chiu
Adrenaline is always high coming up to the Chico Stage Race. For 2016, the stakes have been raised once again, as the prize purse creeps up towards $10,000 and more professional teams conglomerate to seek the glory of the “New Merco” season opener. Stage 1 is held at Thunderhill Raceway, a premier racecar and motorcycle track just outside of Willows, Ca. Sweeping turns and immaculate pavement will be a warm welcome, as lesser teams fear the potholes and gravel to come the next day in the Paskenta Road Race.
Taking the line, TMB P/B Equator had 9 racers led by our captains, Roman Kilun and Adam Switters both expecting a sprint finish for our champion, Garret Hankins. With such perfect road conditions, attacks are challenging, and wind historically has not been a factor. Our goal was to keep Garrett protected, let other teams waste their legs, and sheppard him to the line, not taking the front until 1 to go. At the start we were joined by Rally (former Optum) Canyon Cycling, LUX, KHS, Axeon, Jamis, and Herbalife to round out the 100 rider P1 field.
Just 2 laps in, good attacks started flying. This is not quite how we expected the race to unfold. With Rally being the major contender for GC, we were keen to avoid moves with them getting away. Adam and Chris followed a strong move with 2 other Rally riders in a group of 9 that stayed away for about 12 miles, but was eventually brought back. Aria keenly followed the next moves which didn't last as long. With 1.5 laps to go, Jason Saltzman made a solo breakaway up the climb, and we decided to take the front early and start our leadout.
Adam did the majority of the work for the first half lap, leaving Reese and Craig to take the front crossing 1 to go. They rotated for another half lap getting Chris to the base of the hill followed by Roman, Cam, Colin and Garrett. The Rally train was starting to work their way up through the field vying for position. Going over the hill, Garrett lost his wheel and was gobbled up by the field; Roman, Cam and Colin quickly made plans to have Colin sprint. Down the back side of the hill Rally took over the front, Roman, Cam and Colin surfed and into the final corner, Roman unleashed Colin for the sprint… right into the back of a crash. A KHS rider crossed wheels with a Jamis rider and hit the deck right in front of Colin, who had nowhere to go but down at nearly 40mph. Cam made it around the crash, but could only make it back to 17th.
While Colin escaped with just aches, pains and some road rash, it was a tough start for the 2016 stage race.