The Chico Stage Race has quickly become one of the premier stage races on the West Coast. Each year the fields get bigger and the competition tougher. I truly enjoy racing in Chico not only for the amazing courses, but for the vibe of the city, and of course, the proximity to its title sponsor: The Sierra Nevada Brewing Company.
When our Team Mike’s Bikes Masters squad arrived at the Thunderhill Raceway on Friday, we were not targeting the overall GC. We were instead focusing on stage wins and then see how things shake out in the stage 3 Time Trial. We knew that the Thunderhill Raceway course is fast and that staying away on the first day would be extremely tough with over 60 of the top racers in Northern California (the toughest racing district in America) motivated and excited to start the 3 day race with a bang.
Nevertheless, Scott Giles, 2014 Masters 40-44 National Road Race Champion and breakaway specialist, gave it a go and put the hurt on the field all by himself. It took a collection of strongmen to bring him back, and once the catch was made there were a flurry of other attacks, but the field was content with a sprint finish. The bunch sprint couldn’t have gone any better with me and my TMB teammate Scott Cox taking both first and second place. It was great to have teammates there at the end to help Scott and I finish on top of the podium.
The epic 90 mile road race, including 10 miles of gravel, was changed around this year to move the finish to a different location. This meant that the gravel would not play as big of a role as it has in years past. The gravel section was still chaotic mayhem as usual, but didn’t determine the winner on the day. Most of the animation of the race came on the eastbound section after the gravel heading towards Corning in what my teammate referred to as “Attack Alley”. During this stretch my TMB teammates showed their true mettle chasing down attack after attack, with no promising breaks getting significant time gaps up the road. Scott Cox, Luiggi Zuniga, Chris Hobbs & Matt Adams were doing the lion’s share of chasing.
On the second lap, the two Thirsty Bear studs, Jason Grefrath and Chris Phipps both ventured out on solo missions, which tested the legs of the entire field, but eventually both were brought back into the fold. After the right turn on the finishing road about 10k from the line, TMB started getting organized. Luiggi had followed another attack, which let us sit on for a bit. We lined up all 5 guys, with three on the front rotating to keep things strung out and get us close to the finish. Every guy on the team went all in, with the final leadout of Scott Cox handing it to Oli Ryan who gave everything he had from 600m to 250m, where I finished off the sprint to get the win in this road race as well. Chris Baker and Michael Buckley from Team Specialized came in 2nd & 3rd. The TMB leadout was the best leadout I’ve ever seen in my 4 short years of Masters Bike Racing.
Sunday morning brought out my nerves, since I knew the field had several TT-ers who I hadn’t beaten before. I’ve been working on my TT position and getting more practice on my TT bike, so I was optimistic that I could put up a good time. Holding just a 19” gap on Michael Buckley, a previous Chico Stage Race Champion and multiple Time Trial winner, and a 20” or 25” lead on just about everyone else, I had to give a special effort to keep the Yellow Jersey. I’ve never been more motivated to empty the tank, as I was during those 22 minutes. But in the end, Cale Reeder, 2012 Masters 45-49 World TT Champion, and Chris Phipps, multiple Masters National RR Champion both beat me, but only by a few seconds, so I got to start the last stage still wearing yellow.
On the last stage, I was confident that our team would get the overall win since we’re all seasoned criterium racers, and the guys did not disappoint. They drilled it right out of the gate and kept it fast, discouraging moves for the first third of the race, with only one or two guys able to get away for any period of time. Ariel Herrmann got off the front a few times, usually solo, and seemed to be scoring points for the Green Jersey, but we didn’t want to mess around with contesting for those. Michael Buckley also got away for a couple laps, scooping up green jersey points, and putting the hurt on the field all by himself.
Around 2/3 of the way through, I had a mechanical coming out of turn 5 and went down. The moto ref immediately got me off the course and a different category racer offered me a bike or wheel change. But the ref would not allow it. I frantically worked to get my chain back on and rode over to the pit before the field came around to lap me. The SRAM Neutral support crew re-checked everything and away I went back into the furious pace. I got back in near the tail of the race which was strung out single file and had a hard time moving up, since the Specialized team was drilling it at the front. Eventually I made it all the way back up and on the last lap, Michael Buckley put in a huge effort which I latched onto and we got a gap on the field. He nearly ran out of gas just before the last corner, so I attacked into the turn, but couldn’t hold on as Dave Albrecht from Hammer/Charity of Choice nipped me by less than a wheel on the line.
It was a hard fought stage race win and I had the battle scars to show for it. I’ll never forget the limits my teammates pushed themselves to on my behalf and I’ll plan to come back to The Chico Stage Race every year that I can make it. Special thank you to all our sponsors: Team Mike's Bikes, Toyota, Equator Coffees, Specialized, SRAM, Zipp, Capo, Osmo Nutrition, Pro Bar, Look pedals, Bike Smart, Smith Optics, Go Pro, Bar Fly, Zealios, & Violich Farms.