by Oliver Ryan
The Chico Stage Race is usually the highlight of the season for me, and TMBM has a pretty solid track record over the last few years, the racing is fun and hard, but the camaraderie of hanging out with my friends and teammates is what makes the weekend, and this year was no exception.
We showed up with a full squad of 8, focused primarily on trying to win stages, but also hoping to keep Matt Adams in a position to contend for the GC. It was a smaller field than in the past, but deep nonetheless with TT powerhouses Dan Bryant, Chris Phipps, Scott Giles, uber-strong men Chris Coble, Jan Weissenberger, Mike Sayers, and speedy finishers like Josh Carling, Chris Baker and Chris Espy.
Stage 1: Circuit Race
This was a new course at Thunderhill raceway, flatter and shorter than in previous years. Racing was fast and aggressive, with TMB riders getting into moves that looked threatening, and reeling in anything that got away without a TMB rider in it. Throughout the race, riders including Sayers, Giles and Coble all put in efforts to get away, but the team made sure we were either represented in those moves, or that they came back. With 1.5 laps to go I followed an attack by Chris Coble, barely hanging on, and with about 1/2 a lap to go Scott Giles bridged up with Rob Amatelli and Matt Adams in tow and the group came back together. Somehow Coble still had it in him to attack again before the final sprint, but Josh Carling came roaring up the middle to take the win by several bike lengths, with our own Scott Cox mixing it up in the sprint for 7th. Same time for our GC rider Matt so we were sitting fine going into the Road Race.
Stage 2: Road Race
I look forward to this race every year, a 90 mile flat-to-rolling Road Race with a 4 mile stretch of gravel (to be traversed twice), and the finish had been moved back close to where it used to be, a few KMs after the gravel exit, making that section of the race critical. Our plan was to be opportunistic, if early moves that looked good went, we would go with, and if it was together going into the gravel on lap 2 we would try to make it hard enough that a small group would go to the finish with at least 1 TMB rider. We marked early moves, and at around the 15-20 mile mark I followed Jason Boynton from Peet’s as he bridged up to a move that Scott Cox had gotten into with Scott Giles, we ended up going through that move and got a decent gap pretty fast. I knew Jason would work hard, and felt confident about my chances out of that break, so pushed the pace pretty hard. The next 60 miles was the two of us working really well together, Jason is a super-experienced rider and neither of us played any games, taking even, smooth pulls and extending our gap out to several minutes. We had no idea what the conditions of the gravel would be, and when we entered it, it was like riding on asphalt, crazy fast, and we ended up taking another couple of minutes out of the field in that section. As we exited, Jason said ‘now we just survive’ and we continued to work together through the windy, flat section after the finish. As we got close to the gravel on lap 2, the moto gave us a time check, 5 minutes with about 8-10 miles to go, pending some kind of disaster we were going to stay away. As fatigue started to set in, I could see that Jason was struggling a little, and as we entered the rough road before the gravel I put in a short effort to see what would happen, and got a gap fast. I put my head down and dug in for a 5 minute effort, looked back again and nobody was in sight, all I had to do now was get to the finish. Despite it being fast, the second half of the gravel was brutal as I felt the effects of being in a break for 3 hours, I made it off the gravel safely and kept pushing it all the way to the finish, taking the win and over 3 minutes on the next closest GC rider. Seeing the smiling faces of my teammates as they crossed the line knowing I had stayed away made it a race I’ll never forget.
Stage 3: Time Trial.
After some back and forth with Matt on Saturday night about whether or not I should use his Time Trial bike (I didn’t have one), and hearing that the course had been shortened to 8 miles, I decided to ride my Venge Vias with clip-ons, I had almost 3.5 minutes on 2nd place in the GC and figured playing it safe by riding the bike I knew was the smart decision. I warmed up for almost an hour and the legs were hurting a lot, rolled over to the start and I put my head down and gave it what I had, knowing that a steady effort should keep me well in the lead going into the final stage. Despite some bad suffering, I took 7th in the TT and gave up a little over a minute to the winner, giving me more than a 2 minute lead going into the final stage.
Stage 4: Crit
All we needed to do to keep the GC was not give up 2:13, which was well over a lap at the speeds we would ride, and our plan was to do just that, keep it fast, watch for riders in good GC position trying to get away and protect the leaders jersey. It was fast from the gun as it always is, with TMB keeping a few riders close to the front at all times. A move with Giles/Coble went up the road (along with Jan Weissenberger, Matt Adams and I think one other), but 3 of the 5 riders came back to the group, leaving GIles/Coble off the front. Peet’s and Thirsty Bear had the most to lose with those GC contenders (who went into the stage 3rd and 5th respectively) and Dan Bryant (who went into the stage in 2nd) went to the front to try to bring it back, but ended up in no mans land and ultimately came back. With a few laps to go, TMB put 6-7 riders on the front to manage the gap which was holding around 30 seconds, with a lap to go attacks started to fly as riders moved up to contest the field sprint, I surfed wheels confident that we had the GC locked up and cruised over the line ecstatic that we had taken the win.
Thanks, as always to my amazing TMB teammates and friends for an awesome weekend of racing.