Apr 16, 2013

Chico Stage Race report

I’ve eyed this event for a couple of years now, and this year finally decided to give it a go. It would be my fourth stage race in six weeks and I was looking for a solid performance after a few sub-par ones at Madera and Topsport.

The Road Race

The road race is a 45-mile loop out of Paskenta with a 4.5-mile section of gravel that ends 3.5 miles from the finish. The rest of the race is flat with a few rollers.

It was warm and calm, so wind was unlikely to be a huge factor. There were several teams with numbers in the race and I had no intention of doing anything heroic unless a move went up the road with proper representation. As I suspected, everyone was kept on a very short leash and no one was allowed more than 100 meters on the field.

The entire 50-plus field rolled into the gravel section, and I had two thoughts going through my mind — don’t stop pedaling, don’t brake. I wasn’t ideally positioned, but not horribly, in the top third of the field. A few hundred meters into the gravel a guy ahead of me on my left wipes out, takes a few more with him and all I see in a ball of dust is a guy curled up on the ground ahead of me. Luckily there was room to get around and I quickly bridged to what ended up being the selection (with a couple other bridging later).

With the gravel and rollers, we ended up breaking up and after jumping back and forth between groups, I rolled in with a small group in 16th place, but only half a minute down on the winner. Most importantly, however, I gained a lot of time on guys I knew could TT well, and in this stage race, that makes all the difference.

The crit

The course was an L-shape six-corner crit with strong winds on the back side and a tailwind into the finish.

My plan for the crit was to stay safe and lose as little time as possible (none, ideally). The whistle blew and the pace picked up immediately, which I liked. The peloton strung out and we were single file for the first five or six laps. After the first time bonus prime went, the pace slowed down a bit and the field began to swell, with riders trying to move up in position.

As more primes got called, the field stretched out some more, and then came back together again. I looked down at my SRM and saw we were about 19 minutes into a 40-minute crit when the last time bonus prime was called. I knew after the prime, the pace would die down, which I didn’t particularly like because that’s when everyone becomes a Pro Tour sprinter and corner dives into position. To my even greater surprise, the next time we came around, the 6-to-go card was up. “WTF?” – I thought.

From that point on, I was mainly focused on staying safe and finishing in the main bunch for the same time. I was partially successful – I stayed safe, but due to small gaps in the finishing sprit, I lost about 5 seconds (raw time) to the winner, who also got a 10 second bonus. Jesse Reeves, who won the road race and was in the lead on GC, picked up a second place in the crit and another 11 seconds on me (6 bonus and 5 time), and was now ahead by 54 seconds heading into the TT. The race ended up being only 32 minutes. 

The Time Trial

I knew I’d have to ride the TT of my life to pull back all that time and finish in the money (top 5). Luckily, my legs were feeling phenomenal and I was feeling confident I could get it done. I started the TT 15th overall.

Having looked at past year’s results, I knew I’d have to ride the 10-mile TT in under 23 minutes to have a solid shot at the podium. 

Three … two … one … go! I kick and within seconds settle into my aero position. “Shit, forgot to zero out the SRM!”  Instead of getting out of the aero position to fiddle with buttons, I made a quick calculation while my brain still had some glycogen reserves and in my head zeroed out the time and distance.

I caught my 30-second man within a mile, the minute man a few miles down the road, then the minute-thirty man and now there was no one ahead that I could see and I just kept asking myself, “can you push any harder?”

With about three miles to go, I could see I was making good time and that gave me even more energy to push. Then I saw what I thought was the finishing tent, and started driving to the line, only to discover 200m later that it was just a combination of a road sign and a van that made it look like a tent, and the finish line was really nowhere in sight. “Oops!” I settled down, kept it steady and soon saw the 1k to go marker. From that point on I just kept revving up the effort making sure everything is left on the line.

As I crossed the line, I glanced at the SRM clock, tried to do some math while focusing on not puking and figured I rode something in the mid-22s – best 10-mile time I’ve ever had. Now it was just a matter of waiting until the results got posted.

The finishing straight

About 90 minutes later, the results sheet got taped to the table and I didn’t have to scroll very far. I was third in the time trial and gained enough time to earn the third spot on the podium – I was very pleased. The time trial has always been my favorite discipline, and I was glad to finally break a streak of lackluster performances and race to my potential.

Final podium. Jersey short and sandals was clearly the outfit du jour.

More importantly, my performance at Chico was the last checkmark I needed to qualify for a Cat 3 upgrade, and am very much looking forward to racing with my Cat 3 teammates!

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