By Jonathan Penaloza
Chico was a new experience for three of the four of us; AJ had done it before but it was all new to Jeff, Daniel and me. What made the weekend truly exciting and satisfying was what happened not only within, but in addition to, the seven-odd hours of racing we completed in four stages over three days: it was being part of a scene that transformed Chico and the surrounding areas for that short window into a vibrant atmosphere of road cycling culture that everybody got to participate in. The event was professionally run and the local community showed up in force, especially at the downtown criterium, to give the racing a very special buzz that doesn’t occur at just any local bike race. The privilege of having such a high-caliber event for us to attend and compete in nearly in our backyard is absolutely fantastic, and I hope to see Chico Stage Race continue to grow and flourish in years to come.
As for the racing itself, each event was unique and awe-inspiring. The Friday circuit race on Thunderhill Raceway was a rollercoaster; riding with 160+ other Pro/1/2 racers for two hours over the sweeping banks, steep and challenging rollers and kickers, and finishing straightaway was a very mentally and physically engaging effort. Over the course of the race we each learned where we could move up and where we could afford to lose positions within the field, what side of the road we should be on before each challenging feature of the course, and which other riders in the race we could rely on and which were unreliable and sketchy. The race came down to a sprint and I hung on for 6th place, never really getting a chance to sprint since the top five riders tactically boxed the rest of us in against the barriers, where we would have been sheltered from the wind if we had the room to sprint. To launch a full blown sprint would have been to go out right into the cross-headwind, and illustrated that to win the race one needed to be within the top five, if not the top three positions out of the last corner before the 250-300 meter drag to the finish line. AJ finished 28th, Jeff 64th, and Daniel (DK) 136th all with the same time as that of the winner, minus time bonuses. Our chances for a placing in the team classification looked good.
The Paskenta road race on Saturday was different than years past, with the infamous 4.5 mile gravel section moved from 10 miles to 30 miles from the finish. Everyone knew it would change the dynamic but no one knew exactly how, except for Team Optum Pro Cycling, who forced a 15 man split from the lead group in a heavy crosswind about 25 miles from the finish, with all five of their guys in the move. That move distinguished the professional teams from the rest of us, and while it hurt to watch that move disappear further and further up the road, we had to admire the strength and tact it took to induce. AJ, DK and I finished with what remained of the main group, one minute and change behind the lead group. Unfortunately Jeff flatted his rear wheel the first time through the gravel and lost contact, but fortunately got a neutral wheel and put in a monstrous effort for the next three hours to finish within the time cut. We finished the day in 6th place out of 19 in the team classification.
The time trial Sunday morning was challenging; it was a flat 10.4 mile course through orchard land that was not unlike our own Putah Creek time trial back in Davis. There was a brutal headwind section from roughly miles 4 to 6, and after two days of hard racing the legs just don’t respond in a time trial how one would like them to. We slipped down to 9th in the team classification.
The Sunday afternoon criterium was an L-shaped course, a definite favorite for a downtown crit. The race was fast, very fast. To put a number on it, my computer showed after that we averaged 28.6 mph for 75 minutes of racing, keeping in mind that we were feathering our brakes through nearly every corner to avoid more than just incidental contact with the other 140 remaining riders. The race was probably one of the hardest to move up within the field that I’ve ever been in, and sometimes I’d frustratingly wonder why it was so difficult to hold position much less actually move up, until the front of the pack rounded the corner ahead of us and I could see, more often than not, a pro or high-caliber elite team lined up on the front drilling it. This race, like the circuit, finished in a bunch sprint with Optum successfully defending their yellow leader’s jersey. We DBC boys thankfully all finished with the same time and without crashes or mechanicals to keep our 9th place out of the 17 remaining teams in competition, right behind Cal Giant, Marc Pro Strava, and Team Mike’s Bikes. We were pretty happy with this, given that we met the bare minimum number of riders to qualify for the team classification. To place in the top 10 meant that each of us rode extremely consistently throughout the weekend, and this showed not only in the paper results but during the races as well. We truly rode as a team, finding each other in the pack and helping each other move up in those precious few instances where it was physically possible.
Can’t wait to race more with these boys throughout the season! We’ll be at the local Pro/1/2 races each weekend as well as the bigger regional multi-day events in and out of the state, including San Dimas Stage Race, Sea Otter Classic, Joe Martin Stage Race, Elite Nationals, and Cascade Cycling Classic. For more frequent (and less wordy) updates, check out our Davis Bike Club Elite Team on Facebook. Thanks to the DBC for providing us the support to race at this high level, and of course thanks for reading!