• Chico Stage Race

    by  • March 24, 2014 • race coverage

    Results at USA Cycling. Photos courtesy of Alex Chiu.


    After Friday’s Thunderhill Circuit Race, stage 1 for the men’s P/1/2 event, came to a field sprint and failed to separate the top hundred or so entrants for total GC time, a windy morning for Saturday’s stage 2 Paskenta Road Race provided plenty of opportunities over its 90-mile length for large splits of open. After a day in the yellow jersey for sprinter James LaBerge (Mike’s Bikes p/b Equator Coffees) following stage 1, Saturday saw yellow pass to Will Routley (Optum p/b Kelly Benefit Strategies) after an early breakaway in strong crosswinds rode away and gradually whittled its numbers. After Sunday morning’s time trial, Routley maintained his GC lead, although some shuffling occurred below him in the top 5 after Tom Zirbel (Optum) took an unsurprising solid win. Mike Friedman of Optum, wearing the green jersey for several stages, took the crit win, but the group finished together and GC results did not change. After four stages, Optum swept the podium, with Routley first, Zirbel second, and Friedman third overall, followed by prominent NorCal riders Max Jenkins (Marc Pro-Strava) and Adam Switters (Mike’s Bikes) settling for fourth and fifth.

    Meanwhile, the women’s P/1/2 race began with the Paskenta Road Race. The same crosswinds which broke up the men’s race allowed an aggressive early race to send Joanna Dahl (Metromint) and Emily Matheu (Pinnacle-Reactor p/b JL Velo) up the road and minutes away from the field by less than a quarter of the distance into the race. The two held their gap, and although it shrunk to 2:30 at one point, it then slowly increased over the second 45-mile lap to an end result of Dahl’s solo finish over 9 minutes ahead of the field, with Matheu a minute and a half behind, 8 full minutes on the field. Sunday morning, Julie Cutts (Velo Sports Group) handily won the time trial, and again the criterium in the afternoon, putting her into third in the GC, with Dahl and Metheu maintaining their first and second places. Jane Despas (Pinnacle-Reactor) and Sara Headley (TIBCO/To The Top) rounded out the GC final podium for fourth and fifth.

    The nitty gritty

    Men’s P/1/2

    The field sprint finish of the Thunderhill Circuit Race putting James LaBerge (Mike’s Bikes), Mike Friedman (Optum), and Kristopher Dahl (Team SmartStop) in the GC lead, though with same time as nearly the entire field, the Paskenta Road Race would clearly change things drastically. In strong crosswinds in the initial miles on Corning Road, Friedman described, “The break got established quickly. There was a crosswind…which was the deciding factor for the first breakaway, of nine or so, initially, which was down to six guys after a bit. The crosswind was so strong that just six guys took the whole road.” Friedman, Will Routley, and Tom Zirbel of Optum found themselves with a large upper hand in the group with their superior team numbers. Max Jenkins (Marc Pro-Strava), Adam Switters (Mike’s Bikes), and James Stemper (5-hour Energy p/b Kenda Pro Cycling) composed the remainder of the break roster. The group did have to work at it to maintain and grow their gap, however. “There were six of us, with five of us riding really hard. There was a group of nine chasing us, and we were gaining really slowly, like five seconds at a time, maybe ten minutes later we had five more seconds…” The break stayed together until later in the second lap. “We (Optum) started attacking a couple of kilometers before the gravel. We had the numerical advantage, since there were three of us,” said Routley. He managed to get away for a solo win, while Friedman and Jenkins finishing second and third, with Zirbel at same time.

    The next morning, Zirbel put down the best time trial of the day, to little surprise, just shy of riding himself into the yellow jersey, into second in the GC. Ben Jacques-Maynes (Jamis Hagans Berman) took second in the stage, and Routley third.

    Outside of a sizably significant break off the front of the field, the criterium was unlikely to rearrange the GC. Garrett McLeod (Team H&R Block), commented, “Everyone was riding pretty aggressively and not really letting anything go.” However, with the possibility still to shine in a stage win, McLeod, Switters, and Jonathan Teeter (Marc Pro-Strava) dug in and created a lasting break later on in the race. They held a steady gap of 15 seconds for some laps, but this was slowly chased down and caught with one lap to go. The Cycles Gladiator Most Aggressive Rider prize would clearly go to one of the three in the break, and was ultimately awarded to McLeod. The field sprint for the stage was taken by Friedman, LaBerge, and Dana Williams (Mike’s Bikes). Routley, Zirbel, and Friedman walked away with an Optum sweep of the top of the podium, which was the team’s goal for the weekend, according to team manager Eric Wohlberg.

    Women’s P/1/2

    With no Friday circuit race for the women’s P/1/2 field, the group lined up with fresh legs and on even footing Saturday morning for the road race. With an equally long 90 miles and same crosswinds to contend with as the men, there was plenty of opportunity for large splits. Early aggressive racing sent Joanna Dahl (Metromint) away from the group in a counter-attack sequence, and Emily Matheu (Pinnacle-Reactor) going with her. “We had talked about trying to get someone off before the gravel because we figured the pros in the field would make it kind of hard, and it’s just better if you have someone up there that needs to be caught…” said Dahl. “We tried a couple of moves, finally I did one, and Emily Matheu from Pinnacle came with me, and the field let us go. Emily and I worked together, kept it steady. We heard we had three, or even five minutes by the first feed zone.” Dahl admitted that she didn’t feel very good by the time the duo reached the gravel section the first time around, and that Matheu was climbing better than her. “I was like, oh, I don’t feel good, why did I ask the race director to make this race 90 miles? But I just kept eating and drinking, and we kept working together….we agreed to work until the gravel section (on the second lap), and I actually started feeling better. Eating and drinking pays off!”

    The gap shrunk and grew again in size over the second lap. Upon reaching the gravel the second time, Dahl observed, “It seemed like maybe Emily was suffering a little bit, just less energetic, so when we got to the gravel, I just went pretty hard, hard tempo, and eventually dropped her there. We still had some climb on the pavement, but once I got over the climb, I didn’t see her and I didn’t see the pack, and then you have mostly downhill to the finish. There were several Metromint men at the finish, so that was pretty awesome to have people there.” Shoshauna Laxon (Trek Red Truck Racing p/b Mosaic Homes) won the field sprint in the group behind, but over nine minutes down in GC time on Dahl.

    Stage two, the time trial was handily won by Julie Cutts (Velo Sports Group), again to nobody’s surprise. This propelled Cutts into third in the GC, but Dahl and Matheu were fairly unreachable after the large time gap created in stage one. Dahl knew she needed a solid enough time trial to hold off Matheu, but simply avoid a mechanical disaster or flat tire to keep above the rest of the field. “I was pretty conservative in my wheel choice. I opted to use my road race wheel and an 808 on loan…a little slower, but safer and less likely to have a mechanical.”

    Stage three, the criterium, appeared unlikely to change GC results. However, as put by Sara Headley (TIBCO), “The crit was going to be aggressive, because it was a race for the stage win. But the GC was firm”. Headley went on to describe the crit. “There were a number of people in the front group, and Velo Sports covered everything. There were a number of breaks, but the group wasn’t cooperating together.”

    In spite of her comfortable GC lead, Dahl took an assertive, aggressive role in the crit. “When it gets bunchy and people do sketchy moves, that’s not fun to me, so I figured I’d do my bit to help keep things fast.” In the end, nobody got far from the main group for long. Dahl continued, “The last lap and a half, I went for something, and Julie Cutts got on my wheel. She would follow moves, but she never pulled through, so she was fresher than I was and jumped around me after we came through the start-finish line (with one to go).”

    Cutts, in the meantime, was playing a smart race, hoping for another stage win since the GC win was not within grasp. “There were a lot of attacks, and I would just jump the fastest wheels. And I know I probably didn’t make a lot of friends doing that, but…my legs were tired. So I was trying to be smart…I kind of wanted it to come down to a sprint. I found some sprinting legs this year…and I’m kind of trying those out. In the past, I’ve kind of been a breakaway crit rider, but I’m just playing with a new toy…”

    “With a lap to go, I looked back and saw a little gap. I went…so I didn’t really have to sprint-sprint, but I held it.” She finished with a significant gap on the sprinting field, with Laxon and Eileen Mazzochette (Metromint) rounding out the podium in the group sprint a couple of seconds behind.

    Most racers seemed very pleased with the stage race organizers. Will Routley said, “It was awesome. The course was amazing, and the people were really friendly.” Sara Headley added, “Thanks to the promoters for having everyone come out and cheer (at the criterium). I think there was someone on every corner.”



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