Kevon Bjornson riding next to Brian Kohagen in the Thunderhill circuit race

Chico CA Stage Race

The Team Bobs-Bicycles.com Development Team trio of Tucker Feyder, Kevon Bjornson and Craig Patrick took their second road trip in a month, this time to compete in the Northern CA Chico Stage Race. Thankfully, they avoided mishap in what turned out to be a “crash festival”.

As mentioned in my previous post, “Freemont CA Early Bird Criterium” by Tucker Feydor, we would soon be travelling back to N. California for the Chico Stage Race, CSR.

Thursday morning February 23, 2017 brought more snow to the Treasure Valley. Yes. More snow. Are you freaking kidding me? It’s cycling season, dammit! Well, since Idaho won’t let us have our race season yet, Kevon, Craig and I hopped back into the car and once again headed for some sunny refuge in California. A quick pit stop was made in Loomis, CA where my parents cooked us up a pasta dinner to fuel our next morning’s race.

Craig and Kevon actually got back into the car and drove another 2 hours north to Corning, CA, where they had reserved a hotel a little bit closer to Friday’s race. Instead, I opted to sleep right then and there, and hitch a ride to Thunderhill in the morning. Eight hours in the car had been enough for one day.

The CSR was an action-packed weekend of racing, with a smattering of everything that cycling could throw at you. There was the Stage1 fast, smooth pavement of the twisting-turns, hilly Thunderhill Raceway. There was the Stage2 bombed out pavement and smooth decomposed granite gravel that led us all over the rolling hills of Paskenta. There was a Stage3 flat, fast, out-n-back Time Trial (thanks to the Sacramento River flooding the original 10 mile course loop). And last, but certainly not least, the Stage4 L-shaped twilight criterium in downtown Chico in front of hundreds of rowdy spectators… okay, maybe the only people getting rowdy were my drunk friends that are (still) enrolled at Chico State – but hey, they showed up to support (I told them there would be beer), so I can’t give them too much flack.

Friday’s wakeup call came way too early. 4:30AM is usually when 23 year olds go to sleep on Friday, not wake up. Nonetheless, I couldn’t sleep a single second of the 2 hour drive to the race start – there were far too many pre-race jitters for that (32oz of cold brew coffee will also do that to you). The 4/5 field was the first group off though, so I had plenty more time to shake off the jitters.

The Chico Stage Race did something pretty neat for the 4/5 field, where they made Friday’s race ‘optional’, meaning it was a standalone road race, and not part of the Stage Race for them. The race was titled “Thunderhill Sampler”. Pretty neat idea, considering most 4/5’s probably have day jobs and can’t justify taking off an entire Friday just to race for 40 minutes. Anyways, Friday’s 4/5 field was much smaller than the rest of the weekend, with about 25 racers toeing the line.

Craig Patrick was the lone Bob’s-Bicycles.com 4/5 racer representing this weekend, competing in just his 2nd race ever. Talk about being thrown to the wolves; the mighty Chico Stage Race is just his second race EVER. Luckily for Craig, he’s from Idaho and wolves aren’t a big deal to him; he came here to dish out some pain and avenge his last lap crash from just a few weeks prior in the Fremont Crit. The pace was one of the fastest I’ve ever seen in a 4/5 field, averaging near 24 mph! I’d say that’s pretty good for a course with multiple hairpins and a good sized hill right smack in the middle of it. Craig maintained great position throughout the entire race, and managed to pull off a Top-10, finishing 9th on the day in a chaotic bunch sprint. Huge kudos to Craig for cracking the Top-10 as a Cat 5 in a tough 4/5 field – that’s no easy task.

Speaking of tough, chaotic fields, let’s talk about that Cat3 circuit race. Kevon recently jumped up to Cat3, so I wasn’t alone in the Stage 1 Thunderhill Circuit race, which was part of our stage race. The smooth pavement allowed for a very fast race, and the field was strong and chomping at the bit all day; I don’t think we went one full lap without somebody trying to go up the road. I got a little antsy and threw in an attack myself, just wanting to see what my legs could do. I stretched out my lead large enough for the race announcer, cycling legend Frankie Andreu, to drop my name over the loud speaker (definitely a highlight of my racing career). After a full lap solo, I was joined by a guy from Mike’s Bikes who pulled through once or twice before he looked back and said “oh dude, the field is right on us, I’m done”, and just like that, we were absorbed back into the pack.

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Tucker Feyder Attacking Thunderhill
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Video: Tucker Feyder attacking Thunderhill with Frankie Andreu announcing “Tucker FIE-der going up the road right now being chased down”

Tucker Feyder Off the Front at the Thunderhill circuit race
Tucker Feyder Off the Front at the Thunderhill circuit race
Kevon Bjornson riding next to Brian Kohagen in the Thunderhill circuit race
Kevon Bjornson riding next to Brian Kohagen in the Thunderhill circuit race

The rest of the race was steady and hard, consistently squashing every break that tried to get established. It wasn’t until 2 to go when a strong enough break put a gap on the field, and that’s when all hell broke loose. Our previous fastest lap times were absolutely crushed, as the sprinters made their way to the front, and their teammates frivolously chased down the break. The bell lap came around and 3 guys still had a slight advantage.

The peloton ripped up the final climb and into the corner before the final descent with many guys sprinting out of the saddle down the hill, touching 40+mph. All it took was one guy losing his front wheel on the inside of the turn at the bottom of the hill for things to literally blow apart. Carbon bikes, bottles, sunglasses, Gu flasks, and even pieces of helmet went flying everywhere as this guy took out nearly half the field on the final lap. Screams of agony and a flurry of F-bombs drowned out the sound of broken carbon as Kevon and I weaved our way through the carnage, thankfully unscathed. Kevon had to come to a screeching halt and clip out to step around the warzone, and I went cyclo-cross and bunny-hopped onto the grass, where I was able to ride around it. Luckily for us, the crash happened in the final 3k, and we were awarded pack time. Not the ideal start to the weekend, but we made it out alive, and didn’t harm our GC results.

My best wishes go out to the guys who broke their collarbones and wrist in the crash. You never want to see someone get hurt participating in the sport that they love – trust me, I’ve been there, it sucks.

Saturday brought the dreaded Stage2 90 mile road race (two 45 mile loops), with 8 miles of famous Paskenta gravel. The Pro/1s went off first, and we wished our Idaho brethren at Mercedes Benz p/b Thrivent good luck as we wandered around looking for the wheel car and an outhouse. The 4/5’s lucked out with the later 12:40pm start time, leaving the 3s to brave the chilly temps at 8:40am. If the race goes as planned, the 3s will finish just as the 4/5s start, so we can wish Craig good luck and offer last minute pointers.

Kevon Bjornson at the start of the Paskenta RR
Kevon Bjornson at the start of the Paskenta RR

Less than one mile into the Cat3 race, a Davis Bike Club racer went off the front. He didn’t necessarily attack, he just pulled through kinda hard and nobody grabbed his wheel. He actually looked shocked when he gave a look-back and noticed he had a 50 yard gap on the field. Rather than sit up, he decided to go for it and we didn’t see him again for 87 miles! The first loop was relatively calm through the first feed zone. It wasn’t until the few miles leading up to the gravel when we saw some “action”, and once again that action was a nasty crash.

The “road” leading up to the gravel was as bombed out as they get; there was no “proper line”, they were all bad. One of the potholes swallowed a guy’s front wheel, and again Kevon and I found ourselves weaving through the carnage. I found an outside line through the gravel shoulder and was followed by fellow Idahoan Brian Kohagen (of Rolling H Cycles). A quick look-back revealed that Kevon made it out okay, and the chase was on to regain contact with the front half of the peloton. With a huge pileup before we even made our first trip through the gravel, I was a bit nervous about what lay ahead. Thanks to El Nino and the unseasonably wet winter in California, the gravel was packed down and as smooth as it gets. It was fast, rolling, and fun; I think I swallowed a cubic foot of dirt because I was smiling so much through the gravel, it was an absolute blast.

Smiles quickly faded back to ‘Game Face’ though, as things heated up significantly in the 2nd lap. By now, the Davis Bike Club guy that went off the front had a 6 MINUTE ADVANTAGE! Dolce Vita, arguably the strongest team in the peloton assumed their role at the front accompanied by a few others who refused to let a solo breakaway go for 89 miles to win the race. A few attacks went off, including one that I thought for sure would stick that included myself, Mike’s Bikes, Dolce Vita, and PenVelo. No dice. The second feed zone came up quick, and the pace ramped up significantly. Guys were popping off the back left and right, and the peloton split in half. Caught up in the back half of the split, Kevon and I were forced to attempt to bridge up to the lead group. Unfortunately, the pressure of bridging up coupled with a mechanical left Kevon behind. (Welcome to the Cat 3’s, Kevon!)

The chase group I was part of was able to catch the lead group just before the gravel, with the gap to the solo breakaway at 2 minutes with just about 10 miles to go. Was this guy really going to stick an 89 mile solo break!? The peloton thought otherwise, and absolutely DRILLED IT through the gravel; it was as if we were back on the Thunderhill race track, versus some gravel backroad. Coming out of the gravel we had just 2 miles to go, with a short climb up to the 3km-to-go banner followed by a quick descent and false flat rise to the finish. Just as the 3km sign came into view, so did the solo breakaway. The race was reset with just 3km to go, with a much splintered field. Not willing to risk a touch of wheels after feeling fortunate to survive 90 miles, I dug in and settled for the pack finish with Kevon not too far behind. Truly unbelievable effort of Herculean proportions from breakaway soloist Jeroen Post of Davis Bike Club though; absolutely insane.

Next up was Craig’s 4/5 race. I tried to wish him good luck and offer some words of advice, but I was too cracked to muster much more than a groan and a thumbs-up. The Paskenta Road Race was the official start of the 4/5 stage race, and a much larger field showed up. The 4/5 field only had to do 1 lap around the 45 mile loop; 90 miles would have made things interesting for sure. Inexperience + fatigue + gravel and technical roads = good call on just 1 lap.

Craig Patrick enjoying the Paskenta RR
Craig Patrick enjoying the Paskenta RR

Craig did a great job of sitting in and conserving energy throughout the race; he’s already a smarter racer than I am. Craig ripped through the gravel section with the lead group, but found himself struggling on the climb at 3km to go. A flat? Nope. Break pads rubbing? Yup. Unable to release his brake pads while in motion, Craig hopped off the bike and disengaged them, resulting in him losing contact with the leaders. WHERE WAS THE TEAM CAR!? Oh, right, this is the 4/5s, and his teammates were borderline comatose back at the start/finish. Craig put in a hefty effort in attempt to catch back up to the leaders before the finish but fell short, finishing a few seconds off the back. Bummer, he still looked strong and had tons of gas at the finish. One of these times he’s going to get the result he’s worked so hard for, but for now it’s time to rest up for Sunday’s Crit and TT.

One bummer about the Chico Stage Race was that the Cat3s were the first group off on the Time Trial at 8AM which was also the start time for the downtown 4/5 crit, so Kevon and I missing Craig’s race and vice versa.

Since Craig’s crit was the day’s first, he got a good warmup on the course before anyone else. He was going to need it, because there was a lot of standing around in his crit, quite literally. A bad crash took out a huge portion of the field, including the yellow jersey, whose bike Craig saw fly into a roadside tree. Unfortunately, the bike wasn’t the worst of the injuries, as the yellow jersey was carted off in an ambulance. The race was neutralized, and when they resumed, the racers had just a few laps to go. The race finished in a pack sprint, with Craig safely coming across in the middle of the field.

The TT was the only Cat 3 race this weekend that wasn’t marred by a crash. I was still very much in the hunt for the overall GC, at just 16 seconds back heading into the TT. Unfortunately, I came out flat; just couldn’t settle in and had no gas whatsoever, finishing the stage in 22nd place. An average TT put me 1:52 back in the GC, at 17th place. Bummer. Kevon had a great TT for just running clip-on bars on his road bike, scoring a 28th place. I shot him a wink as we passed by each other near the turn around, but he had his head down and was pounding away. We’ll turn him into a time trialist, just watch.

Craig also put in a strong TT effort, similarly running clip-on bars on his road bike. He won’t admit it, but I think the flashy, blue Boise State aero helmet is what scored the ex-Vandal such a good TT time, cementing him a 25th place overall (out of 75) in his first stage race.

Craig Patrick dons the Broncho Blue TT helmet
Craig Patrick dons the Broncho Blue TT helmet

Lastly, we had the Cat 3 crit. As I mentioned earlier, the TT was the only Cat 3 race that didn’t see riders lay it down on the pavement. It wasn’t long, just 2 laps as a matter of fact, before downtown Chico got to witness the squirrely-ness of the Cat 3 field. All it takes is one idiot to take down half the field, and that’s exactly what happened. On the only right-hand turn of the entire course, one guy thought it would be a great idea to move up on the inside and totally chopped the corner. He probably would have been okay if it weren’t for the storm drain that was right in his line. I don’t know if he tried to bunny hop it or what, but all I saw was a carbon wheel fold up like a taco and a bunch of guys going down, again. And AGAIN, Kevon and I were able to keep it upright.

Kevon and Tucker in the downtown Chico Criterium finale
Kevon and Tucker in the downtown Chico Criterium finale

I don’t know what scored us such good karma, but you can bet if I see a cyclist stranded on the side of the road with a flat I am stopping and fixing the damn thing for him. It’s not a matter of IF you’ll crash in a bike race, but WHEN; and this weekend was not our weekend. Thank you, Cycling Gods. The rest of the crit was relatively uneventful. It was fast, it was difficult, it was safe, and we finished with the pack. All 6 of our cumulative legs were smoked, and it was time to hit the Sierra Nevada Beer Garden for some malty, hoppy recovery beverages.

All in all, it was an incredible weekend. We all stayed safe, we all had a blast, and we all gained a significant amount of fitness. Craig (25th), Kevon (33rd), and I (17th) were proud of our results, especially for it being so early in the season. The fitness gained in Chico will hopefully propel us to greater results in the upcoming season. I’m proud to race for Bob’s-Bicycles.com, and proud of my teammates for their efforts this weekend. I think we can officially say the season is underway, now if only it would stop snowing…

*Special thanks to my parents for the support on and off the bike, thanks to Craig for handing Kevon and I bottles in the feedzone Saturday, kudos to my dad for hopping into the 4/5 Thunderhill race, and a huge thank you to Vern for continuing to support us!*

Official Results:

Author: Tucker Feyder

Published: March 4, 2017

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