Crisp temps, brisk winds, and clear blue skies greeted racers at the Chico Stage Race this weekend. About 50 female athletes, including several UCI teams, gathered in NorCal for the early season race that has replaced Merced as a North American opener.
Our own Kristen Arnold was on hand to inspect this year's competition and test her progress from a long winter of training. With 4 stages in 3 days, including the 150km queen stage, CSR was guaranteed to give Kristen a proper examination.
Thunderhills Circuit Race:
Thunderhills Raceway is a ribbon of beautiful black asphalt nestled in the emerald green hills to the west of Chico. HB-Supermint flexed their muscle early, as Starla Teddergreen swept the day's hot spot sprints and then smashed the finale to take possession of both the Green and Yellow Jerseys. Kristen rode patiently all day and rolled smoothly through the sprint, staying out of harm's way and finishing just behind the leadout trains.
Stage 2 - The Queen Stage
Paskenta Road Race:
Kilometer after kilometer of blossoming orchards rekindle memories of the now defunct Merco Classic. The long gone season opener in Merced, Ca. has passed the baton to Chico, and on paper, the Paskenta Road Race should be one of the most difficult days of the year in North America. 2 laps of the 75km parcourse, filled with cross winds, gravel, and a punchy finish climb, offer ample opportunity to demolish a peloton. Alas, the riders make the race, and when an early break of 5 slipped the group, the ladies' peloton settled in for hours of piano. With all 5 UCI squads represented, the heavy hitters seemed content to parade away the long day, allowing the escapers to build a 7 minute lead. A flurry of attacks on the second lap helped to reduce the monumental margin, and on the last trip through the dirt, Kristen put the hammer down in an attempt to draw a few strong riders out of the group. But it was not to be. The peloton was happy to ride home together, and ultimately the break survived with a minute to spare. The leaders split on the run to the line, and Visit Dallas-DNA racer Mandy Heintz earned yellow by besting HB-Supermint leader Lindsey Bayer.
River Road TT:
The wet winter of 2017 has heavily affected most of the western US, and NorCal is no exception. Heavy flooding forced promoters to shorten the TT to 13km, and when the seconds were counted, Lindsey Bayer had moved past Heintz, and into yellow, with Claire Rose of Visit Dallas-DNA only 2 seconds in arrears.
With no aero equipment on hand, and an eye on the afternoon criterium, Kristen rode an easy tempo in the TT, preferring to go all in for stage glory later in the day.
Early hot spot sprints and a $1000 prime kept the action fast as Green Jersey leader Teddergreen clinched the sprint classification, placing an exclamation point by taking the big money sprint as well.
And this is the point when you would expect a move of to go. Points are gone, money is banked, stage glory to be found, and pesky bonus time still hanging in the balance. The Yellow jersey clearly wants a group of no-hopers up the road to absorb bonus time, and only a few riders can dream of winning the sprint finale...but it did not happen. The attacks were too few and quickly covered. Kristen's hopes of forming a winning break were thwarted. The attackers were not nearly concerted enough in their efforts to purchase some daylight, and in the end, the HB-Supermint ladies were undone by final lap bonification, as Visit Dallas-DNA snatched yellow at the line when Claire Rose took silver and a 6 second time bonus in the finale. Sam Schneider of Illuminate won the day with a scorching gallop as Lindsey Bayer dropped to second in the final GC standings.
We can analyze the race 100 different ways, but when all is said and done, we will just say it was exciting. 4 days of racing, all decided in the last 100 meters. Chico Stage Race has moved quickly into the national spotlight and we should expect it to continue deeper in that direction in 2018.
Kristen rode a very solid race, finishing near the front of the peloton each day, and never hinting that she was in difficulty. Heading into team training camp, and still many weeks out from VeloClassic p/b Stans No Tubes' official season start, it is safe to say that the team can look forward to long, strong kilometers from Miss Arnold.