The TWENTY16 women’s pro cycling team continued its winning ways with a huge result at Chico Stage Race. (Photo: dmunsonphoto)
The TWENTY16 Ridebiker powered by Sho-Air Women’s Pro Cycling Team continued its impressive run of form by winning the Chico Stage Race last weekend. Allie Dragoo, who stormed to victory two weeks prior at the Valley of the Sun Stage Race, continued her winning ways by taking first place in the general classification (GC) standings. Dragoo’s teammate Leah Thomas rode well throughout the event, finishing in second place overall. With four stages contested over three days, the Chico Stage Race was another key early season test for the TWENTY16 squad as they prepare for a few more domestic races before heading over to Europe to compete with some of cycling’s top international road racing outfits. Felt Bicycles caught up with both Dragoo and Thomas to learn more about how the race played out, and what this result means for the TWENTY16 team as they continue towards some big ambitions for the 2016 season.
TWENTY16’s Leah Thomas took advantage of her pre-season training to grab a huge result at the 2016 Chico Stage Race, finishing second place on general classification. (Photo: VeloImages)
SITTING IN WITH TWENTY16’s LEAH THOMAS
FELT: Have you raced Chico Stage Race before this season?
LEAH: I raced Chico last year for the very first time as part of a local team, and it was one of my first bigger races. I actually placed the same last year, second overall on GC, although it was a much different experience this year.
FELT: How did the first stage at Chico play out?
LEAH: The first stage on Friday was a circuit race, and it was held at Thunderhill auto racing track. It was a 75-minute stage, and we really wanted to control the race in order to set up Alison Jackson for the win, as well as be competitive for the sprint jersey. Sofia Arreola did a great job getting sprint points throughout the stage, and we set up Alison well. She won and Sofia came in second. It was a really great way to start the weekend of racing.
FELT: How about the second stage?
LEAH: The second stage on Saturday was a really long, 90-mile road race. And it had sections of gravel, which made it a lot more exciting. We did a good job of controlling the pace of that stage; there was plenty of teamwork going on. Somewhere around 10 kilometers to go, I was able to bridge up to my teammate, but unfortunately we got caught with only 400 meters to go. There was definitely a ton of teamwork going on throughout the day, so it was a great way for us to work on solidifying our communication and build that team rapport necessary for success in big events.
FELT: Tell us about the last day of racing.
LEAH: The third stage was on Sunday, which was a 10.3-mile time trial, and it was mostly flat. I remember it being windier last year. It was a bit calmer this year and colder, too. The challenge involved in a time trial like that is that you just raced 90 miles the day before, so mustering the strength necessary to place well can be tough. For me, that stage was all about staying in my own world and pacing myself correctly, along with remembering to keep my head down and staying as aerodynamic as possible. My teammate Allie Dragoo finished first and I was able to finish second, and that pretty much solidified the general classification (GC) standings. In the last stage, which was held on the same day as the time trial, was a criterium that was fast from the get-go with attacks going throughout the whole stage. There was a huge battle taking place for the sprint jersey. And our job as a team was to cover attacks and make sure we kept the GC lead, and we were successful at that.
FELT: Tell us about your Felt road bike.
LEAH: I have the Felt F1 road bike, and I absolutely love it. When I first got into riding bikes, I had an entry-level Felt bike so it was the first brand I was exposed to and became familiar with. So it was nice to come back to Felt Bicycles as a professional racer. I love my F1; it fits great, it’s aggressive, it’s fast and it responds extremely well.
FELT: Looking ahead, what are your personal biggest goals of the 2016 season?
LEAH: Since this is my first season racing with the TWENTY16 Ridebiker team, a lot of my goals are oriented around the team. A lot of my teammates have real potential for getting to the Olympics, so helping them out in key races is really important to me. Beyond that, I just really want to gain as much experience in big races as possible, and to learn those really important tactics involved at the highest level of competition.
FELT: In regards to your training and preparation, did you do anything different heading into the 2016 season compared to previous campaigns
LEAH: Going into this season, I definitely had more time to train than in previous seasons. Up until this past June, I was a full-time teacher. So during my previous seasons of racing, I had balance teaching and training. I left my full-time teaching job, but I love going back to the classroom to substitute teach. So these days I definitely have more time to train and, more importantly, more time to rest and recover. I know that power-wise I was stronger going into this season than in previous seasons.
FELT: Tell us about your teaching career.
LEAH: I used to teach 6th grade science, and I was living out in Northeastern Arizona on a Navajo reservation. I’m originally from California’s Bay Area and I wanted to come home, so I took the first job I could, which was teaching transitional kindergarten. It’s a program for younger kids, in the 4- to 5-year-old range, to get a chance to catch up developmentally to older classmates. I ended up working for a fabulous district in the city of Mountain View.
FELT: What are some events coming up for the team?
LEAH: We’re going to the Tour of Murrieta in mid-March, and then we head over to Europe where we’re going to do some of the big European traces. It’ll be a good learning experience and a great way to try and get some good results. We have a great mix of veteran riders and new and excited riders on the team, so it makes more a wonderful dynamic.
FELT: It was announced this week that TWENTY16 will be part of the Amgen Tour of California this year, What does that mean for you and the team?
LEAH: The Amgen Tour of California is on my race schedule, and I’m super excited to be able to compete in it because I grew up in California. Plus, the race’s location will allow my family and friends to watch and participate in the festivities. I’m excited that the title sponsor Amgen continues to grow the women’s side of the Tour each year. And I’m really excited for the fact that there’s going to be a team time trial. I had the privilege to ride the TTT at last year’s World Championships in Richmond, Virginia, so it would be fun to race that kind of event again. It’s a beautiful thing to be a part of. And I’m also excited for the race in Santa Rosa because it’s so close to home.
TWENTY16’s Allie Dragoo won the time trial at Chico Stage Race, in addition to taking the overall victory on general classification. (Photo: VeloImages)
LESSONS LEARNED FROM TWENTY16’s ALLIE DRAGOO
FELT: How did Stage One play out from your perspective?
ALLIE: The Stage One circuit race was unique, because it was on a car racetrack. The pavement felt weird underneath you, like glass, only sticky. All that week I had been pretty sick, and I didn’t really ride my bike much. I was mostly on the couch all week sleeping. So during the race I had to sit in and take it all day by day. My teammates covered the attacks, and nothing got away. And then the first stage came down to a field print. I made sure to stay up front in order to help our lead-out train. My teammate Holly Breck did the final lead-out for Alison Jackson, who won, and Sofia Arreola took second place.
FELT: Walk us through Stage Two.
ALLIE: Stage Two was a 90-mile road race, made up of two 45-mile loops. About 16 miles into the first loop, there was a 4-mile section of gravel. It was pretty sandy and also rocky in spots. We made sure to go hard during the stage in order to split the field. On the second loop we really got things going and started attacking in twos. Jennifer Tetrick was off the front with another rider, and they had a breakaway for quite some time. The field brought them back for time’s sake. We were set up well for the final sprint, but there was a crash and Alison Jackson went down, and the field and the situation pretty much got away from us. Sofia Arreola finished 5th and I finished 7th. It was unfortunate, but a good lesson for us. When things go south, you just have to keep going.
FELT: How did the Stage Three time trial play out?
ALLIE: I was so sick on Sunday morning, the day of the final two stages. We rode to the course that morning, and I was questioning if I could even race. But I fought through it and did my normal warm-up. I thought, “Whatever happens, so be it. I’ll just go race.” There’s something unique about time trial where, when you’re out there, it’s the only thing that matters. I caught the rider who started 30 seconds ahead of me, a racer who I know is a very good time-trialist. I caught her, so I figured I must have been in good shape. I won the time trial, Leah Thomas got second, I took over the yellow leader’s jersey at that point. It was a really fun little course. There were a few apex-to-apex turns, so it was fun to cut time off in sections like those.
FELT: What happened during the final stage?
ALLIE: Stage Four was a criterium, the same day as the time trial. The team’s plan was to secure the yellow leader’s jersey and move riders up in the general classification rankings if possible. The stage started fast and people were attacking nonstop. We covered a few attacks, and then I attacked with another girl, and we broke away for 11 laps before the field caught us with just one lap to go. My teammates Jess Cerra and Sofia Arreola were yelling at me that they were coming through the corner fast in order to string out the race, and they really took it to the last corner. Sofia ended up getting second.
FELT: What are some things about Chico that really stood out to you?
ALLIE: The thing that I really took away from this race was just how well the team communicated, and how well everyone stayed calm. We had a plan to get the leader’s jersey and, despite some setbacks, we were able to accomplish that. Even though Chico is one of the smaller events we’ll be contesting this season, it offers an incredible training aspect for everyone who races. It features a 90-mile road race for the pro women, and we rarely get that kind of stage in which to compete.