Racing To Work
story: Kallie Markle photo: Mia Sullivan
PRO-CYCLIST CHRIS JONES' UNCONVENTIONAL CAREER
There’s China for the Tour of Qinghai Lake (943 miles over altitudes varying 6,500 feet), then on to the Tour of Britain (eight days, 759 miles, and skirting the Pope’s visit to London), and maybe the Tour of Ireland somewhere in between.
That’s Chris Jones’ work schedule for late August-early September, without accounting for things like flying back home to Auburn to see his wife or help around the house. His workplace is as unconventional as his daily grind: any paved surface, preferably with hills.
Jones, who grew up in Bella Vista, is a professional cyclist and member of Team Type 1 (TT1). TT1 won 55 races in 2009, finished fourth in the National Racing Calendar standings and, in two seasons, has registered 100 victories and 219 podium finishes. Its mission is to instill hope for people affected by diabetes and to demonstrate that with appropriate diet, exercise, treatment and technology, anyone with diabetes can achieve his or her dreams.
TT1 is the world’s only professional cycling team boasting riders who have Type 1 diabetes, and they’re as international as their schedule, including riders from Australia, Holland, Russia, Spain and the Ukraine. And, of course, Auburn by way of Bella Vista. “We race between 70 to 100 days per year, and travel about 170 days per year,” Jones estimates. For him, the travel can be the best part of the job but can also be the worst, “like when the plane you’re on gets struck by lightning,” he laughs, which happened on a trans-Atlantic flight to a race in Morocco. Aside from getting to see the world in a unique way, Jones relishes the job for its ever-changing nature. “You have a lot of flexibility; you’re not locked in an office and you’re enjoying the outdoors every day.”
When he’s not racing through foreign countries, a day’s work involves six hours of riding through the hills around Auburn, where Jones and his wife, Cassie, a Redding native and nurse practitioner, moved after her graduation from Yale University. “We picked Auburn for the (cycle) training, which is some of the best in the world because of the variety of terrain: flats, foothills, mountains and really low traffic volume,” he explains.
Jones wandered into pro cycling after discovering a knack for being bike-bound. “My uncle started doing triathlons and I joined him for fun, and realized I liked the bicycling part best. I’d never taken it seriously until then,” he recalls. After graduating college, he joined the San Diego Bicycling Club (SDBC) to learn the basics, and soon his hobby transformed into a career path.
Jones also employed hometown connections to develop his talent. “The (Redding-based) Owens Healthcare Cycling Team took me under its wing and taught me what it takes to be a professional–the do’s, don’ts, how to care for your bike, all the way through analyzing a race situation. Those guys really taught me how to race.”
Jones worked on his race resume’ while looking for a team to join. “Pro cycling is like any other sport where teams have positions,” he explains. “They may be looking for a sprinter, a climber, anything like that.” He turned out to be an adept “all-arounder,” an easy position to market to teams shopping for their next member.
Supportive family and friends marked the early years. “When I started as an amateur, my parents (Bill and Cindy Jones of Bella Vista) and in-laws (Redding’s Mark and Tracey Moore) and Cassie would travel to the races, take care of my bike, hand out water, etc.” Now that he’s a professional with a real pit crew, the family is less often seen standing around for hours, waiting for the brief moment when Jones will zoom by. “Now they use races to vacation,” he laughs, noting their trips are for shopping, sightseeing and other non-race activities. “They’re enjoying the break. They deserve it.”
Jones competed in one of his favorite races, the Tour of California, in May. Aside from it being in his home state, it’s ideal for one simple reason: “The first stage went right in front my house, so I got to sleep in my own bed.” Far preferable to harrowing flights, time-zone changes, unfamiliar cuisine and being away from his wife. “It’s also great because all of the family is here at the end of every stage,” he explains.
Though he’s ridden all over the globe, Jones’ favorite course is a North State one: “Through Igo-Ono, take the 36 to Fortuna, then Highway 4 to Hayfork, Hayfork to 299 to Redding. There’s usually zero traffic, huge climbs and beautiful views.” Beware, novices–it’s a long ride, but for Jones, it’s perfect. “It’s similar to the beautiful mountain stages of a big tour.” Like China, Ireland… you name it.