Jones rolls with new role

Auburn pro doing the dirty work for United Health Care
By: Todd Mordhorst Journal Sports Editor
-A +A
No one will mistake Chris Jones for a mammoth right tackle in the NFL. But the 5-10, 140-pound professional cyclist will assume a similar role to the unheralded blockers on the gridiron this week. The Auburn resident is embracing his new duties with the United Health Care team at the Amgen Tour of California. “I have a less glamorous role this year,” said Jones, who has been racing at the top level of pro cycling for four years. “I’ll ride in the wind and basically block for (Rory Sutherland). I’ll give him my wheel if he gets a flat. I’ll run back and get him something to eat if he needs it. Basically any task I can eliminate for him, that’s my job.” Jones will be working hard for teammate Sutherland, whom the team is hoping can contend for the individual title, alongside some of the sport’s biggest stars. The talented Australian finished sixth last year. Jones wasn’t far behind in the 2010 Tour of California. As a member of Team Type I he rode near the front of the Peloton for much of the 2010 race, finishing 16th overall. “I wouldn’t say it was a breakthrough, as much as a confirmation of the course I was on,” Jones said of last year’s Tour. Jones has steadily moved up the ranks in pro cycling after quitting his job as an engineer several years ago to pursue a career in the sport. While the 31-year-old Jones said his focus would be keeping Sutherland out of the wind and perhaps chasing down breakaway riders, he may look for an opening during Stage 2 to go after one of the colored jerseys. There is a blue “Most Courageous rider,” a red jersey for the “King of the Mountain,” and the “Sprint” jersey. “My dream would be to get one of those jerseys and be able to wear it for the start of Stage 3,” Jones said. Stage 3 will be a special one for Jones. His wife Cassie and many other friends and family members will be rooting him on in his hometown, where he’s seen the cycling community rally. After spending much of the past few months racing in Europe, Jones returned to Auburn earlier this month for a few restful days. “Everywhere you go in Auburn, people are talking about cycling,” Jones said. “It’s exciting. The city and Bike Auburn have done a really good job with everything. It’s one of the best times to be in Auburn right now and unfortunately, I’m not there to enjoy it.” Jones said he would be, “on lockdown,” from when the Tour starts today in South Lake Tahoe through the final stage next Sunday. He’ll be conserving every ounce of energy for the race, which many of the riders are calling a mini-Tour de France. He’ll be trying to consume more than 6,000 calories each day to keep his body fueled for the race. The two mountaintop finishes, including a major test in Stage 7 at Mt. Baldy could bring out the best in Jones, who is known for his climbing ability. He’s worked hard to improve his sprinting and last year’s overall finish proved his talent in all disciplines of riding. “You’re always trying to improve, but at the higher level of racing it’s so specialized,” Jones said. “You really have to maximize what you do well.” The United Health Care team has long been known as one of the top teams on the U.S. racing circuit. Jones is doing his part to help the team break through on the international scene. The Tour of California’s world-class field of teams and challenging route offer the perfect test. Jones may not garner individual accolades, but if there is blue-clad United Health Care rider on the podium, there’s a good chance Jones will have helped him get there. “Cycling really is a team sport, but it’s a concept that is hard for non-cyclists to understand,” Jones said. “Everyone on the team has an important role.”