Jonesing for home cookin’

Auburn resident hoping for a breakthrough as he races on home turf
By: Todd Mordhorst Journal Sports Editor
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Chris Jones believes Auburn should be a big-time cycling destination. And on Sunday it will be, with Jones playing host. The Auburn resident will cruise through his hometown with 127 of the top riders in the world in the opening stage of the Amgen Tour of California. Jones will be beaming like a proud father. “I’m always pushing Auburn, talking to other riders about how great it is,” Jones said. “Now I get to put my money where my mouth is.” Jones has spent the past week training in the foothills and enjoying the comforts of home. It’s an unusual break for the professional rider, whose passport already has stamps from Mexico and Morocco this spring. “We travel around the world to races similar to this and you’re staying in hotels and riding on roads you don’t really know,” Jones said. “To ride here, where I know the roads, it’s great. I’m pretty excited.” Jones rides for TeamType I, a U.S. team that has become one of the best in the country. The team includes two riders with Type I diabetes and one of its goals is to raise awareness of the disease and deliver a message that people with diabetes can live active, adventurous lives. The team is also growing more competitive each year. TeamType 1 took first place at the Vuelta Mexico earlier this spring and Jones played a big role, taking 10th overall. Though Jones said he is hoping to hit his stride in his native California, he’s quickly put together an impressive resume during his three years with TeamType I. In 2009, he won the fourth stage of the Joe Martin Stage Race and was seventh overall at the U.S. Cycling Professional Road Racing Championships. His team finished fourth in the national standings last year. A big performance in the eight-stage Amgen Tour of California would be another crowning achievement for Jones and his squad. “We’re based in America so this is probably our top priority of the year,” said Jones, who will compete in the Tour of Ireland and several other major stage races in Europe this summer. Jones specifically has his eye on the prestigious King of the Mountain jersey. It will go to the top climber each day throughout the Amgen Tour. Sunday’s designated climb will take the riders up Highway 49 to Cool – a hill Jones knows well. “That would be awesome to win it there,” Jones said. “I’m definitely shooting for that, but it’s racing and you never really know how it’s going to go until you get out there.” The soft-spoken 30-year-old will have a large throng of supporters in Auburn Sunday. Jones moved to Auburn in 2007 when his wife got a job at Sutter-Roseville Medical Center and quickly got to know Dan Tebbs and dozens of others in the Victory Velo riding group. “He’s one of the most approachable people I’ve ever met,” Tebbs said of Jones. “He’s super down-to-earth and laid back. We could go on a ride together and he keeps at my pace.” “He’s a phenomenal athlete,” added Victory Velo rider Jay Garrard. “What’s impressed me most about him is his lack of ego. He’s just very humble and he’s willing to go out and ride with somebody like me. “There’s varying levels of riders. I race a little recreationally and then Chris races professionally and there are guys like Levi Leipheimer and Fabian Cancellara. It just puts it all into perspective.” Colfax High graduate Luke Ramseth got to know Jones through the informal Victory Velo rides, which begin each Thursday evening at the downtown Auburn bike shop. Ramseth quickly became a fan. “I just like the way he approaches racing,” said Ramseth, a Humboldt State sophomore who won the Division II Western Collegiate Cycling Conference championship earlier this spring. “When he rides, there’s no energy wasted. The main thing that separates him from an amateur racer is the physiological side. You’ve got to have a certain set of gifts.” Jones didn’t begin pursuing his racing career until a move across the country in 2005 left him jobless. An excellent amateur rider, Jones decided to temporarily leave his civil engineering career behind and try to make ends meet on his bike. In his third year with Team Type I, Jones will have an evolving role during the eight-stage Amgen Tour. One of his main jobs as a support rider will be protecting the team’s featured rider Aldo Ino Ilesic. “We’ll keep him out of the wind, drafting and saving as much energy as possible,” Jones said. “From there as the race progresses, I’ll start to look out for myself a little more. We’ll play it day by day.” On Sunday, Jones will do his best to make his hometown proud.