VCU cyclist on winning collegiate race, how RVA embraced event

Chris Jones only started biking four years ago as a VCU freshman. Last weekend, he beat cyclists from all over the country in a major Division I event.

The winner of last Friday’s USA Cycling Collegiate Road Nationals individual time trial had no idea how fast he was going.

“The second I finished the time trial, I thought my time was a little slow,” said VCU student Chris Jones. In fact, he’d completed his first lap faster than anyone else. “I didn’t hear that [announced], so I had no idea how I was doing in the race. Basically all I had to judge was my own effort, and I actually thought I didn’t do as well as I probably could have.”

His time of 43:24.64 to complete the 19-mile race surpassed every other competing Division I cyclist and was nearly 14 seconds ahead of the runner-up. “Once I realized that I won…it’s honestly just a dream. It’s hard to describe it.”

That ineffable feeling took root in Summer 2010. “I bought a bike for $500 going into freshman year,” Jones said. “Kind of just to ride around…I didn’t know anything about cycling up until 2010.”

He enjoyed riding. One day he visited a local bicycle shop. “I was at Carytown Bicycle Company, and one of the employees there asked if I knew about the VCU Cycling Club. From then, I emailed one of the club members asking if I could join.” Jones fell in love with racing. “And I kept doing it from there.”

In time, Jones enlisted a coach to help him develop his skills. “If you want to progress in the sport as far as possible, at some point you’re going to have to find a coach,” Jones said. His work with Adam Switters in the lead-up to Friday’s race involved tailored workouts for the time trial, many of which involved Jones riding east to the to the Richmond National Battlefield Park, a route with a modicum of motorists and long stretches of pavement without traffic stops.

Despite his familiarity with many Richmond roads, Jones said he had no advantage over out-of-town racers last weekend. “With an advantage, you’d ride a road 20 times and you’d find the best spot on the road to ride,” Jones explained. “And with Monument Avenue a [significant stretch of which was part of course Jones won], with there being so many cars, no car is going to allow you to ride in the middle of the road so you can find where the best line on the road is to ride.” In that sense, Monument Avenue was just as foreign to Jones as it was to visiting cyclists.

Jones’s cycling aspirations aren’t limited to collegiate events. “It’d be a goal or a dream to be able to spend a few years racing at the professional level,” he said. “But I also have goals of becoming a physical education teacher, and I feel like I can do both in my life, probably at the same time.”

Jones will next race at the inaugural Richmond Road Race (PDF) on May 18th at Ashland Berry Farm. There he’ll compete with fellow teammates on the Bon Secours Cycling Team.

Reflecting on last weekend’s races, winning the time trial wasn’t the only bright spot for Jones. “In terms of how the event was handled this weekend, I think it was handled the best it could be.” He said the event “was a good test run” for the larger UCI Road World Championship coming in 2015. A good test run not only for city officials, but for residents too.

“I think leading up to it, [people] thought it was going to be a pain in terms of traffic,” Jones said about last weekend’s races. “But as the weekend went on, I was getting handshakes and pictures from people I had never met before, so I think the city realized how big of an event it was for them and kind of ran with it, which is awesome to see. That’s good for 2015, because that’s what we’re going to need from the city.”

photo by Nick Davis

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Nathan Cushing

Nathan Cushing is a writer, journalist, and RVANews Editor.

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