Owens Cycling Team Members Share Strategy

Professional Cycling Team In Redding

Owens Healthcare Riders Love Thrill of Victory

When Redding’s Owens Healthcare Cycling team got its start nine years ago, its six original members traveled all over the Western states, racing — and often winning — contests in New Mexico, Montana and Idaho.

But with the growing popularity of cycling, there’s a lot more happening in their home region, both mountain bike and road racing, and nowadays the Owens team is sticking closer to home. Training is more varied and enjoyable too, with “hundreds of miles of dirt trails” now available in the Redding area, and more being added all the time, notes team founder John Friesen.

The team’s sponsor, Redding-based Owens Healthcare, provides health care equipment and pharmaceutical services throughout Northern California. Working for the company is not a requirement for team membership, although two of the team’s 12 members do work for Owens.

Pretty much everyone on the team has a day job, but they manage to show up for team workouts that cover roughly a hundred miles a week. Each team member will average a half dozen races a year, in a circuit that runs from Levi Leipheimer’s 100-miler in Santa Rosa to the Lemurian mountain bike race in Whiskeytown to the 60-mile Table Rock Road Race at Central Point, Ore.

Veteran team member Mark Blaser, now 54, has fond memories of those earlier days of traveling to more exotic locales, especially the Tour Of Gila road race in New Mexico, one of the first competitions the Owens Team entered. Blaser won two stages of the race, one that took riders through a hauntingly beautiful, stark mountain landscape.

Friesen, the CEO and president of Owens Healthcare, says he started the team in 2003 with the simple idea of “helping out local athletes who want to compete.” It still serves that purpose, but in recent years it also has become a kind of farm team for racers eager to seize the growing opportunities in professional bicycle racing. The one and only female racer in the team’s history, Gina Lowe, signed on a few years ago with a professional racing team in the Bay Area. The Owens team is currently nurturing a 17-year-old mountain biking whiz, Brandon Dillard, who recently placed first in his age group in the Lemurian race and who aims to race professionally once he gets out of college.

There’s a fine art to team racing. Everyone in a bike race is ranked individually based on the time they cross the finish line, but strategies used by teams like Owens can help determine who crosses that finish line first.

Typically, they’ll pick a lead racer, one of their strongest riders, and support him through a technique known as “drafting.” The team will save the lead racer’s strength by riding in a pack just ahead of him, so he doesn’t have to fight wind resistance. In the Table Rock Road Race a couple of years ago, Owens’ lead racer Jonz Norine rode behind his team members for the first 15 of its 60 miles, saving his strength so that he could make a successful surge to join the group of cyclists leading the race. And Norine kept right on surging to win the race.

The team also has ways to psyche out opponents. Owens team member Todd Dodds described one of those techniques, which involves “protecting” its lead racer once he’s surged to the front.

“Anyone who tries to catch up to him, we get on to his wheel, get right behind him. At this point the poor guy is probably thinking you’re going to work with him, trade off in the lead so we can both catch up, which often happens in these races. But when he gets tired and motions for you to take the lead you inform him in so many words that’s not going to happen because you’re protecting your teammate. That can be devastating, because it pretty much ends his chances of catching up.”

All six of the team’s original members are still racing with Owens. The heady days of racing all over the Western U.S. are behind them, and they seem comfortable with that, sticking closer to home, tending to jobs and families — and teaching newer team members like Lowe and Dillard the fine points of competitive racing.

Original member Dodds, 44, has been competing since his first BMX race at age 8 and has no plans to stop.

“It’s something you can do for a lifetime,” he says. “That’s what I love about it.”

Article by Tim Holt Special to the Record Searchlight, originally published at Redding.com.