Following a year off from cyclo-cross to concentrate on his pro road racing career with UnitedHealthcare, former Rapha-Focus rider Chris Jones has a new team and ambitions toward a limited campaign targeting the national championships in January.
Jones, 35, competed for The Athletic, a small sock company in Oregon, during the Gateway Cross Cup races this past weekend in St. Louis, finishing 12th and seventh over the two days. Jones' new team is run by Jeremy Dunn and his wife, Julie Krasniak, who raced with Rapha-Focus when Jones was there.
"I went to Baltimore a month ago now and did those races just to kind of test the waters," Jones said of the Charm City Cross races in Maryland, where he finished third on both days. "It worked out well, and I thought, 'Man I really miss 'cross. I love it.' So that kind of stoked the fire, and then Jeremy contacted me and said, 'Hey, we just started a company, we have kits, you want to ride for us?' I knew him from the Rapha days. He and his wife Julie are great people, so it worked out perfect."
The low-key, low-pressure commitment with The Athletic allows Jones to go to the races he chooses, a perk that is especially important now that he and his wife have an 11-month-old boy at home.
"I love cross because it's a fun scene," Jones said. "I love road, but it's my job and there's the pressure, and I don't want to do that year round. I want to race cross because I enjoy it. I'm doing better now that I'm having fun."
Jones began the 2014 cyclo-cross season with two third-place finishes in Baltimore before starting Oregon's Cross Crusade series earlier this month. Jones has won two of the three series races so far and is second behind 2013 series winner Carl Decker (Giant Factory Racing) in the current overall standings.
Jones said following the Gateway Cup, he'll travel to the Cincy3 races in Ohio this weekend. He'll race the two-day Deschutes Cup at home in Bend the first week of December, and then he hopes to carry some early road season fitness into Austin, Texas, for nationals.
"We'll see how the rest of these races play out, but I think nationals is the big goal," Jones said. "My road season will start with Oman and Qatar again, so January is a prime time for us for fitness and everything, so it will be interesting. Nationals is supposed to be roadie friendly, so we'll see how that works out."
Jones started his pro road career in 2009. He moved to cycling's second division in 2011 with UnitedHeathcare and has been with the team as it slowly transitions to a European focus. This year Jones competed in monuments like Paris-Roubaix and Milan-San Remo, as well as Strade Bianche and La Flèche Wallonne.
He was active in multiple breakaways during the Tour of California and then finished fourth at the national championship road race in May. He competed in China at the 13-stage Tour of Qinghai Lake, in Colorado at the USA Pro Challenge, and then the Tour of Alberta. Jones' road season ended September 13 at the Bucks County Classic in Doylestown, Pennsylvania. A week later, Jones was competing at the Charm City races in Baltimore.
Jones said that as he and UnitedHealthcare teammate Danny Summerhill get faster on the road, their performances in cyclo-cross races get better as well. He pointed to Summerhill's win recently at the Ellison Park Cross Festival in Rochester, New York, as evidence.
"I think our road depth definitely carries over," he said, adding that UnitedHealthcare is OK with Jones and Summerhill competing in cyclo-cross because it compliments the road racing so well.
"For Danny and I, we spend so much time with the cobbled classics, and this is the perfect skill for that," Jones said. "The fitness crosses over as well. I think if I was to do a full cross season, they wouldn't like that, but they appreciate that we're staying in shape and staying motivated."