The scenic 6th annual Mt Hood Cycling Classic returns bigger than ever as one of only three UCI women’s point races in the United States making it a very important stopping point for the women hoping to earn a selection for the Olympics. On the men’s side, the race also earned the highest ranking, a 2.1, on the USA Cycling National Racing Calendar (NRC).
Race director Chad Sperry moved the two beginning stages to cycling friendly, or is that cycling crazy, downtown Portland to increase its potential spectator count. But mother nature also made an appearance and forced another course change. With 20 miles of road still covered in 3-4 feet of snow, the Stage 4 – Wy’East Road Race had to be revised, and a new course was created. As the official site says, ‘Welcome to the dry side of the Cascade Mountain Range.’ The new point to point stage will start near sea level and finish at the Mt. Hood Meadows Ski Resort at 5,500-foot elevation.
With UCI points on the line, it will be a full on battle on the women’s race. Three-time defending champion Leah Goldstein is returning, hoping to make it four times in a row, and this time she’ll have more than one teammate to assist her. Coming off a win at Tour of the Gila, Goldstein is looking to her new team, ValueAct for support, including track specialist, Australian Katie Mactier, winner of two stages in 2007.
Last year, the Aaron’s team put 3 riders in the top 4 in the overall classification, won the QOM with Felicia Gomez and only the top step of the podium eluded them. This year, the aim is to get that overall and the team is coming with good form after placing three riders in the top 10 at Gila, Kristin Sanders, Julie Beverige and Gomez.
Another strong team is Cheerwine bringing second place at Gila, Leigh Hobson, Canadian Anne Samplonius and climber Marisa Asplund-Owens. Berveley Harper riding as a guest rider with Touchstone has done well in the past, finishing in fifth place last year as a solo rider. Colavita/Sutter Home with USA Crits Speed Week dominatrix Tina Pic is one to watch in any bunch sprint finish, especially the criterium.
The unknown coming into the race is the composite UCI team including High Road duo of Kim Anderson and Mara Abbot, and the unstoppable, 49-year old Jeannie Longo with an amazing palmares – 4 times medalist at the Olympic games, including a gold medal in 1996, 5 times Road Race World Champion, 4 times Time Trial World Champion, 3 times Track World Champion, 14 times French Road Race Champion starting in 1979 and her last win was in 2006,….
On the men’s side, with defending champion Nathan O’Neill out on suspension for a doping violation, last year’s (and in 2006) second place finisher Phil Zajicek will wear #1 for the Health Net-Maxxis team. Working with a on form Rory Sutherland, winner of the Joe Martin Stage Race, Zajicek is aiming for the win.
According to Zajicek, his main competitor is Bissell’s Ben Jacques-Maynes, who finished third last year. Jacques-Maynes will be able to count on a strong team including Burke Swindlehurst, second at Gila, Aaron Olson and Oregonian Omer Kem. Tom Zirbel originally scheduled to start the race was injured in a crash at Gila and will be back later this year.
Rock Racing’s Cesar Grajales is finally starting his first race of the season after being injured during training camp. The Colombian climber’s team also includes Oregonian Dougie Ollerenshaw and Australian track specialist Peter Dawson.
Toyota-United is sending a team made for stage wins with sprinters and brothers Jonnie and Hilton Clarke, climber Justin England, and GC contender Chris Baldwin and Ben Day. The ever aggressive Symmetrics’ team can be counted on for attacks and counter attacks, look for Chris Meier to light it up.
Other teams in the mix are Kelly Benefit/Medifast led by Andy Bajadali and strong time trialist Reid Mumford, Jittery Joe’s with Neil Shirley, Successful Living with Brad White, sixth place at Gila, and BMC’s Ian McKissick who finished fourth overall in the 2006 Mt Hood race.
Other names to animate the race are Kahala-LaGrange’s Matt Seagrave, local Kona’s Ryan Trebon and the rumored presence of Astana’s Chris Horner also from Oregon.
The stages. The 1.7 mile prologue runs through the downtown streets of Portland, in an out and back course alongside the Tom McCall River Front Park.
Stage 1 on Wednesday, the riders will be challenged by the Mt Tabor Criterium. The women will race for 60 minutes and the men 90 minutes over extremely winding course with nearly 135 feet of elevation for every 1.3 mile lap.
Stage 2 is the Cooper Spur Circuit Race, the first test of the climbing legs, with 1750 feet of climbing for each 18.7-mile circuit as the riders work their way through the fertile farmland and orchards of the upper Hood River Valley and into an alpine setting at Cooper Spur Resort. The pro men will complete 4.5 circuits for a total of 9000 feet of climbing and the pro women will complete 3.5 circuits with 7150 total feet of climbing.
The Scenic Gorge Time Trial. The 18.5 mile Stage 3 starts off with a flat 5 miles before the first obstacle, 2-mile (cat 3) climb up the Rowena Loops. The road gradually descends into the town of Mosier, and then back up a cat 4 climb to the Historic Mosier Tunnels, than finish off with 5 miles of rolling terrain to the finish line. Beautiful scenery but I doubt that the riders will see any of it.
Stage 4, the now changed Wy’East Road Race. The pro men’s course starts off with rolling terrain before hitting the cat 2, KOM Tygh Ridge Summit. Then a plunge down to the valley, and the definitive climb of the race, a 35-mile, 4500-feet ascent to the summit finish at Mt. Hood Meadows Ski Resort. The final two-mile stretch to the ski resort has an average gradient of 10%, including sections that approach 12 percent. The pro men will cover 101 miles with 11,200 feet of climbing and the women will cover 74 miles and 8000 feet.
The final stage, the Downtown Hood River Criterium. Stage 5 is a technical crit with tight corners over a 1mile loop that starts off with a sharp right hand turn, quick descent into a left hand curve followed immediately by a shard right hand turn coming back nearly 120 degrees. Then a long flat straight to gather speed, before a series of three 90 degree right hand turns and then a left that brings the riders back the start/finish line. And then they get to do it again, the men raced for 75 minutes and the women for 50 minutes.