Mt. Hood stage race to feature Armstrong/Hughes TT showdown

HOOD RIVER, Ore. (VN) — The 9th Mt. Hood Cycling Classic takes off out of this wind-crazy town Thursday with a three-mile time trial to warm up the legs before riders eventually tackle the snow-line queen stage Sunday. Kristin Armstrong and Clara Hughes highlight the women’s race, while the jam-packed men’s…

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HOOD RIVER, Ore. (VN) — The 9th Mt. Hood Cycling Classic takes off out of this wind-crazy town Thursday with a three-mile time trial to warm up the legs before riders eventually tackle the snow-line queen stage Sunday. Kristin Armstrong and Clara Hughes highlight the women’s race, while the jam-packed men’s field features a handful of pros and some of the country’s top domestic teams.

Armstrong, Hughes go head-to-head

The women’s race has climbed to the top spot on the marquee because of entries by Armstrong (Peanut Butter & Co. -Twenty12) and Hughes (Pactimo). Both riders have been tearing up the results during this comeback season as they work toward a return to the Olympics in 2012. Hughes won the Tour of the Gila, then won both the road race and time trial at the Pan American Games last month in Colombia and the Gatineau time trial in Canada. Armstrong withdrew from the Gila after the first stage with a stomach bug but came back strong at the Tour of California women’s time trial in Solvang, winning with a dominant performance. Mt. Hood will be the first time both riders have gone head to head this season.

Armstrong will have six teammates at her disposal: Katie Antonneau, Kristin McGrath, Giana Roberge, Alison Starnes, Alisha Welsh and Tayler Wiles. Hughes will get support from a three-rider composite team that includes pro mountain biker-turned-roadie Joy Duerksen, Portland pro Hilary Billington and Sea Otter stage winner Jade Wilcoxson of Southern Oregon. Both riders and teams will have to overcome 2010 winner Molly Van Houweling, who’s bringing six Metromint teammates along to help defend her title. Last year’s stage 2 winner ,Jennifer Wheeler (TIBCO/To the Top), wcould also be a wildcard in the 52-rider women’s field.

Boswell, Bissell top 150+ men’s field

The top end of the men’s race has suffered a bit because of scheduling conflicts with the big East Coast races, but enthusiam and participation are still high. The men’s field reached its limit and began building a waiting list long before the registration deadline.

VeloNews‘ 2010 Breakthrough Rider of the Year Ian Boswell (Trek-Livestrong) has had a month off from racing and will race Hood looking to put some serious miles in his legs as he builds up for the tough slog through the rest of the season.

“Hood will be a good opportunity to get some racing back in my legs as a build up to the second part of the year, which is full of hard racing,” he said. “I really like the riding around Hood River and Mt. Hood, so I’d like to do well on one of the days.”

Bissell Pro Cycling is sending three riders, Chase Pinkham will join 2009 stage winner Rob Britton and Jeremy Vennell, who finsihed eighth at the Tour of California time trial in Solvang. The always-aggressive PureBlack Racing team has four riders headed for Hood, including 2010 KOM runner-up Taylor Gunman.

The Elite amateur contingent of the pro/am field is stacked with West Coast talent, including the Yahoo! Cycling Team led by last year’s third overall Nate English. California Giant-Specialized will have a full squad led by 2010 KOM winner Jesse Moore. Hagens Berman, winner of the team GC last year, will be back with a full squad that includes GC contender Chris Parrish and 16-year-old junior phenom Logan Owen, making the move from the development team to the elite squad for the first time. Trek-Red Truck and Team H&R Block are making the trip down from Canada with full sqauds.

Carl Decker (Giant MTB), a pro mountain biker from Bend who also won the 2005 elite road race championship, will be trying his hand at Hood and could be one of many wildcards in the men’s peloton.

Returning to the race’s roots with Three Summits

The Three Summits Road Race is one of the courses that built the Mt. Hood’s reputation beginning in 2002. When floods and heavy weather in 2006 washed out a crucial bridge linking the namesake summits together, the Wy’East Road Race that finished at the Meadows Ski Resort stepped in as a worthy replacement. Now recent road repairs have finally opened access to the original Three Summits course, which travels so deep into the Mt. Hood National Forest that one is left wondering exactly why and how these remote one-lane roads ever got paved in the first place.

The new course isn’t the only change for Mt. Hood this year. The prologue at Panorama Point was last used in 2009, but Friday’s stage 1 road race is new to Mt. Hood and traverses many stretches of the Historic Columbia River Highway that were previously used for the time trial. This year’s time trial is significantly shorter than in the past, covering 11 miles in the shadow of Mount Adams across the Columbia River in Trout Lake, Washington. The shorter time trial makes it possible for a Saturday doubleheader, with the Hood River Criterium filling the evening slot.

But the crown jewel of this year’s Mt. Hood Cycling Classic is without a doubt the finale at Three Summits, which starts and finishes at the Cooper Spur Ski Area.

Bissell Pro Cycling Team director Omer Kem has slogged it out over both the Wy’East and Three Summits course as a pro rider and says competitors should expect a harder but ultimately unique and beautiful day of racing.

“It’s cool to be able to do this, because there aren’t that many races left like this in the country,” Kem said. “But it is going to be hard. The roads are so much narrower. Wy’East, for the most part, is highway grade type of climbing even up to Meadows. But Three Summits is almost all forest service roads, and so you’re going to get much steeper gradients than you do if it’s on the highway.”

Kem said that unlike previous years, the sheer difficulty of the final stage will likely be the deciding factor in the overall battles.

“I think it shapes the race,” Kem said. “And then going with a shorter time trial, there’s less time to be lost there. So I think it’s going to put even more emphasis on that road race. I think that whoever wins the road race is going to win the overall.”

The men will face 91 miles and more than 10,000 feet of climbing on the last day. The women will tackle 70 miles and 8,200 feet of elevation gain. Adding to the grand scale of the Three Summits course will be snow-walled climbs to the summits on Lost Lake and Vista Ridge. Promoter Chad Sperry hired plow crews to bust the lingering snow drifts on the course, some of them as much as 10-12 feet tall.

Panorama Point Prologue Time Trial

FRIDAY, June 3
Columbia Gorge Road Race

Trout Lake Time Trial

Hood River Criterium

SUNDAY, June 5
Three Summits Road Race

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