Two days later and my legs are still extremely sore from the weekend! The Mt. Hood Cycling Classic was a challenging stage race the took place in and around Hood River, Oregon. It was one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever visited although the weather was less than desirable. I arrived in a torrential downpour and driving from the Portland airport to Hood River was almost as scary as time trialing in 45mph crosswinds. I was lucky to be able to stay with a gracious host in Hood River whose house was stocked with good coffee, organic produce, and delicious chocolate. His home also overlooked the breathtaking gorge and was close to all of the stages. When I arrived in Hood River, I was really nervous about the tour and not feeling confident. I don’t like traveling without a team and racing on my own. Factor in the rain and wind and I was wondering why I flew to Oregon! However, by Sunday I was sad to leave.
Stage 1 was a 90km road race with a decent amount of climbing through the Columbia Hills. The course wasn’t too technical but the wind and rain definitely made it difficult. My legs were feeling pretty good but I was nervous at the start. I’ve become accustomed to riding in perfect California weather and these new conditions plagued me with anxiety. Aliston Tetrick and Rhae Shaw from Exergy Twenty12 executed a genius plan and ended up in a three person break with one other rider. I was in a bad position when Tetrick went and just couldn’t hack the pace when Shaw went a couple of minutes later. I tried staying on her wheel up a short and sharp climb but the lactic acid monster attacked my legs. I did end up in a four person break chasing the leaders but we were eventually caught. I ended up finishing with the peloton and the three leaders gained a good chunk of time on the rest of us. I was pretty angry that I missed the break but the legs just hadn’t woken up yet!
Stage 2 was a 30km time trial through the scenic gorge. It is considered one of the most beautiful time trial courses in America. I woke up that morning to gale force winds and I couldn’t decide whether or not I should use my Zipp 404′s and risk getting blown off the road. Well, I risked it and I almost got blown into the gorge four times. Despite being twenty seconds late to my TT start time due to a mechanical issue (yes, I’m an idiot), I finished 9th in the TT and had a lot of fun even though it was the hardest time trial I’ve ever done. It was straight into an insane headwind and coming into the crosswinds while cornering was extremely scary. My wheels started whistling and I was pedaling sideways into the wind. The course also had riders racing through a small dark tunnel at 60kph. Despite all this, I can honestly say I enjoyed it.
After some quality rest and recovery, the downtown Hood River criterium started at 6:45pm that same day. By that point, my legs were feeling strong and I was having fun. My nerves weren’t too bad and the wind had died down a bit. The atmosphere for the criterium was amazing. People lined the streets, music blasted, and Full Sail beer was flowing! It was a technical 1km course with some climbing and a tricky corner known as “carnage corner”. There were three crashes during the race and I was lucky enough to stay upright. I attacked, sat on the front, and then managed to screw up the last lap to come in 9th! I am finally starting to like racing criteriums and that was probably one of the most challenging and fun ones I’ve participated in. With the time trial and crit that day, I ended up spending a lot of time at threshold. By the time I got home, I was ready to eat some chocolate chips and pass out.
Entering the final day, I was sitting in 7th on GC and I knew I’d have to make up time in the final stage to move up. There was no chance I was going to podium unless I switched out my bike for a motorcycle but I was hoping to move up two or three spots. To put it simply, stage 4 was insane. The course was 115kms long with 2,500m of climbing. That, my friends, is a lot of climbing! It was a tough and technical mountain stage on secondary roads that were plowed a few days beforehand due to excessive snow. The descents were fast and highly technical and the stage profile looked very scary! However, it ended up being my favorite stage. The sun was finally shining and my legs felt fresh. The scenery was absolutely breathtaking and I really enjoyed the climbs. The race started out slow and then it got really hard once we hit the first climb. The peloton broke up and I was in a breakaway with the Exergy girls and two other riders. Kelli Emmett managed to break away on her own and I had to decide whether or not to chase her down with Rhae Shaw. Rhae was going hard up the climb and even though I felt good, I didn’t want to risk going with her and blowing up. I knew I wouldn’t be able to get a top 3 on GC so I played it safe. It was a race of attrition and for the final 60kms, I was with a group of five riders which included Alison Tetrick who was 2nd on GC. I was on the front for the entire final climb, gradually increasing the pace and slowly dropping riders. Tetrick was on my wheel and I knew she would attack with 1km to go and that she’d probably beat me. However, I decided to stay on the front and push the pace in order to drop those other riders who were slightly ahead of me on GC. With 1km to go, Tetrick did indeed attack! The last kilometer was up a steep dirt and gravel hill. When Tetrick went, I followed her with one other rider. We dropped the other rider and then Tetrick dropped me! She did the exact same thing to me at the Wente Valley Road Race… The girl has got lots of power. I ended up finishing 4th in the stage and moved into 5th overall, 18 seconds out of 4th.
After the final stage, it was a rush to the airport followed by a meal of sausages and beer. Not a great choice but it seemed like a good idea at the time. I learned a lot during the Mt. Hood Cycling Classic and it was great to race against such a talented field of riders. I felt like I got stronger and more confident throughout the tour and hopefully I can carry this momentum into Nationals.