It’s going to be brutal but beautiful

By ADAM LAPIERRE

News staff writer

May 20, 2006

It’s going to be bigger, better and faster. It’s going to be the same mix of mass in motion as last year, but with a little more kick. It’s … 25,000 feet of vertical, covering 300 miles of road in six stages. It’s five days of hard-core meets the scenery.

And it’s going to be beautifully brutal.

The 2006 Mount Hood Cycling Classic is, in all respects, going to be the largest and most competitive road cycling race in the Northwest this year. The fourth annual event, which kicks off at Panorama Point on May 31 and concludes June 4 at Cooper Spur Mountain Resort, is expected to bring 600 riders to town, including top pro teams from the U.S. and Canada, the current Canadian National Champion, the Australian National Champion and the reigning U.S. National Series Champion.

“I never expected it to grow to this level,” said Race Director Chad Sperry. “And it’s going to be taken to another level this year. It’s easily going to be one of the toughest races in the U.S.”

After being placed on the National Racing Calendar last year, the MHCC, presented by Full Sail Brewing, exploded in popularity across the country in the world of cycling. Being on the NRC means pro riders earn points at the race toward the National Championship and toward being selected for the National team. And in only its second year on the NRC, the MHCC is drawing top series riders from across the country away from established east coast events and to Hood River for what is fast becoming known as one of the most demanding and scenic races in the U.S.

“We always tell the riders to come prepared for anything,” Sperry said. “Last year riders were subjected to temperatures hovering around 90-degrees during the first two days of racing. Then they got snowed on when crossing two large mountain climbs on the final day of competition. That made for a very tough race both mentally and physically”.

The race will take riders from the arid, desert landscape of the plains just east of The Dalles to the opposite extreme of the shady and dank woods of Mount Hood. They will cruise through the Gorge across the Historic Columbia Gorge Scenic Highway, they’ll race up Panorama Point, across Vista Ridge, down local orchard roads, up brutal mountain hills and back down on steep, hairy, curvy stretches. And, in the fifth stage, they’ll tear around the streets of Hood River, in tight packs at break-neck speeds, in what is considered the crown jewel of the race: the downtown criterium stage.

Last year, Canadians Sven Tuft and Lea Goldstein won the individual pro titles after completing all of the stages with the fastest overall time. The two will have targets on their backs this time around, as registered competitors include the number-one ranked team in the U.S., Health Net, anchored by last year’s National Series Champion Scott Moninger and Australian National Champion Nathan O”Neill. Tuft, riding with Team Symmetrics, will be back to defend the title and vie for National series points and some of the $27,000 cash purse.

Although the pro division will be the hottest action to watch, the race also offers amateur divisions for less competitive riders. Amateur riders from across the country are registered.

“We have teams from Alabama, Florida, Tennessee, Connecticut, Hawaii, Colorado and more signed up and scheduled to race,” Sperry said. “It allows us a great opportunity to showcase what the state of Oregon has to offer to a large number of tourists that might not visit otherwise. Once here, they are always blown away with the beauty and the diversity that the state has to offer. And being that the race covers so many miles, it really gives us a chance to show visitors a wide variety.”

According to Sperry, local lodgings are already almost completely booked during the race. And with almost 600 racers and another 1,000 to 1,500 family members, tech supporters, coaches and fans expected for the event, the economic impact of the event on Hood River will be huge.

“Last year, with the help of the Hood River Business Council, we estimated, very conservatively, an economic impact of about $400,000,” Sperry said. “This year we’re looking at almost $700,000 benefit to Hood River in the form of tourism dollars.”

One thing that makes the MHCC so unique is the size of Hood River compared to the size and caliber of the race. All other races on the NRC are held in cities, with infrastructures far larger than that of Hood River. Essentially, the race would not be possible in a small town without a large amount of support from the community. From local families hosting pro riders in their homes to law enforcement providing safety support, the Hood River community seems to have taken pride in and embraced the MHCC.

“We owe a tremendous thanks to the whole community for stepping up and helping make this possible,” said Sperry. “We are by far the smallest town in the circuit to host an event of this size. We have one of the smallest purses in the circuit, but one of the largest depths of competitors. That says a tremendous amount about this community.”

The Kids’ Stage Race

After the success of last year’s race for kids in the Sprint parking lot downtown, a revamped two-stage race will be held at 10 a.m. June 3 for local rippers from 4-12 years old. The race will be divided into four age groups and will entail a dual slalom and sprint race for stage one and a kids’ criterium race for stage two. The kids’ race is a great way for youngsters to test out their riding legs against others and get a feel for the thrill of competition on a safe and structured course.

Although not required, pre-registration is encouraged because there will be a cap of 150 participants. Each competitor will receive a special event T-shirt, water bottle and participation ribbon and the top three competitors in each age group will be awarded special ribbons and prizes. To register, send an e-mail to Jen Wilson at:

jenwilson@gorge.net

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