Early in June, a startling announcement was made. Mt Hood Cycling Classic, would not continue beyond 2013 according to race director Chad Sperry. Sperry claimed that registrations, sponsorship, and local volunteer support has waned over the years; in fact, this year’s women’s race was almost cancelled entirely because there was only 1 registrant with less than a month until the race.
It only took a nanosecond of standing amidst the multitude of buzzing bike racers registering in beautiful downtown Hood River to realize, as Mike’s Bikes Roman Kilun put it, “The passion is alive”. There was a huge presence of NorCal riders who often make the summer pilgrimage to arguably the most beautiful stage race in America.
Friday’s road race in Columbia Hills was ballistic and all the riders returned the next morning to time trial through the volcanic spires and pine forests of the Columbia River Gorge with equal motivation. The howling headwind that defines the time trial year after year was absent; palpably so for Logan Loader, who had won the time trial entered Saturday evening’s Stage 3 criterium in the yellow leader’s jersey.
The Full Sail Brewery Criterium
The light dimmed dramatically over the multi-corner downtown crit course in Hood River, as techno thumped and spectators gathered at the guardrails in greater and greater numbers as each remaining minute until the start time ticked away. Full Sail Brewery began to pump out the pungent odors of the beer brewing process onto the backside of the course just beyond the sweeping right-hand turn that barrels like a corkscrew. Buzzing and chatty locals filtered out of the Double Mountain Brewery on the topside of the course by the final corner, completing the excellent atmosphere of bicycle racing in Hood River.
Racing began at breakneck speed with the peloton stretched out double file over the majority of the course. Attacks were being launched and reeled in constantly. Cal Giant Berry Farms/Specialized were a constant presence at the front, replicating their next level physical performances at Columbia Hills Road Race the day before. Still, riders that were high up in the general classification used the crit as an opportunity to gain a smidgen of time, or remind Cal Giant that they were not the only strong riders there. Steve Fisher, wearing the bright red King of the Mountains jersey, jumped free of the peloton, riding many laps with a 10-20 second gap. When he was reeled back in, Adrien Costa of Garmin Slipstream Development made his presence known by attacking a couple of times. Justin Rossi of Marc Pro – Strava, also attacked and put pressure on Cal Giant. Midway through the race, Logan Loader was caught up in one of the 5 or so crashes that occurred. He rejoined the peloton easily and weaved his way through the group back to the front.
As the laps remaining dwindled, it became clear that no rider would be able to replicate the success of Michael Olheiser or Nate Wilson’s memorable solo attacks of years past. Cal Giant was in complete control of the front and began to ramp up the pace higher and higher. With 2 laps to go, there was a crash in turn 4 and riders streamed around the rider getting back up. It was Robin Eckmann, Cal Giant’s GC focus. The confusion created a 5 rider group slightly off the front that was a majority of Cal Giant riders, including sprint virtuosos Sam Bassetti and Jesse Goodrich. The last lap was full gas and when the dust settled, Sam Bassetti had won the race with Jesse Goodrich right behind him in an emphatic Cal Giant 1-2. Eric Riggs of Mike’s Bikes p/b Incase was 3rd, continuing his out-of-nowhere style of racing that earned him his huge victory at Columbia Hills the day before.
Three Peaks Road Race
And finally, the stage 4, the Three Peak Road Race, reared its monstrous head on Sunday morning. Without Nate English present, who attacked and blew the race apart on the 3rd climb for 2 years in a row, it was unclear how the race would play out. Many assumed the same pattern would ensue, they were wrong.
The first climb set a hard pace until Robin Eckmann attacked, taking Shawn Rosenthal of Mikes Bike’s p/b Incase, Logan Owen, and Steve Fisher of Hagens Berman. Cal Giant immediately sat up, clogging the narrow moss-covered forest road.
A crash on the first descent eliminated Justin Rossi of Marc Pro – Strava from the race, who was NorCal’s 2nd representative in the top 3 of the GC alongside Logan Loader of Cashcall Mortgage. The loss of Rossi’s strong GC company would impact the race greatly as it unwound on the remaining climbs.
The second climb up Lost Lake Rd shelled more than half of the field. The Cal Giant-dominant break remained up the road, but without Shawn Rosenthal, who ran out of gas riding the hard breakaway pace. He and Justin Rossi resigned to eat sandwiches in the extraordinarily well-run feedzone at the top of the climb as the grey skies overhead released their watery trappings. The rain would fall steadily until the finish.
The Little Demon Strikes
No more than 30 riders were present for the 3rd climb of the day. The haggard group pedaled up the first stretch of the climb beneath behemoth power lines that buzzed and hissed overhead as the raindrops sizzled on the wires.
Up ahead, Logan Owen and Robin Eckmann were alone together with the brilliant red Cal Giant follow-car just behind them. Their faces were twisted subtly by the grind and their kits were soaked through, as was the white bandage around Eckmann’s elbow from his crash just 10 hours or less ago.
The Little Demon, Adrien Costa, rode at the front of the group and then surged hard, splintering it apart. His iron will to catch the breakaway created a momentary group of 10 before many more rejoined when no one would come to Costa’s assistance. What was now officially the peloton, which was somewhere around 20 riders, were trailed by the entire caravan along a spectacular ridge line that towered thousands of feet above lush and tall pine forests below. Logan Loader inexplicably hung in with the group, a feat that will permanently dispel the notion that he is limited solely to the sprints.
After a hair-raising descent down to Mt. Hood Parkdale, the race had reached its final 20 kilometers, a grinding climb up to the finish. Roman Kilun of Mike’s Bikes p/b Incase made a couple of attempts to escape the small group, as did Costa. The groups motivation to keep attackers reigned in was high, even though most of the riders were more or less crawling on their hands and knees to survive the stage.
Finally, Logan Loader, with his yellow jersey soaked to his back and splattered with the surface of the forest roads around Mt. Hood, took the race into his own hands. No one was willing to assist him any longer, and isolated as he was, he rode the front at a high rate, dropping handfuls of riders. The supposed 4 minute gap that Owen and Eckmann held up the road shrank precipitously to hover around 2 minutes.
Would Loader Hang On?
Nearing the top of the climb, The Little Demon struck hard, shattering the remnants into groups of 2 or 3. Cameron Cogburn of CCB Cycling, a former Jelly Belly rider who hails from Boston, stayed near the front towards Costa. Up ahead, Logan Owen kept riding inside-out and won the stage with Robin Eckmann behind. Loader gave it everything he could and finished exhausted with the rest of the front group. The yellow jersey was a toss-up!
NorCal riders sighed with disappointment to learn he had lost the jersey. A tenacious 4 stages of riding, including a sparkling time trial, had allowed Cameron Cogburn to win the overall in the last 10 minutes of the stage. Robin Eckmann’s inspired ride over 80 miles of Oregon’s rugged terrain earned him 3rd place overall behind Loader.
After 3 days of hard racing, with 3 races in the last 28 hours, the peloton departed, bidding farewell to the final edition of Mt. Hood Cycling Classic. The passion was alive, for one last time.
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