As a mid-season decision the Peanut Butter and Co./Twenty12team decided to race the Mt. Hood Cycling Classic and what a good decision it turned out to be. The week leading into the race I was watching the weather forecast knowing that the Hood River area is generally known for rain and this was exactly what the forecast was calling for. However, each day as I checked the updated forecast the percentage chance of rain decreased. By the time we rolled into town, the rain had cleared out and we raced under sunny skies in one of the most beautiful places that I have ever been.
The scenery surrounding the Columbia River Gorge is spectacular. We were treated to majestic views of Mt. Hood and Mt. Adams, rows and rows of apple orchards and lush green forests. After living in Arizona for the last year, I was in awe to be surrounded by so much green. The Columbia River Gorge is a sight to see.
Before the racing started we were also able to visit two schools and help race promoter Chad Sperry with some presentations on the sport of cycling, bicycle safety, and racing at the professional level. It was fun to take one of our super-light Felt ZW race bikes with deep-and-fast Zipp 404's as eye candy. The kids are always intrigued by how fast and light our bikes are. We also take a pair of shoes and explain how our feet are attached to our bikes when we ride through clipless pedals. An aero helmet is also something fun to show because, well, let's admit it, we all look a little funny when we wear them.
The energy coming from the kids is contagious as every kid had their hand raised high in the air during Q & A. Questions we have been asked cover a wide range of topics. One of the more impressive questions we have been asked was "How do you promote Peanut Butter & Co. by riding bikes?" What a great opportunity to talk about how much our sport depends on sponsors. Another question they usually seem to ask is "How do you go to the bathroom when you are riding?" Good question! I usually let one of my teammates answer this one. My favorite part of the school visits is after the assembly when the kids who are really interested will come up to take a closer look at the bike or ask you a more specific question they've been dying to know. It gets me excited to play a small role in inspiring the next generation of American cyclists.
With the school visits completed, the team's focus returned to our racing plans for the week. The courses were both fun and challenging which made for some of the best racing of the 2011 season. The Peanut Butter and Co./Twenty12 girls worked like a well oiled machine. We raced up and down the Columbia River Gorge on stage one. For the stage two time trial we travelled over the bridge to Washington. Stage three was a technical downtown crit held in Hood River including one downhill 180 degree corner.
Stage four was guaranteed to be epic with 8200 ft. of climbing on the schedule. We climbed on small forest service roads covered with pine needles and moss, passing waterfalls and snow banks and had some fast twisty descents through the trees.
It was all about teamwork as everyone on our team worked for our overall goals, each doing their job and churning out some fantastic results in the process. It is something special to be a part of when each person is willing to sacrifice their own result in order to achieve a bigger goal. The experience of being on a squad of this caliber is entirely different than when I raced Mt. Hood two years ago without a team as an aspiring racer. The yellow jersey was juggled between two of the riders on our team: Kristin Armstrong and Alison Starnes with Kristin claiming the overall win in a fiercely contested battle over the final 500 meters of the last stage with Clara Hughes (Canadian Olympic medalist).
When the racing was done the team ate dinner together overlooking the Columbia River. The rain that had so politely held off now finally returned with flashes of lightning and claps of thunder. Rarely have I been more exhausted after a week of racing, but as I sat there reminiscing and laughing with friends and teammates after an epic stage race I heard my current favourite song "Good Life" by One Republic playing.
Racing has its ups and downs, but as for the good life, at Mt. Hood in 2011 this is it.