By Mark Zalewski, North American Editor in Hood River, Oregon
The women's race of the Mt. Hood Cycling Classic upgraded its status this year, becoming a UCI 2.2 rated stage race. This saw an influx of talented riders into the peloton, making the racing harder than ever. Riders such as United States of America champion Mara Abbott (High Road) and the woman widely considered the best female cyclist ever Jeannie Longo.
As with the men's race, the win came on the shoulders of an entire team - the Aaron's team with Canadian and first year professional Julie Beveridge claiming the overall and best young rider while the team took home the team general classification win.
The 19 year-old Beveridge showed that the next generation of stage racers is here and ready to race. The Canadian from Alberta raced here last year as an amateur, essentially unattached from any team. Aaron's team director Carmen D'Aluisio saw her sixth place overall performance and knew her potential.
Beveridge began as a swimmer and runner, but as is the case with many, injury forced her to find a non-impact sport - and cycling fit the bill. In 2006, her first year of riding, she won the junior national time trial championship. In 2007, her first full year of racing as an amateur, she was second in the Under 23 Canadian road race and fourth in the elite road race.
"This race last year was my first ever stage race, I had just started racing," she said. "To come back here and have the yellow jersey the next year is pretty amazing."
In an ironic twist, Beveridge took the yellow jersey with strong second place ride behind three-time defending champion Leah Goldstein (ValuAct Capital). But the stage would have been easily won by a woman who rode in her first Olympics four years before Beveridge was even born - multiple French and world champion Jeannie Longo. Alleged miscommunication about her start time and a problem with the angle of her handlebars resulted in Longo missing her start time by almost a minute - though she still finished in third by just 18 seconds despite the setback.
But ever the competitor, Longo took third in the final criterium field sprint, giving her a time bonus to move her over Goldstein into second place overall. Longo said that she is staying in Colorado to train in preparation for the upcoming Montreal world cup and Le Tour du Grand Montréal.
Cheerwine netted the queen of the mountains classification with Leigh Hobson, despite their targeted climber Kristin Sanders crashing out in stage two. TIBCO's New Zealander Joanne Kiesanowski won the opening prologue and also finished with the sprint leader's jersey ahead of United States of America Criterium Champion Tina Pic (Colavita-Sutter Home). Pic did a double this week, winning both tough and technical criteriums.
Organizers were pleased with the upgrade to UCI status and hope to make this race one of the top stage races for women in North America and maybe beyond.