By Mark Zalewski, North American Editor in Hood River, Oregon
Coming into the Mt. Hood Cycling Classic, race organizers were preparing participants for the worst in terms of weather conditions. A heavy winter was still affecting the region with huge rainfall and a barely melted snow pack in the high mountains. But except for the hours before the opening prologue, all the skies were clear and sunny with calm winds - and the only possible complaint about the weather presented were temperatures reaching into the 90s. The perfect weather framed some of the most beautiful cycling backdrops imaginable, while the racers experienced terrain from desert to sub-alpine and everything in between along the Columbia River Gorge.
The racing was fighting for attention between scenic vistas, but was equally as interesting. Strong team riding by both the Health Net-Maxxis team and the Aaron's team netted yellow jerseys for Aussie Rory Sutherland and Canadian Julie Beveridge.
Sutherland's win was just one more indication of the successful season he is having so far, coming off a win last week at the Joe Martin Stage Race and an impressive fourth place on the Brasstown Bald stage of the Tour de Georgia. His overall racing there earned him the most aggressive rider of the race.
But there is no rest for the weary, as this season seems to have frequent back-to-back races, such as the case with Mt. Hood and Joe Martin. When asked if he will finally be given a break from racing, he laughed and said: "Are ya stupid? I wish! I'm going to go home for a week, maybe drink a few beers."
Beer drinking is a major pastime in his homeland, so it is no surprise he would crack open a few after these two weeks. But Sutherland said he thinks his approach to the beer this year might be the secret to his success. "It's funny, I made a rule with myself at the beginning of the week that I don't drink any beers during a stage race, and it's worked every since," said the Australian. "It normally is [a pastime,] but it seems to be working pretty well! So I'm not going to jinx it. Once I leave my home I don't drink until I get home again."
Sutherland also said he is going to spend his week at home more off the bike than on to get ready for the upcoming CSC and Philly week races. "I'm a big advocate of recovery off the bike, it seems to work well for me," he said. "Just clear your head and walk the dog or go for a swim - something different than riding your bike."
"I go to CSC and Philly next, then Nature Valley as well," he added. "It is the year of the doubles!"
He will also be returning to Oregon in July to race the Cascade Classic, and is looking forward to it after this week. "I'll go to Cascade, but I don't mind because it is so beautiful here," he said. "Then I have another double with Utah and Colorado. Finally another break before Missouri - then I am done!"
In other classifications, Andrew Bajadali (Kelly Benefits-Medifast) took home the KOM win, Portland native Doug Ollerenshaw won the sprint jersey and Bissell's Morgan Schmitt was the best young rider. Bissell also took the team GC honors.