Coming off a week of seriously cycling-worthy warm weather, Oregon is gearing up for the 2009 Mt Hood Cycling Classic (MHCC)- a five-day, leg-breaking stage race renowned as much for its incredible difficulty as for its breath-taking beauty. The forecast is calling for the best conditions that MHCC has seen in its seven-year history and professional racers have flocked to Mt Hood from as far as France to get in on a piece of the action. The race will run June 3 through June 7.
Presented by Pacific Power, the race will return to its roots in 2009, bringing back the popular 3.1 mile Panorama Point Prologue to kick things off in the small community of Pine Grove, Oregon. The remaining stages will take the peloton past the picturesque orchards of the Upper Hood River Valley, through the historic Mosier tunnels and along the cliffside Rowena Loops, up to the Mount Hood Meadows Ski Resort and finally into downtown Hood River for a challenging criterium course.
Indeed, it's one of Bissell's Burke Swindlehurst's favorite events, "The courses here are amazing - great terrain and terrific beauty."
But the beauty won't come without a price. The pro men's race will cover nearly 250 miles and climb almost 25,000 feet while the women will climb nearly 23,000 feet in just 200 miles. And if the weather forecast actually pans out (hey, it's Oregon, don't count on anything), competitors can expect temperatures between 75 and 80 degrees as they battle up the 10,500 feet elevation gain that Saturday's infamous Wy'East Road Race will throw at them.
With both the men's and women's defending champions (OUCH's Rory Sutherland and TIBCO's Julie Beveridge) racing in Philadelphia this week, the top spots are up for grabs and the battle for the podium should yield some top-notch racing.
Swindlehurst, England bring backup
Bissell Pro Cycling (currently sitting on top of the NRC team standings) will come out swinging, looking to have Burke Swindlehurst in the leader's jersey when the dust settles on Sunday afternoon. One of the strongest and most experienced climbers in the domestic scene, Swindlehurst (2nd at Gila, 3rd at Redlands and 4th at Tour of Utah in 2008) is well positioned to make a run at the GC. "The TT will be critical because it's so long [18.5 miles] and typically the winner of the TT ends up winning the overall, but I had an encouraging time trial at Gila this year and the course profile suits me since there is some significant climbing. I feel good about my chances to win."
With much of the Bissell crew racing on the east coast this week and only four teammates riding support, they'll have to play it smart and race strategically to make it happen. Luckily, Swindlehurst has some climbing power in teammates Morgan Schmitt and Paul Mach but, however you look at it, Bissell will have their work cut out for them as other top contenders set their sights on GC victory.
Justin England and a full eight-man California-Giant/Specialized squad will be among those on the hunt. After a solid 2008 season with Toyota-United (5th at Gila, 7th at San Dimas and 8th at Redlands in 2008) England's 2009 form appears to be coming around. If England is going well and the team plays its cards right, they could be well-positioned to give Swindlehurst and the Bissell boys a serious run for their money. Also watch for Cal-Giant's record-setting Ironman champion and TT powerhouse, Chris Lieto, to shake things up and make a run at the stage 2 win at the Scenic Gorge Time Trial.
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