After 11 years on the US calendar, the Mt. Hood Cycling Classic will make its final run later this month. Race organizer Chad Sperry told Cyclingnews this week that continuing declines in sponsorship, local volunteer support and rider registrations have made it impossible for the Oregon race to continue past this year.
"When all three of those are down, financially it just makes it impossible to continue the party," said Sperry, who owns and operates the race through his Breakaway Promotions events company.
The news could be even more dire for the women's elite race. Sperry said almost nonexistent registration for the women's event so far could force its cancellation this year.
"With only two weeks left to register and having only received one registration as well as no commitment from teams, it is clear that this year's women's race will not draw enough riders to be able to afford to run the event," Sperry initially announced Monday via the social media site Facebook. He later said registration would remain open through Friday in the hopes that at least 25 elite riders would sign up so the women's race could go forward this year.
The men's and women's races are scheduled for June 21-23 in Hood River.
The Mt. Hood Cycling Classic first hit the scene in 2003 and quickly became a popular challenge for climbers and time trialists. The Three Summits Road Race, a 145km alpine adventure that offers 3,200 meters of descending and climbing over the paved-yet-primitive roads of the Mt. Hood National Forest, is a rider favorite. The 2011 stage had riders gliding through carved out walls of snow three meters tall on some stretches of the route. The 30km Columbia Gorge Time Trial, another rider favorite, takes place on a wind-blown stretch of pristine historic highway in the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area.
The list of past winners at Mt. Hood includes two-time Olympic gold medalist and former world champion Kristin Armstrong, Svein Tuft, Leah Goldstein, Nathan O'Neil, Julie Beveridge, Rory Sutherland, Edwige Pitel, Paul Mach and Marc de Maar.
Other past participants include 2012 Giro d'Italia winner Ryder Hesjedal, 2012 Tour of California KOM winner Sebastian Salas and current Cannondale rider Ted King. Optum Pro Cycling's Chad Haga, recent winner of the Joe Martin Stage Race and 10th overall during May's Amgen Tour of California, led the 2011 race for three days. Canadian Olympic champion Clara Hughes battled Armstrong during their dual comebacks in 2011, and French cycling star Jeanie Longo crossed the pond to race Mt. Hood in 2008.
Most of the US domestic peloton has raced Mt. Hood at one time or another, including current US professional road champions Freddie Rodriguez (Jelly Belly) and Jade Wilcoxson (Optum-Kelly Benefit Strategies). Team Sky rider Ian Boswell took the Cat. 3 overall victory at Mt. Hood in 2007 when he was 16 years old.
The race hit its peak in 2008 when it earned a spot on USA Cycling's National Race Calendar – Sutherland and Beveridge won the overall that year – but the event has been on the decline in both sponsorship and participation ever since and has slowly fallen off the radar of most Continental pro teams.
Cal Giant-Specialized rider Nate Wilson, who is riding for the Bontrager development team this year, won the 2012 men's race in front of teammate Stephen Leece and defending champion Nate English (5-hour Energy/Kenda). Exergy-Twenty12 rider Rhae Shaw, currently riding for Vanderkitten, won the 2012 women's race ahead of mountain bike pro Kelli Emmett (Giant) and teammate Alison Tetrick. Riders who want to add their names to the final list of winners will have their last chance later this month.
Sperry said he initially started his events company – which currently travels throughout the western US organizing events for USA Cycling and others – to promote the race in Hood River, and the disappointment at having to shut his first race down after one last run hits pretty deep.
"It was ground zero for everything that we are today," he said. "We're going to Sun Valley, Salt Lake City, Ogden, Bend. We're all over the place now. We're doing a lot of really cool stuff that all stemmed from the Mt. Hood Cycling Classic. It's just one of those things where all good things have to come to an end at some point. After 11 years it's time to fold it up."