Regional riders expected to continue Mt Hood Classic domination

The fourth edition of the Mt. Hood Cycling Classic in Hood River, Oregon, starts Wednesday. For the second year, the race is part of the USA Cycling National racing Calendar, but is likely to be dominated by regional talent as has been the case since its first edition in 2003.

The five-stage race is predominantly contested on the roads of Mount Hood National Forest. The single-lane logging roads and steep climbs of the area make for a tough event with more than 23,000 feet of total climbing. The final and often pivotal Three-Summit Road Race features more than 7,500 feet of climbing in 75 miles and a mountain-top finish at the Cooper Spur Ski Area.

Last year regional riders from the Northwest took wins at Mt Hood. Svein Tuft from the British Columbia-based Symmetrics team defeated Colorado's Andy Bajadali of the Vitamin Cottage squad. This despite the presence of the Health Net team and its perennial stage-race favorite Scott Moninger. The Colorado resident who won five NRC stage races in 2005 suffered a broken chain in the second time trial stage and thus took on a support role for the team.

On the women's side Leah Goldstein from the British Columbia-based Trek/Red Truck Beer squad was victorious, defeating Chrissy Ruiter of the Ford Basis team.

Goldstein will return to defend her title. Tuft will not, though Symmetrics will send a top-calibre squad including Andrew Pinfold and Jacob Erker. Moninger returns with support limited in numbers -- only three -- but not in talent. Australian and Commonwealth Games time trial champion Nathan O'Neil along with New Zealand world champion on the track Greg Henderson will play support roles and likely vie for stage wins.

The Navigators will send Burke Swindlehurst, who was third at the Tour of Gila in March and Phil Zajicek who won two NRC time trial stages earlier this year. Vitamin Cottage will send Jonathan Baker. Broadmark Capitol will send US elite national road champion Carl Decker supported by seven riders. The 2004 champion Russell Stevenson, who finished sixth in 2005, is slated to race with his Seattle-based Benaroya Research squad.

Goldstein returns with Symmetrics this year. She will be supported by three teammates. Runner up Ruiter is not slated to return, but third place finisher from last year Irene Mercer will come back with the JR Engineering squad. Fourth-place Ashley Lion returns with the Webcor-Platinum team. Velo Bella/Kona sends a diverse group headed by Kele Murdin who placed ninth last year.

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