Sunday, May 20, 2007

Mt. Hood SR

Sunday, 20 May

Short story: If you're going to the Mt. Hood stage race in 10 days:

1. Make time to see the TT course before you race (you can drive most of it and ride the rest as out and back from either end of the trail portion--don't be a doof and try this on race day).

2. Take your winter cycling gear: neoprene booties, goretex gloves, rain jacket, everything. And if you're doing the 1-2 men's or women's race, remember that everybody on the team has to have matching clothing, including rain jackets, vests, etc. Per USAC.

Long-winded story:

On Saturday afternoon, I got to preride the TT course for the upcoming Mt. Hood stage race. It starts at the Discovery Center in The Dalles and ends just outside of Hood River (notice that you race east to west, into the prevailing headwind--the same wind that makes Hood River a windsurfing mecca). Point to point. You can drive the portion of the course between The Dalles and Mosier (which I recommend), but the Old Cascade Highway is closed to cars so you'll have to preview this on your bike (which I also recommend).

You can read the technical details about the course on the race website. But here's how I'd describe it:
The first 3 miles are slightly downhill to flat, really windy, I couldn't have stayed in my aero bars if I tried. You go through the community of Rowena and then up the biggest climb, about 3 miles. It's twisty, mostly not steep, and mostly sheltered. But it's a real climb, not just some little power hill like you usually find in a TT. You round the corner at the top and you're back in the wind. So much wind that I could not keep the bike on the right side of the yellow line and had to clip one foot out and push myself along whenever the gusts subsided. Then the course rolls, mostly downhill I think but with the wind it's tough to tell because you have to pedal hard just to keep the bike going in some sort of line. Finally you come to the cliffs just above Mosier (part of last year's TT course). This is a fast descent that was described to me as "technical"; I guess the wind blows over the top of the cliffs, and you just fly down the slightly twisting road. You roll through Mosier (watch out for traffic with all those driveways and businesses!) and turn right on the Old Cascade Highway. You turn right again (uphill) onto the portion of the highway that's now a bike trail. This is the smoothest asphalt you could ever hope to ride on! There's some more climbing, and then you ride down through the historic tunnel (still smooth asphalt, and no drippy ceiling--the promoter promises lights in here) and then through the bendy colonnade after the tunnel. This is like a snow shed but keeps rocks from the cliffs above from falling on your head. It's supported by square concrete columns maybe 10 feet apart down both sides of the 8?-feet-wide trail. There are a couple of gentle bends, but you are descending at a pretty good clip. The course rolls some more, but this portion is pretty sheltered and wind won't be such a factor through here.

After winning the TT national championship last July, Kristin Armstrong said the course at Seven Springs was the hardest TT she'd ever done. That one was hard because it was unrelentingly up and down and twisty and you couldn't ever get in a rhythm. This year's course at Mt. Hood is, I think, more challenging. It will reward the gutsy, aggressive rider who can battle the wind, but the long climb offers something for the mountain goats. At 18 miles, it is long for a stage race TT, and there's a significant amount of climbing. I realized that if I had raced in the conditions on Saturday, I would've lost more time to the GC leaders in the time trial than in the crit in downtown Hood River on the last day of the race. But I also learned a couple of things about how to better handle my bike in the wind.

As we were riding the course backward to get back to our car, we encountered the LFG on his way home from work (he commutes on this course!). He admitted that sometimes the wind does blow out of the east, which will make for some scary fast racing. The trick to a fast time if the wind is out of the west is knowing when you can stay in your aero bars...and, for lightweights, keeping your bike on the road.

Sunday's plan was to preview the new Wy East road course that starts at Cooper Spur and finishes at Mt. Hood Meadows. The first climb starts as soon as you hit the highway below Cooper Spur. It continues, steeper, when you turn left on Road 44. The first 2 miles on 44 are the steepest, but it's a good long climb. The pavement gets worse near the top, so that the descent is kind of bumpy. The descent has some uphill sections (kind of like stage 4 at Columbia Plateau after the big climb) but generally it's wide open and not technical. And fast. Guys go 50 mph on the bottom of this descent. There's a smooth, flat section before you get to Dufur, a feed zone on a very short little bump, a couple of miles on 197, then you turn off the highway and ride down a little valley. First it seems flat, then uphill false flat, then gradually climbing. It's never steep but it's always twisty. Finally you come to the sign for the summit of the Tygh ("Tie") Ridge and get back onto 197 for a long descent (wide open highway). Turn right, a half mile of flat road takes you into the town of Tygh Valley, and you start climbing again. I suppose you could say the final climb starts here, but really there's a lot of flat stuff after this climb past the town of Wamic.

The road after Wamic is punctuated by some of these and a whole bunch of cracks across the road (remember the ones from the finish of Elkhorn stage 1 back into Baker City?). The road gets narrower and starts to go up, and this is what I would consider the start of the last climb. But there are some significant descents, and it's not steep for a long, long time. It twists through forest and it kind of all looks alike. Eventually you come out onto the highway, keep climbing, turn right for Mt. Hood Meadows, and keep climbing some more. The promoter says the grade in this final section gets up to 12%, and I'm sure it will feel like 20% by that point in the race, but it sure didn't seem like 12% to me.

Today we encountered snow flurries at the top of the first and last climbs, and there was lumpy rain at Mt. Hood Meadows. Hence I encourage you to take your collection of warm clothes for wet weather to the race; if you don't need them, just be happy that you don't. The two Mt. Hood SR veterans with me said that this new course will be more about racing; the climbs aren't as steep as the old epic road course, and there are places to catch back on. I also see a lot of places to go out the back....


Allison said...

Thanks for the info! Good to know. I was going to ask how it was.

Argentius said...

1) At least I won't be going for much of a GC spot, so when I suck at the TT, that'll be okay. I wonder if I should even bother bringing my TT bike?

2) If I can even GET to the friggin' race.

stokediam said...

Take the TT bike. The wind might be moderate, or from the east, or nonexistent. I just have bike control issues in the wind. Read up on time cuts; you don't want to suck too much.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the info M!
Let's go climbing.
If I was Argentius I would bring a TT bike. I rode a road bike last year and got my clock cleaned.