Monday, June 23, 2008

Elkhorn props (and one boo-hiss)

more on Monday, 23 June

Where do you start when you want to list the great things and great people about the Elkhorn classic stage race? For me, it's Nathan Hobson, whose brainchild this race is. For the entire women's peloton, it's also Nathan. He stood firm and kept a women's race here during some really thin years when he could've met more of his costs by scratching the women's race and adding another men's category. Nathan is now "just" a racer at Elkhorn, and thanks must go too to new promoter Ernie Conway, who looked mighty frazzled most of this weekend.

Working behind the scenes for the women's race for the entire 7 years of its existence has been Beverly Calder. Her undaunted support of women's racing is bound up in so many ways with this race. What an amazing tribute to her that 66 women started Elkhorn this year.

So many other businesses in Baker City have also supported this race throughout its existence, and the high school principal has opened the school doors to us each year. The OBRA officials patiently put up with rants from oxygen-deprived, heat-prostrated cyclists; they deserve raves all around.

I've got three specific highlights and one definite lowlight from this year's event.

Water and bikes. During stage 1, we passed through the path of a big irrigation sprinkler. The road was wet, and there was a little spray in the air. Apparently these are conditions unsuitable for bicycling in the experience of some of the women in the peloton: there was chaos at the front of the pack as riders crossed the yellow line to avoid wet pavement and to dodge a few drops of water falling out of the sky (it was 80+ degrees, and we'd been riding for 20 miles, so the risk of hypothermia was pretty minimal). They might think events at the crit proved their point, but those of us from soggy climes know that generally a bike traveling in a straight line can safely pass across a short patch of damp pavement, even if the rider is struck by water droplets flying through the air at the same time. This unwillingness to accept wet pavement as a fact of cyling life was further shown in the opening miles of stage 4. A rider from an arid climate was riding just in front of me and pointed with her left hand like she wanted to move over in front of me. As I slid back, we passed by a small puddle (pancake-sized) and I realized that she was simply pointing out this "road hazard."

Dirty jokes. The group of 10 riders I was with for about half of stage 4 was pretty interested in finishing but not at a blistering pace (no one got dropped). So, to while away the time on the interminable climbs, quite a few jokes were told and one dirty ditty sung. Yes, it did help pass the time and block out the pain, and yes, there were some long pauses as the teller/singer caught her breath before the next line.

The Oregon stage race fairy. Either last year or the year before, a woman showed up at Elkhorn dressed in a pink tutu, fairy wings, and a tiara. She has pale blond hair and pale skin, so the fairy image is not a stretch. I think she did it originally so that her team could find her in the feed zone. She has become a fixture at Oregon stage races, although the tutu is getting less showtime these days. She's sort of like the devil who always shows up at the Tour de France. I did not spot her in the feed zones during stage 4, but after pedaling up 7.9 miles on the finishing climb and thinking about not much besides what hurt (everything) and how the climb manages to get longer every year, there she was, standing by the side of the road. A huge grin spread across my face because she was such a great distraction. It was a completely involuntary reaction and shows how much seeing something out of context or unexpected can distract you from whatever seems so overwhelming.

Finally, the lowlight. After a concerted campaign by OBRA and race officials to reduce littering, we were dismayed when one of the riders in our group chucked an empty bottle to the side of the road. She had two bottle cages and just two bottles, so she had not even the flimsiest excuse for her flagrant violation of littering laws in a national forest. When a couple of us challenged her, she said "oh, sorry" in a very sarcastic tone. I don't know Team Ironclad well enough to know how their other riders behave, but clearly some peer pressure is on order from other teams and from Ironclad team leaders to explain to this particular rider all the reasons why littering is bad. Let's start with: your thoughtless behavior could keep the Elkhorn race from getting a permit to use that road next year. When you see other bottles tossed onto the shoulder, it's not a reason for you to add to the debris; it's a call for you to help educate your peers.

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