Having missed the Robert Cameron Law weekend in Victoria due to a broken hand, I was on the hunt for another stage race to do. Baker city was the right time (June 23-25th), offered 5 stages of racing in 3 days, and Emile De Rosnay offered to travel together.
We took the 9:30 ferry from Victoria to Port Angeles, and expected a 8 hour drive from the other side. How wrong we were. For some unknown reason, google had us go north through Seattle, east to Yakima, and then south to the Oregon border where we headed east to Baker City. This route, coupled with stop-and-go traffic through Seattle and an unreal amount of construction meant that we arrived at our Hotel after 11pm that night, nearly 12 hours after leaving. While this included an hour long spin and much needed burrito stop at Taqueria Uruapan in Yakima (highly recommended), it was a long day of travel.
Friday Morning Stage 1: Short Road Race
The race started with a short 70km road race that had 2 climbs - one ~3 minutes in length, and one ~7 minutes in length. Both were highway grade and draftable, so that combined with a stiff headwind neutralized any attacks. The feedzone was half-way up the second climb - where a nervous peloton caused a pileup in front of me. I was the first rider not to go down, but still had to slam on my brakes and unclip to stay up. The most interesting section of this race came right before the second climb - a 2 mile stretch of gravel road. If you have ever wondered what a peloton of 23c wearing roadies looks like on gravel, I can now tell you it is crazy. Putting any sort of power down results in wild fish-tailing that is very nerve racking to watch from behind. On the plus side, if you could pick your lines well this was an excellent place to move up in the field. The race finished in a bunch sprint, with me somewhere in the front group, and Emile putting his TT prowess on display to make it to the front of the group where he finished top 10 in the sprint.
Friday Afternoon Stage 2: Hill Climb
The second stage of the race was a hill climb up to an Oregon trail interpretive center just out of town. It was a staggered start, with two riders going off at once every 30 seconds. The climb itself was fantastic. Strava claims the hill averages 6%, but I think that is conservative. The segment was also quite variable - with sections of 15% and up. With previous winning times being around four minutes, I paced my effort for that. Despite doing my best ever 4 minute power, I ended up ~30 seconds back from the winner, with Emile a couple seconds behind me.
Saturday Morning Stage 3: Time Trial
The course was a 10 mile, slightly downhill course with no slow corners. In other words, it was going to be fast. With no skinsuit, TT bike, or TT wheels this was going to be a tough one for me, but I decided to give it a go anyway. Ended up 1:30 back from the leaders, 3km/h slower. Not bad for little aero equipment.
Saturday Afternoon Stage 4: Crit
The crit took place in downtown Baker City, and was lined with spectators and beer gardens. With racing starting at 1pm and ending with us at 7:30, people came out for a good show. Unfortunately, I had a bit of a mechanical about 20 minutes into the race. I had altered my saddle position for the TT earlier in the day and must not have tightened it hard enough, meaning that 20 minutes in my saddle was falling off my bike. I stopped at the pits, had it tightened, and tried to chase on to the 97 person peloton. Yeah... not happening. DNF'd just in time to see Emile go off the front and take 4 primes before getting caught a few laps before the sprint.
Sunday Stage 5: Road Race
The Sunday was the queen stage of the race. 140km in length and ending in a 25km, 1100m climb up to a ski resort, the GC would be decided today. An early break went, with one of the big teams having missed it. This meant that it was chill-mode for the first 120km of the race as the break was chased down, and then full-on up the climb. The climb started at 1100m and ended at 2200m, which coupled with the 35 degree heat and 120km in the legs was sure to be a real test. My climb started a little further back in the peloton than I would have liked - having to stop at a feed zone to get a bottle right at the base - meaning I had to burn a match just getting back into the second group. The rest of the climb was a race of attrition - the seocnd group of 10 people was 6, then 4, then 3, then Emile was dropped and it was just me and Justin Homewood together. With around 2km to the top he also popped, and I was alone. Cresting the top of the climb I had caught 2 riders up the road, and we went down the little downhill together before one final kicker at the end. I tried going with 500m left but couldn't get a gap, and was passed at the line for 13th on the day. After some food at the top, Emile and I biked the 60km back to town to finish off a 200km / 2400m day. Sweet!
Instead of trusting Google again, we decided to trust our gut and went straight west from Baker City to Portland, and then North to Port Angeles. This was much faster, taking 8 hours instead of 11.
You don't hear of many Victoria people making the trip to Baker City, and that is a shame. The race offers a large bunch (97 people for the 1/2 men), and tons of racing in 3 days. In addition to this every stage starts in the city, so you don't have to drive to the start. This gives the race a very laid back vibe. I'll be back next year for sure.
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