Armstrong, Hughes headed for Hood
HOOD RIVER — The women’s battle at the 2011 Mt. Hood Cycling Classic is shaping up to be one for the ages. A race that has previously hosted French superstars Jeannie Longo and Edwige Pitel will be a showdown between two North American heavy hitters this year.
Olympic gold medalist and two-time World Champion Kristin Armstrong will be burning up the roads with recent Tour of the Gila overall winner and six-time Olympic medalist Clara Hughes as both legendary riders stage career comebacks targeting the 2012 Olympics.
Race Director Chad Sperry said Thursday that Armstrong will be part of a full eight-rider squad from the Peanut Butter & Co. TWENTY12 Women’s Professional Cycling Team. Hughes, a Canadian riding without teammates, bested current U.S. National Road Race Champion Mara Abbott by more than two minutes at the Gila. Sperry said Hughes will be bringing a composite squad along to help in the quest to add Mt. Hood to her palmares.
“Judging by her performance at Gila, Hughes is on fire and easily on track to qualify for the Olympics and actually be a medal contender,” Sperry said.
Hughes, 38, and Armstrong, 37, were headed for a showdown at the Tour of the Gila in New Mexico before Armstrong came down with the flu-like symptoms and had to abandon after stage 1.
“(Armstrong) is on such a short training and racing schedule this year, there’s really not anything on the NRC schedule she’s gonna touch except the Cascade Cycling Classic,” Sperry said. “So I was a little taken aback when I got the call form the team manager saying they were sending a full team of eight to support Kristin at Mt. Hood as opposed to doing the Liberty Classic back there in Philadelphia.”
The addition of Armstrong’s pro squad and a team of elite riders supporting Hughes should give a big boost to a women’s race that almost disappeared last year because of steadily decreasing participation and support. Now it could be one of the hottest women’s races to watch.
“This has the makings, based off the epic nature of this course, and with these two gals coming in, to be an amazing showdown,” Sperry said. “And the only other place people are going to get a chance to see these two match up again is the Cascade Cycling Classic.”
The four-day, four stage pro/am Mt. Hood Cycling Classic starts Thursday, June 2, in Hood River with the Panoramic Point Prologue Time Trial. It continues Friday the Columbia Hills Road Race that winds along stretches of the Historic Columbia River Gorge Highway. Saturday features a morning time trial across the river in Trout Lake, Washington, and an evening criterium in downtown Hood River. Sunday’s Queen stage introduces the return of the Three Summits Road Race, a course in the Mt. Hood National Forest that will provide 75 miles and 8,000 feet of climbing for Hughes and Armstrong to push each other to their limits.
Peanut Butter & Co.’s Coryn Rivera, 18, will also be joining Armstrong in Hood River for the race, but only after her her team worked out logistics with her high school graduation. The young racer from California won 32 National Championships as a junior in road, track and cyclocross. She is the most decorated junior cyclist in all of America, either male or female. Rivera highlighted her potential in 2009 by outsprinting the women’s NRC field to win the Cascade Cycling Classic criterium stage.
“I was astounded to watch her school all the pro women at the women’s criterium in Bend,” Sperry said. “And she did it on junior gearing. We had Laura van Gilder, Tina Pic, Brooke Miller, I mean every big hitter in the U.S. sprinting world was there and she schooled them on junior gearing.”
Rivera may get her chance in the crit, but the team will be working for Armstrong in the overall battle. Armstrong won the World Championship Time Trial in 2006 and 2009 and brought home the Olympic Time Trial gold in 2008. The Boise, Idaho, resident is also a three-time National Road Race Champion and took second at the 2007 World Championship Time Trial. She is returning to cycling after missing the 2010 season to have a baby with her husband, Joe Savola, and to direct the Peanut Butter & Co. team through its first year. She won three stages and the overall at the Sea Otter Classic omnium last month in one of her first races back.
Hughes has won multiple Olympic medals in both speedskating and cycling. She won two bronze medals in the Summer Olympics in 1996 and four medals (one gold, one silver, two bronze) over the course of three Winter Olympics. Hughes is one of only five people to have won medals in both versions of the games, and she is the only person ever to have won multiple medals in both. She left cycling in 2003 after accumulating 18 Canadian National Championships along with her Olympic medals, and has been focused solely on speedskating until this year.
“This is probably going to be the most exciting women’s race we’ve had in the history of the Mt. Hood Cycling Classic,” Sperry said. “I’d have thought it would have been three years ago when we were UCI, but this has the makings of being legendary. Both women are trying to get time trial spots on their Olympic teams for the 2012 games, so this will be another opportunity to see these women clash with each other all the way up to 2012. The only way to top this would have been to get Jeannie Longo in the mix.”
Not to be outdone by the women’s field, the men’s pro/am race will also feature an Olympic gold medalist. Fifty-year-old Alexi Grewal, winner of the 1984 Los Angeles Olympic Road Race, is making a comeback this year and has signed up to take on Mt. Hood.