By Lisa Britton
For the Baker City Herald
No one worried about a snowstorm at this year’s Baker City Cycling Classic.
But the heat and humidity brought their own challenges — heat exhaustion and consuming enough liquid to ward off dehydration.
“It was awful,” said James Ferguson, as he sought shade and water after finishing the 69-mile Catherine Creek Road Race on Friday.
On Friday, the temperature topped 90 degrees during the stage, which includes 2,621 feet of elevation gain.
Those numbers, however, mean more when you watch the race from 20 feet behind the group of riders.
As a volunteer — one of the 200 needed for a race this size — I was lucky to ride with an official, who explained what was happening during the road race.
I don’t race bicycles, so I wasn’t sure what to expect.
Not drama, certainly.
I was in a car with Dean Bailey, an official with the Oregon Bicycle Racing Association (OBRA).
The race started fairly simple — a group of riders (called the peloton — “PELL-uh-tawn”) heads north on Highway 30 toward North Powder.
Next come rolling hills, then Pyles Canyon to Union, and up a relentless climb to the Catherine Creek summit.
From our vantage point, I watched the riders empty water bottles — some in their mouths, others over their heads.
At each climb, riders would fall behind — if the gap grew too big, Bailey passed them to stay with the main group.
I couldn’t help but glance over as we passed — amazed when I discovered a teenager tackling the first course in the three-day race.
But I wasn’t hooked until two riders who we’d passed found more strength and powered past us — one looking over with a grin.
Yes, I cheered for him.
You see other things too — when someone tries to stretch a cramped leg, or twists to relieve an aching back.
And sometimes it’s even more personal — several times, Bailey pulled alongside a rider so I could take his empty water bottle and pass him a full one.
As the hills kept coming, and the day seemed to just get hotter, a respect grew for these riders who trained for months to tackle this event — and not just to finish this road race, but to get up Saturday morning for a time trial and Criterium, and again on Sunday for a 102-mile road race.
Later Friday, at the finish line on Highway 203, a voice over the radio requested that any extra water be brought to the riders.
I grabbed the extra jug of water we carried, intending to set it in a cooler of ice.
But as I approached, men drenched with sweat from exertion and heat crowded around to hold out empty water bottles.
I filled as fast as I could, remarking that I felt like a bartender.
“You’re so much better than a bartender,” one replied.
Chances are, I won’t ever power my bike up the Catherine Creek climb.
But here’s the thing about the Baker City Cycling Classic — I could (with training, of course) enter the race and tackle the exact same courses as every other rider.
Yes — the professionals, masters (45 years and older) and women all race the same stages and distances.
“That’s very unusual,” said Martha Walsh, 53, of Seattle. She has come to Baker City for all 12 races since the event began.
Allowing everyone to race the same distances doesn’t mean it’s easy.
“It’s a different race because it is so hard and so epic,” Walsh said.
Yet she keeps coming back to Baker City — and not just for the race, but also when she’s passing through to another destination.
“Earlier this year, I signed up for a two-day race down the road in Ontario,” she said in an email prior to the race. “But instead of finding a hotel in the Boise area, I knew I wanted to stay in friendly Baker City, and I extended my trip by a couple of days to allow enough time to shop and eat my way around Baker City (and, of course, to ride my bike up some of your mountains).”
She enters 15 to 20 bike races a year, and one is always the BCCC.
And not just because of the stages or the scenery — she likes the community.
“What brings us back to BCCC year after year is the amazing and supportive and welcoming people in your town who seem genuinely happy when we invade,” she said. “I feel that I know some of the stores and restaurants — even their owners — as well as I know places in my own city. I am excited when new ones open and sad when old friends close their doors.”
This year was the 12th for this stage race. It was founded by Baker native Nathan Hobson, and was known as the Elkhorn Classic for the first 10 years.
“This was by far the most stressful year for me with the race and it was the most enjoyable as well,” said Brian Vegter.
This was Vegter’s second year as race director, and he raced and volunteered for several years prior to that.
Sports teams from Baker High School again volunteered and held a dinner and breakfast to feed riders and raise money for their programs.
“We were able to almost triple the budgets of some of the BHS teams this year.,” Vegter said. “We also worked with two church groups for funding with local and international work they are doing.”
Also, the number of riders increased 20 percent from last year.
Vegter said that Kenji Sugahara, president of OBRA, said this is the only stage race in the country to see an increased participation.
When you’re pedaling 4,300 miles, what’s another 102?
Simon Hadley, who lives in Brighton, England, pedaled into Baker City Saturday as he nears the finish of his trip on the TransAmerica Trail.
The route, about 4,300 miles, goes from Astoria, Ore., to Yorktown, Va. While most bicyclists ride west to east, Hadley chose to start in Virginia.
For one, he wanted to follow the progression of America’s growth.
Second, he wanted to save the best views for last.
“The best scenery is over here,” he said.
One stop is Baker City, where he has a package to pick up.
After arriving Saturday, he discovered that the Baker City Cycling Classic was in progress, and stopped downtown to watch the Criterium.
He ran into Bakerite Jake Jones. They struck up a conversation, and soon Jones told him about the Gran Fondo event on Sunday, when the public can ride the final stage, a 102-mile road race that goes from Baker City on Highway 7 to Austin Junction, then east to Unity and a finish on top of Dooley Mountain.
Jones was signed up, so Hadley decided to join him. The post office wasn’t open until Monday anyway, so he had Sunday to spend in Baker City.
“Rather than sit around, I thought I’d join,” Hadley said.
He doesn’t have a road bike — those light bicycles with skinny tires.
“It’s about 40 years out of date,” he said of his ride.
And the tires?
“At least twice the size, maybe three times,” he said.
But he finished just fine, and today he will ride part of that route again, as he continues on the Trail toward John Day. He rides 70 to 100 miles a day.
— Lisa Britton