Of the Baker City Herald

Nearly 300 athletes are set to take to the streets this weekend in the four-stage Elkhorn Classic bicycle race. Any group that large and that brightly dressed is going to be hard to miss.

But if area residents have time to see just one race, the one not to miss is the Gold Rush Criterium, says race promoter Nathan Hobson.

That series of four races will be held in downtown Baker City beginning with the Masters race at 3:30 p.m. Saturday and continuing through the men's professional 1-2 race a race for 85 of the field's most elite athletes. That final race begins at 6 p.m. and will conclude just after 7 p.m.

The women's race is set for 4:15 p.m., with the men's Cat 3-4 to follow at 5 p.m.

The criterium will follow the 10-mile Wingville Individual Time Trial, set for Saturday morning.

In a criterium, cyclists race for a set amount of time between 35 and 60 minutes plus one or two laps at the end. The first one across the finish line is the winner.

Hobson describes the course as a andquot;six-corner, one-mile-lap barn-burner.andquot; The third race the men's Cat 3-4, for intermediate cyclists has drawn 100 entries. The finale, the men's professional race, has 85 cyclists registered.

andquot;This race is the one to see, the one you absolutely cannot miss,andquot; Hobson said. andquot;They'll be whizzing by at 40 miles an hour and they'll be wheel to wheel. The sound alone will blow you away. It's going to be the best criterium race on the West Coast. It would be a crime not to go.andquot;

Music will punctuate the races, and Hobson has hired announcer Splinter Wren of Portland, one of the sport's best-known West Coast personalities, to call the action.

One of the reasons that the race has drawn so many entrants is that the Hewlett-Packard Women's Challenge, the world's second-largest women's stage race, is set for next weekend in Boise.

andquot;This has turned into a really big regional race,andquot; Hobson said. andquot;The response has really blown me away.andquot;

Cyclists have paid between $55 and $75 in entry fees. They will receive about $8,000 in prize money, as well as merchandise. Hobson is promoting the race without taking a salary.

Contributors to the prize fund include Baker County Unlimited and Historic Baker City, Hobson said.

Street closures

The streets involved in the criterium will be closed, and no parked cars will be allowed. Affected streets are Main Street from Broadway to Valley Ave., two blocks of Broadway between Main and Second, the block of Second Street between Broadway and Valley, Washington between Second and First, First from Washington to Valley, and Valley between First and Main.

Youth activities and races

The area's younger cyclists aren't being left out this weekend. Volunteers and the Baker City Police Department are sponsoring a Bike Rodeo with registration beginning at 11:30 a.m. Saturday at the corner of Washington and Main streets.

Helmets are required, as is a waiver signed by parents. Separate race classes will be held for children under 10, 10-12 boys and girls, and an open class for all. All participants will receive ribbons.

Free bicycle licenses will be available Saturday. Licenses are usually issued for $5. They help police match bicycles with owners when bikes are lost or stolen.

For more information on the Bike Rodeo, call Dave Daffer, 523-3477, or Gail Duman, 523-9382.