By BRENNA KNOWLES
Of the Baker City Herald
It was winter when Nicky Solomon and Susie Wood left the Southern Hemisphere last week, en route to the Elkhorn Classic in Baker City.
And it was winter when they arrived.
andquot;We thought it would be summer here, we just came from winter in New Zealand,andquot; Wood said, commenting on the unseasonably cool weather that greeted 300 bike racers.
Solomon, 30, and Wood, 25, are members of the New Zealand national cycling team.
They said the course for Friday's Oregon Trail Road Race was windy and cold but the hills were less severe than they had predicted.
Wood finished second Friday with a time of 3:44:49, only five seconds behind Heather Albert, the eventual overall winner of the race. Solomon came in sixth with a time of 3:46:05.
Solomon and Wood will meet up with four other New Zealand teammates this week for the HP Women's Challenge, which starts in Boise, Idaho.
They said the races in Baker City helped them adapt to racing in America: miles vs. kilometers, riding on the right vs. left side of the road, and summer vs. winter weather. The women agreed that traffic was minimal and the only distraction they faced was a mean dog.
Solomon said she and Wood are also trying to get rid of some of their nervousness by riding with a big field of women before next week's race.
There were 46 entries in the women's category at the Elkhorn Classic.
andquot;The fields are small in women's races in New Zealand,andquot; Solomon explained. andquot;We're used to racing with the men.andquot;
Both women especially wanted to practice their skills in the criterium. The one held in Baker City on Saturday was only the fourth time they had raced the .9 mile closed course format.
Wood has previous experience with triathlons, and both women have raced mountain bikes. Solomon has been competitive in road biking for only two years and Wood has made it her full-time sport for just one year. Solomon said that she just wants to andquot;give it a goandquot; before she gets too old.
Wood is taking time off from her Ph.D. studies in biology at Victoria University. She said she's going to race for a few more years, finish her Ph.D. and get a real job.
To prepare for these races the two women train between two and five hours per day and an average of 20 hours per week. During long workouts or tough races Solomon tries to get a good song in her head or tell herself, andquot;It will get better.andquot;
Wood's strategy is to focus on the racer in front of her. She also likes to figure out how far she has to go and then tell herself, andquot;It's not so far.andquot;
Solomon will stay in the U.S. for the Baker City and Boise races. Wood is staying for two months and racing in Bend; Vancouver, British Columbia; and Pittsburgh, Pa.; before she returns to New Zealand to train with Solomon for the national and world championship races.
Earlier this year both women raced the Tour de Snowy in Australia. Wood said the race was the biggest in the Southern Hemisphere. She placed 11th.
Wood said it is important for new riders to seek help from more experienced riders for advice. andquot;Even with something as simple as making sure your seat is right can make a huge difference,andquot; she said. Solomon said it's important to learn from each race and andquot;stick in itandquot; without getting discouraged.
andquot;Everyone has been so amazing,andquot; Solomon said of the people she met in Baker City. andquot;It's really great to come to another country and have so many people to help you understand the systems,andquot; Wood added.
Both women said they would love to come back to the Baker City area when they aren't racing. Solomon said that racing andquot;brings you to places that you wouldn't usually go.andquot; Before the women leave the Pacific Northwest they said they would like to see bear, elk or moose.