By MARK FURMAN
Of the Baker City Herald
The organizer of the Elkhorn Classic bicycle race has added two new classifications for 2004, increasing the potential participation in the race.
Nathan Hobson, a Baker High School graduate who staged the first Classic in 2002, said 300 bicycle racers participated in 2003. Changes for 2004 could increase participation to 375 up to 425.
andquot;I opened registration Jan. 1 and immediately began to receive entries,andquot; Hobson said. andquot;One team from Seattle, who sent three riders last year, have already paid and signed up 17 this year.andquot;
The Classic will run one additional category for both men and women in 2004, upping the total classifications to six. Both women's classifications will be raced together, but scored separately, he said.
Road cycling in Oregon is divided into classifications called andquot;categories.andquot; Beginning racers are automatically ranked category five, or andquot;Cat 5.andquot; As a racer participates in events and scores points, he or she advances from Cat 5 to Cat 4 to Cat 3 and so on.
In 2003, men were divided into Pro/Cat 1/Cat 2, Cat 3/4 and Masters. But registration was limited to 100 per classification, and Hobson said he had to turn away many potential Cat 3, 4 and 5 participants last year.
When the race begins this June 25, 26 and 27, Cat 3 racers will have their own classification, creating more room for participants and separating the more experienced Cat 3s from the Cat 4s and 5s.
andquot;Racing against the 3s would be rough on a 100-mile ride,andquot; said Evan MacKenzie, a Baker City resident who hopes to ride the Elkhorn Classic this summer. MacKenzie, who has raced in the Portland area, said that in addition to experience, andquot;the 3s can just go longer before they get tired. It's pretty intimidating to look at those distances and think, 'I'm racing with 3s.'andquot;
In 2003, women raced as one group, regardless of ability. For 2004, women will still race as one group, but will be divided into Pro 1/2 and Cat 3/4.
Hobson hopes the changes will build both participation and the race's profile in the region. andquot;I have to stress that this race is becoming one of the premier events on the calendar,andquot; he said. andquot;There are numerous teams that are making the Elkhorn their highest objective of the year.
andquot;I have placed some large ads in Canada and Seattle to really see what kind of draw we can create,andquot; Hobson said.
The Baker High School graduate is looking more and more to his alma mater and home town for help as the event grows.
andquot;I am working with the high school to put some volunteer programs in place that will help guarantee the longevity of the race,andquot; he said. andquot;I will desperately need volunteers in 2004 to make this race a success.andquot;
Needs range from drivers to follow the racers on the road and offer assistance in the event of accidents or mechanical problems, to andquot;corner guardsandquot; who help keep pedestrians off the race course when the Classic comes downtown for the Gold Rush criterium.
Hobson also envisions fund-raising opportunities for local churches and youth groups, such as spaghetti feeds.
The three-day race proceeds in four stages. On Friday, racers compete on the road in a circuit that takes them through North Powder to Union and back to Baker City through Medical Springs.
On Saturday, the day begins with a time trial, a solo 10-mile race against the clock on Pocahontas Road. In the evening, downtown Baker City is shut down to automobile traffic to allow for criterium racing, a timed race on a short course that offers the best opportunities for spectators.
For the final stage of the race, Hobson had long envisioned sending racers on the Elkhorn Scenic Byway loop, a more than 100-mile route that includes the grueling climb to Anthony Lakes.
Thwarted by snow in his first two attempts, the alternate route through Austin Junction and Unity has proven so popular that for 2004 it will be the preferred course. Hobson intends to keep last year's route, which finished atop Dooley Mountain.
For more information, visit www.elkhornclassic.com