Cherry Blossom Classic: Glimpses From Deep in the Pain Cave
If you associated lazy afternoon picnics spent lounging underneath blossom-laden boughs of cherry trees with the words 'Cherry Blossom', you couldn't be farther from reality. Those seemingly innocuous words hid a terrible truth: four challenging stages around The Dalles, Oregon packed into three short days that had even the most battle-scarred hardmen from the Northwest racing scene on their knees by the last stage.
But I get ahead of myself. It was no coincidence that the kick-off stage race of the Northwest racing calendar started on April Fool's day. There were plenty of fools to be found at the sunny start to Stage 1. Garage Racing was well-represented in the stacked Pro/1/2 field with Kyle, Andrew, Joe, and Hitch. And Nikos was holding down the fort in the Masters 40+ field. In the Pro/1/2 race, Andrew hitched his horse to the early break wagon in what became the winning move, only to suffer the misfortune of 2 broken spokes. Both Hitch and Nikos pulled top 20 finishes at the end of the long day.
The Garage Racing contingent showed up for the Stage 2 time trial only to find out that a sailing regatta had broken out. With sustained winds in the 30 mph range and gusts up to 50 mph, racers were left to tack their way into the headwind section battling their bikes the whole way. Needless to say, near-warp speeds were attained on the return. Both Kyle and Nikos had top 20 finishes.
Saturday evening greeted the wobbly-legged racers with cooler temps and more Gorge wind for the short Crit. The Masters crit was fast and aggressive from the start and Nikos saw visions of a podium disappear in a photo finish, ending up 5th. However the highlight of the evening was Andrew's impressive victory in the Pro/1/2 crit against big-time competition. Andrew confirmed his good form by tracking down a solo move on the last lap and beating him by a hair on the line. See the Oregon Cycling Action article for the detailed report.
Sunday welcomed the Queen stage with an incredibly challenging circuit race through the orchards above town. The course quickly separated the pretenders from the contenders with a never-ending combo of wind, challenging ups, and technical downs. Both Kyle and Hitch finished in the select top-15 for the day, resulting in 10th and 14th on overall GC. Meanwhile in the Masters race, Nikos got tangled with another rider but successfully managed to save his bike by cleverly putting his fingers between the shifter and the pavement. This trick earned him a tour of the local ER facilities and some fractured fingers.
Cherry Blossom was certainly no picnic in the park. But the quality of the courses and the strength of the competition have made this a perennial favorite for the Garage Racing team.