[Editor's note: Nine Cat 2 and Cat 3 men headed to Eastern Oregon to compete in the mountainous Elkhorn Classic Stage Race, June 22-24, 2007. Max Haines-Stiles, recent Cat 2 upgrade, reports on the conditions and a surprise motivator awaiting them...]

The middle day of a 3 day stage race... a day for taking it easy and making sure the legs still work, right? Wrong. The organizers threw in an ITT and crit to separate the wheat from the chaff, making sure those with good legs after Friday's suffer fest would feel equally exhausted come Sunday.

The 10:30 am ITT was everything we'd come to expect of Baker City: open space, perfect temperature, and stunning beauty with an azure backdrop. Oh, and tons of bikes, too. This was probably the best TT course I've ever done, with a slight downhill and headwind on the way out and a shorter return trip, uphill but with a tailwind. Even though my time was solidly mid-pack, I was pretty happy as I rolled across the line knowing that a big 'ole sandwich and a nap were waiting for me a few miles away.

After a few hours of attempted recovery, it was time for the crit. The pro/1/2s were slated to go at 6:30, making this my first ever twilight appearance. I think we all had tired legs, but Fred, Ryan, Evan and Jared, being the crit beasts that they are, were chomping at the bit for their chance at sprinters' glory.mint sign

Me? I needed an extra bit of motivation, which I actually got upon seeing that someone (a truly brilliant and dedicated soul) had emblazoned the road with 5 blue dots and the words, "Go Mint! Fast". Sweet! A dot for each of the guys in our race. Okay, so it's no "Allez, Max!" with red polka dots on Alpe d'Huez, but it was very cool to see our team name on the road.

I later found out that the crazy bike-fan with a craving for minty water was Beverly Calder, from Bella's Main Street Market. Apparently she's a big Metromint fan (she proudly told us that her store is the only place in Eastern Oregon that sells the stuff), and was thrilled to see us at the race: "It was such a kick to see your jerseys at the high school, it's been the first time I've had a 'connection' of any kind to one of the Elkhorn teams!" We took a few pictures with Beverly in front of the store: us in our Metromint kits and her holding a bike (I hope they make it onto the store's wall o'pictures, with Lance and Indurain and all the other greats). She's a big cycling fan and will be heading off to France in a little while for Le Tour (Bon Voyage, Beverly!). Anyway, 800 miles from home and in the heart of "middle-of-nowhere" Oregon, it was nice to chat with Beverly as if we'd known her for years... even though all we had in common were a love for bikes and a taste for minty water.

cow bikeSo, the crit was comfortably fast for me, as I mostly sat in and tried to recover. My teammates, on the other hand, did just about everything possible to show off their colors: getting into breaks, sprinting for primes, and being all around hard-men. Fred ended up 3rd (wow!) and Jared 5th (probably the best crit finish of any of the GC guys, you're the man, Jared!), with Ryan and Evan not too far behind. Those guys really animated the race and made sure all the teams understood that even though we're young, our team's got some talent.

By Max Haines-Stiles