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Kristin Armstrong, Chad Haga tops at Mt. Hood prologue

HOOD RIVER, Oregon (VN) — Kristin Armstrong fired the opening salvo in the showdown with fellow Olympian Clara Hughes Thursday at the prologue time trial of the 2011 Mt. Hood Cycling Classic.

2011 Mt. Hood Cycling Classic, Armstrong
Kristin Armstrong was on form for the win.

Armstrong (Peanut Butter & Co.- Twenty12) covered the three-mile course eight seconds faster than her Canadian rival Hughes (Pactimo Cycling Team). Armstrong’s teammate Alison Starnes was third, 16 seconds behind the leader.

The course outside of Hood River started at a fruit-packing plant amid orchards and gently rolling hills. Riders eventually climbed 300 feet to end the prologue at the 360-degree vistas on Panorama Point.

Armstrong now starts stage 1 Columbia Gorge Road Race in yellow, but she isn’t taking the race lead for granted.

“There are four more stages in front of us,” she said. “We have a strong team here, but it’s along week ahead and there’s some tough terrain.”

Armstrong said the number one priority for the relatively young Peanut Butter & Co. squad was to stay safe and ride their bikes as a team.

“One of the reasons we came to Mt. Hood is that we were told it’s a really well organized race and there are a lot of strong women here this weekend,” she said. “It also gives us a chance to work together as a team. We’ll be heading to Nature Valley and nationals, and so the more we can race as a team, the better we’ll do as the fields get larger and we race against some of the European teams.”

Hughes, leading the four-rider Pactimo Cycling Team, will get another chance to beat Armstrong in a time trial when the race heads across the Columbia River to Tout Lake on Saturday morning. But first they’ve got to tackle the 56-mile Columbia Gorge Road Race on Friday. Hughes said she can’t wait for the competition to begin in earnest.

“I’m looking forward to every stage,” Hughes said. “I’ve only briefly been through this part of Oregon, even though my husband is from Oregon; my in-laws are in Albany. This is the part of Oregon that I don’t know, so I’m looking forward to it.”

Rio Grande goes one-two in men’s race

In the men’s opener, Chad Haga of Colorado’s Team Rio Grande bested teammate Scott Tietzel by four seconds to take the first leader’s jersey. Keller Rohrback’s Dan Harm was third just six seconds back. Mike Olheiser, the Elite national time trial champion and winner of the same prologue in 2009, finished sixth, eight seconds behind.

Just 30 seconds separated the top 60 riders after the prologue, leaving the door open for plenty of attacks on the leader’s jersey. Haga and the seven-rider Rio Grande team will now have to play defense for stage 1 on the wide open roads between Mosier and The Dalles.

“We’ll see how it goes tomorrow,” Haga said. “Honestly, we were hoping for second here so we could be aggressive tomorrow, but we’re up to defending it.”

Tietzel said that although he’s just four seconds off the lead, there wouldn’t be any inter-team rivalry on the road Friday.

“Chad’s been riding really well this year,” he said. “He’s the stronger climber, so we’ll probably be riding for him. It just depends on how many guys we need to use up every day to defend. But we’ve had some good preparation.”

Friday’s stage takes riders on a loop that includes stretches of the Columbia Gorge Historic Highway between Mosier and The Dalles. The men will race for 84 miles and climb 7,800 feet before the day is done.