The leader's jersey changed hands once again after the first climbing stage, the Cooper Spur Circuit Race at the Mt Hood Cycling Classic. Darren Lill (BMC) timed his attack perfectly to outsprint Rory Sutherland (Health Net-Maxxis) and Chris Meier (Symmetrics) on the final climb to the finish line after 85 miles in the saddle, and he also had to dodge an official's car at the same time. (Unfortunately so did I, so I missed the final photo at the finish).



"I saved everything for the final kilometer, and I knew that it was probably the steepest pitch of the whole climb, none of the climbs are really all that steep, the guys are obviously at their most tired, it just flattens out with 200 meters to go and I thought if I could just get over the crest with 200, 250 meters to go with a bit of a gap, I should be able to hold on for the win, I just put my head and prayed like mad, I thought my legs were going to fall off at the end but managed to hold on." said a tried Lill after the stage.



The men faced 4.5 laps of the 18.7-mile course with a slow gradual climb on each lap. And the scenario was the same as in previous years. An early break went up the road, and was finally caught in the final lap of 4.5 laps stage to set up for the final drag race to the finish.

"The breakaway went up the road, it had about 14 guys, we're ridden this circuit a couple of times before, and we kind of knew how it would probably play out, each year a break went." said Meier.

Early in the race, a 13-man break went up the road on the first lap which included Andy Bajadali (Kelly Benefit/Medifast), JR Grabinger (Successful Living), Chris Wherry (Toyota-United), Burke Swindlehurst (Bissell), Neil Shirley (Jittery Joe's), Oregonians Ryan Trebon (Kona) and Doug Ollerenshaw (Rock Racing), and two Health Net-Maxxis riders Matt Cooke and Best Young Rider Matt Crane.



The Bissell team came to the front of the field and make sure that the break never got more than three minutes to keep Ben Jacques-Maynes in contention for the final win in the overall classification.



The break was doomed from the start, as some of the riders, under orders from their team didn't work and sat in.

"We had Matt Cooke and Matt Crane [in the break], that was a perfect situation for our team to have two of the younger guys in there. It's a good card to play and having guys like Phil [Zajicek] and myself in the group meant that they could be at the front, there shouldn't have been any responsibility on them to ride and they didn't ride." said Sutherland about his teammates in the break.

For their efforts in the break, Bajadali collected the King of the Mountain (KOM) points and Ollerenshaw, the Sprint points, so that each had a new jersey to wear at the end of the day.

With other teams helping Bissell with the chase in the final lap, the break was caught at the bottom of the final climb. Will Routley (Symmetrics) attacked with about 1 K to go, and then Lill went with about 200 meters and the drag race was on.

"Phil let me out with the last bit, Darren got away with a k[ilometer] to go and everyone kind of sat and looked at each other but I think it was more that everybody was just screwed. It was a hard day for everybody, it's great for us for Saturday to see what we can do." said Sutherland.

"It's basically just a drag race, a false flat the whole way, it's way more, myself I'm not really a sprinter, false flat drag so if you can get on a wheel of somebody that is going really good, you can latch on them and hope to get around them at the end. It's really a long gradual kind of effort." said Meier.



With the 10 second bonus on the line, Lill moved in the lead of the general classification only one second ahead of Sutherland, and Ben Jacques-Maynes is still in third, six seconds behind.

As with previous years, the race will be decided in the next two stages, the 18.3 time trial with two categorized climbs, and Saturday's tough Wy'East Road Race , 101 miles with 11,200 feet of climbing including the definitive climb of the race, a 35-mile, 4500-feet ascent to the summit finish at Mt. Hood Meadows Ski Resort.

The GC is still completely up for grabs as the hopeful as separated by only seconds. Health Net-Maxxis' Phil Zajicek, 12 seconds from the leader, finished second in last year's time trial and is gunning for a great ride.

"Tomorrow is going to pay just to consolidate and pray for good legs for the time trial. A time trial, you're riding a really fine line, it's really easy to go too hard and mess it up completely or not go hard enough and not do a good time. We'll see if I still have the jersey after tomorrow and we'll play it from there. " said Lill, winner of the Wy'East stage in 2007.