THE DALLES — The Cherry Blossom Cycling Classic’s Stage 4 Orchard RunCircuit Race lived up to its reputation as one of the toughest days in Oregon as constantly undulating roads and Gorge winds combined to decimate fields Sunday and set up gritty duels for the overall win.

Ian McKissick and his Audi team kept an all-day breakaway within range in the men's Pro/1/2 race before he fended off a last-lap challenge to his overall lead from Morgan Schmitt (UHC). Late-race entry Eric Riggs (Yahoo!) stuck with the GC contenders through their last lap battles and collected the stage win for his efforts. 

McKissick Puts Up A Descent Defense

Men’s overall leader Ian McKissick had to fend off a serious challenge to his leader’s jersey, but his defense came down to his ability to descend through the never-ending perfectly cambered curves of the Pleasant Ridge free fall into the fertile valley below.

The men’s stage 4 contest started with an immediate breakaway of seven, but that group reshuffled itself several times before arriving at a stable makeupof Trek-Red Truck’s Aarden Marcel, Adam Thuss and Craig Logan, Team Oregon/Laurelwood’s Andrew Boone, Glotman Simpson’s Craig Jones, Hagens Berman’s Steve Fisher and Byrne Invent’s Sean Passage, who was the best-placed GC rider in the breakaway at 1:54 down.

McKissick’sAudi squad rode the front of the pack in an effort to keep the breakaway within a manageable distance for when it came time to reel them back in, and the field even seemed to be catching the lead group atone point as it started shedding riders. But the pack mysteriously sat up as they got the lead group in sight just before the base of the gravel climb up Pleasant Ridge.

Now down to three — Passage, Loganand Fisher — the breakaway started its final lap around the Orchard Runloop with a small advantage and heaps of motivation. Back in the field,attacks started as riders hoped to bridge to the leaders and strike outin search of stage win glory or a chance to step up a few places in theoverall contest. But it was Morgan Schmitt, who started the stage sixthoverall, 1:29 behind McKissick, who successfully made the bridge to theleaders and had McKissick scrambling behind to get there with him. Alsoin tow was Yahoo!’s Eric Riggs, a last-minute entry into the race afterhe didn’t make his team’s selection for the prestigious Redland’s Bicycle Classic in California.

The new trio made contact with the three riders in the breakaway on Five Mile Road approaching the last trip up the gravel, where Schmitt attacked at the bottom and opened a 10-15 second lead over the other five by the time they reached the top. McKissick was the last lead rider to crest Pleasant Ridge, but he immediately shot to the front and started hurling himself down the descent, leading the others back to Schmitt and finally reeling him in as they neared the bottom.

The veteran of European World Tour races said he wanted to make sure his teammates’ efforts to control the race to protect his overall lead didn’t go to waste.

“Morgan was really strong,” McKissick said. “He had me on the ropes from the final climb on. I was just in survival mode. But I was motivated because Patrick Stanko, my teammate, rode pretty much three laps on the front byhimself.”

Oncethey were back together, McKissick seemed content to watch the others and make sure none of the dangerous GC riders got out of site in the closing kilometers. That’s when Riggs started thinking about the big finish at the top of Olney Road.

“I was dying,” Riggs said of the final few kilometers. “But coming up the last climb I was just thinking,‘I haven’t been here all day suffering to finish third. I guess it’s now or never.’ So I just gassed it. ”

When he hit the finish, Riggs had built a four second advantage over Schmitt and five seconds over Logan. Fisher was 16 seconds behind, and McKissick came in 40 seconds down to secure his overall win. Chasing just behind the entire time, Taylor Kneuven (Geox Fuji Test Team) had slowly been pulling closer to the leaders, eventually catching Passage and taking him at theline for sixth, 1:57 behind Riggs.

Unlike the women’s race, the top five overall looked quite a bit different than when the day started.McKissick was the only remaining member from the day before. Schmitt’s effort moved him into second overall. Logan moved from 11th onto the overall podium in third. Passage climbed from eighth to fifth. Fisher jumped from 24th to sixth, and stage winner Riggs moved from 31st all the way into the money in seventh, a fact that has made him a permanent Cherry Blossom fan.

“I was really bummed out that we didn’t get into Redlands,” he said. “But my buddy Austin (Arguello) told me ‘CherryBlossom, dude, that’s is where it’s at.’ So 11 hours Thursday night; got here Friday and started racing. I really like this. I’ll definitely be coming back next year.”


Stage 4 Orchard Run Circuit Race

Pro/1/2 Men
1. Eric Riggs (Yahoo!) 3:21.45
2. Morgan Schmitt (UHC) +:04
3. Craig Logan (Trek-Red Truck) +:05
4. Steve Fisher (Hagens Berman) +:16
5. Ian McKissick (Audi) +:40



Pro/1/2 Men
1. Ian McKissick (Audi) 7:25.45
2. Morgan Schmitt (UHC) +:53
3. Craig Logan (Trek-Red Truck) +1:39
4. Taylor Kneuven (Geox Fuji Test Team) +1:57
5. Sean Passage (Byrne Invent) +2:19