WALLA WALLA - The fourth and final stage of the Tour of Walla Walla takes place today, and with it more than 500 cyclists will race up and down the steep roads west of Waitsburg.
In previous years, the Kellogg Hollow Road Race had been the grueling kickoff event, with its 91-mile course for pro category 1-2 men, and several drops and climbs that range from 1,274 feet above sea level to 2,152 feet.
Race director Steven Rapp said the switch was made with the shorter and less hilly Waitsburg Road Race - which had been the Sunday finisher - so as to spark more competition early on from contestants who are not necessarily long haulers.
"If the last race is not their race, they have to play their hand early," Rapp said.
Over the years, coordinators have made several changes to the course, including moving the criterium from Sunday to Saturday to encourage more participation in what is a dangerous event due to tight riding, tight corners and the chance of a fall.
That danger level was also the reason coordinators decided to do the Saturday criterium earlier in the day, thus eliminating the popular but risky night races.
"We decided that was just a little too dangerous," Rapp added.
According to Rapp, the Tour of Walla Walla is the largest cycling road race in the state, and draws participants primarily from Washington and Oregon. Although a number of license plates from Idaho, California, Montana and Alaska were seen in the parking lot of Walla Walla Community College on Saturday, where time trials were held all morning.
There were even some riders from Canada, including pro category 1 and 2 racers David Gerth and Ted Martin of Vancouver, British Columbia.
"This is our second year that we have came. Usually the weather is great, the racing is great and the town is really great," Gerth said.
"It's a really competitive field, and good weather and a good tough course," Martin added.
The first races of the Kellogg Hollow Road Race start at the intersection of 10th Street and Coppei Avenue in Waitsburg at 8 a.m., 8:10 a.m., 8:25 a.m. and 8:30 a.m.; the pro races and masters start at 12:20 p.m., 12:25 p.m., 12:35 p.m., 12:40 p.m.
There are numerous hills along the route where spectators can watch the action.