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Cyclists head up a hill during a training session on Pioneer Road near Phoenix.

Thursday night pedal power hits Dragway

WHITE CITY -- Mike Hoyt knows he'd be out of his league to take on the Rogue Valley's top cyclist in a road race.

I'd be hanging on for dear life, says the 36-year-old Medford optometrist.

A rider of Hoyt's caliber might maintain pace for a while, then fade and pretty soon be spinning by himself.

In cycling, the group dynamics determine how you do, Hoyt says. If you don't hold on, you're done. A group is going to go 25 to 30 percent faster than you can as an individual because of drafting. If you get shelled out of the group, you can't catch back up and you're on your own. Your race is over.

Given the opportunity to compete on a small scale, however, Hoyt finds the challenge to his liking.

Siskiyou Velo (formerly known as the Siskiyou Wheelmen) now offers weekly racing Thursday nights at the Southern Oregon Dragway at Jackson County Sports Park.

Cyclists are divided into two groups, based on ability. The first group goes 10-12 miles at 6 p.m. and the top group goes 25 or more miles at 6:45 p.m.

— — Bike racing

What: Bicycle races

Where: Southern Oregon Dragway, Jackson — County Sports Park

When: 6 and 6:45 p.m. Thursdays

Registration: 5:15 until five minutes — prior to your race time. All non-Oregon Bicycle Racing Association riders must — purchase a single-day membership for $5 or an annual $15 membership. The nightly — racing fee is $5.

Season: Mid-May through Mid-September

For information: Ed Garfield, 772-1393, or — Glen Gann 779-6986 — —

It's exercise, but it doesn't feel like it, says Hoyt, who started cycling five years ago. I wouldn't mind more competitive racing but it would take a lot of dedication to be in the hunt. On Thursdays you can go out and you don't have to kill your family life.

Larry Scott is another novice who likes to compete but doesn't want to give up the rest of his life to pursue cycling.

The 51-year-old Medford pharmaceutical salesman is learning the racing ropes on Thursday nights.

I can't stay with the big boys, but I can hang with them warming up, says Scott. The more you ride, the more fun and the easier it is.

Glen Gann, a road racer for 16 years, says he was looking for a way to attract new faces to the local scene. The Dragway, free of the motorized traffic that cyclists encounter on most road races, appeared the perfect place.

For a $50 rental fee, Siskiyou Velo was able to book the track from the middle of May to mid-September.

We had ridden it and knew it would work as a good course and you can make a pretty good hill out of it too, Gann says. Up in Portland they use Portland International Raceway on Tuesdays. They have a 2-mile circuit and 100 people (racing) every night.

Since riders don't have to worry about cross-traffic and cars appearing out of nowhere, it lends itself to more relaxed riding.

It's a lot better than I expected at the drag strip, Hoyt admits. You think of a big, long, flat, wide expanse. But it rises much higher than you would've guessed. The side roads are narrow and hidden in the trees. They're about as wide as BLM roads. It has that small, European feel.

Scott says the chief difference between training rides, such as he does on Tuesday evenings outside of Phoenix, and racing is pace.

When we go riding together, we'll wait for each other, Scott says. When we go out to (the dragway), you had better stay with them or you're dropped. We're not going to go out and kill each other by any means, but the racing is much more demanding.

The fastest guys in the valley suffer as much as the slower guys. They just suffer faster.

Scott got into cycling primarily to strengthen his cardiovascular system. As much as he enjoys racing, however, there just isn't enough time to work out and keep up with everything else.

The only racing I've done in the past is in the (now-defunct) Providence ride, Scott says. The group I ride with is getting faster and the only way of getting faster is to race.

Race distances will vary from week to week, with the strong riders covering as many as 40 miles per session, Gann says.

Three times this summer Oregon Best All-around Rider points will be awarded. But Gann doesn't anticipate cyclists to come from farther than Klamath Falls or Roseburg.

Cyclists head up a hill during a training session on Pioneer Road near Phoenix.