June 05, 2002 11:00 pm

BAKER CITY — The Elkhorn Cycling Classic, which will bring nearly 300 cyclists to Baker City Friday through Sunday, will include a race on the Medical Springs and Union highways Friday afternoon. Motorists are advised to be cautious.

Residents of Northeast Oregon may want to watch one or more of the four stages — and motorists might want to avoid the race's courses or be prepared to follow a few simple steps to ensure the racers' safety and their own, said race organizer Nathan Hobson.

The race's first stage begins at 1 p.m. Friday at Baker High School. Racers leave by category, with all four categories on the road by 1:25. The route will take the peloton — cycling jargon for the pack, or main body of riders — through Medical Springs to Union and back to North Powder via Pyles Canyon, then back on Highway 30 to Haines.

The peloton of each of the four categories will leave Baker City in a controlled group, heading north to Highway 203 via the west frontage road.

Racers are required to stay on the right side of the dividing center yellow line, Hobson said. Organizers hope that motorists who find themselves behind the race will be patient.

Each of the four categories of racers will have a lead car, followed by the peloton. Trailing the group are a race official in one car and two support cars.

The entire group of cars and riders will be traveling at an average speed above 20 mph and form a rolling enclosure, Hobson said. Motorists who need to pass will have to pass the entire group — potentially four cars and 100 or more bicyclists.

Stage 2 of the classic will be a time trial Saturday morning in Baker City. Racers will leave in 30-second increments for the 10-mile out-and-back beginning just west of the Union Pacific Railroad crossing on Pocahontas Road.

Stage 3 will be the Gold Rush Criterium Saturday afternoon. In a criterium, racers ride for a set amount of time plus one lap. The first racer across the finish line wins.

Because the short, closed course runs through Baker City's downtown, this segment of the race is probably the best for spectators, Hobson said.

The Women's Race begins at 4:30 p.m., followed by the Masters Men at 5:10 p.m.; Men Cat 3 and 4 at 6 p.m.; and Men Pro 1, 2 at 6:50 p.m.

The course will be closed to all car and pedestrian traffic. Pedestrians can cross the course during a race at controlled intersections only.

Stage 4 will be the Dooley Mountain Road Race. Riders leave Baker City beginning at 8 a.m. Sunday and head south on Highway 7 to Salisbury Junction and climb Dooley Mountain to the 5,392-foot summit.

From there, a fast descent down to 4,000 feet into the Burnt River country is followed by rolling, climbing hills to Blue Mountain Summit at 5,109 feet.

From Austin Junction, the riders will climb to 5,124-foot Tipton summit, pass through the Whitney Valley and Larch Summit en route to the Sumpter Valley and Highway 7.