2013 marks the 3rd year of professional cycling returning to Colorado! It also marks the 3rd year that the new highly acclaimed USA "Pro Challenge" will pass through Summit County. The Town of Breckenridge has previously been both a finish location and a start location in the 1st and 2nd installments of the race, but this year it will serve as a finish AND start location. Breckenridge is one of only 3 cities in Colorado to be a destination or start city in every race so far. Keystone Resort provides a great location for someone looking to watch the race as being here will enable you to avoid the traffic and madness of the race itself but be close enough to make the short trek to Breckenridge to immerse yourself in full for it. Watch the world's best cyclists compete on the highest roads in North America!
Stage 1- Riders start in the Aspen/Snowmass Circuit- which is a 22 mile course. Racers will complete the course 3 times. Over 66 miles racers will gain over 3,000ft in elevation each lap, so this is no easy course. Riders looking to open up a time gap on some of their competition will need to use the naturally changing road conditions to pinch off the competition. Look for riders who specialize in crit races and single day classes to excel on this stage.
Stage 2 – Aspen to Breckenridge- As has become the norm with the Pro Challenge, the grueling slog over independence pass will be a feature of this race. Climbers can distance themselves from the competition by charging over the 12,000 ft monster. Flat terrain to Buena Vista, Fairplay and Alma lead to another opportunity for the climbers to get away on the climb up the south side of Hoosier Pass. Riders descend a technical top section of Hoosier pass and blast into Breckenridge. The end of the race will be most punishing as the riders have to climb up the difficult 15% grade of Moonstone Rd. before blasting down Boreas Pass Rd. to the finish line. If the climbers can put enough space between themselves and the peloton during the Independence Pass and Hoosier Pass climbs they should be able to hold on for victory. However, if they are caught prior to entering Breckenridge, look for a Puncheur to try to take advantage of Moonstone Road to go for the win.
Stage 3 – Breckenridge to Steamboat Springs- In an exact reversal of the inaugural Pro Challenge, the race starts in Breckenridge before heading over the short climb of Swan Mountain Road. Due to Swan's size it provides a perfect opportunity to springboard breakaways. Riders who break away have little to look forward to as they must hold of the field on the long ride to Rabbit Ears Pass. If the peloton crests the second summit of Rabbit Ears Pass together a massive bunch sprint is likely, but if the climbers open up enough of a gap you might see a breakaway survive. Look For the sprinters, and look for someone to take advantage in a breakaway.
Stage 4 – Steamboat Springs to Beaver Creek- This year's Queen Stage doesn't feature the daunting Independence pass, and instead features several short yet punishing climbs. If the steepness of each climb doesn't frustrate the riders, how numerous they are will. As the riders push into the final climbs of the day they find themselves on the ruthless Bachelor's Gulch climb with grades as steep as 18%. You may see a finish reminiscent of Crested Butte 2 years ago where rider after rider appeared to be away and a clear winner only to be caught before Levi Leipheimer managed to break away in the last little bit of the race.
Stage 5 – Vail Time Trial- Once again the Vail time trial comes back. Hailing back to the days of the Coors Classic, the Vail Pass Time Trial represents one of the classic rides in Colorado Cycling Tradition. Because it is mostly uphill riders face the tough decision of choosing between a standard racing bike and a time trial bike. Some riders bet on their ability to put away time on the flat ground prior to the climb while others save their legs in hopes of making a push as they hit the hill. Either choice has its risks and benefits. Time Trial Specialists will be pitted against strong climbers going in this unique stage.
Stage 6 – Loveland to Fort Collins- Riders begin the day in Loveland and enjoy the flats for a brisk early ride before heading up the Big Thompson Canyon. This winding road full of grade changes should split up the pack quite effectively as they head up through Devils Gulch before entering scenic Estes Park and back down through Glen Comfort and the Big Thompson Canyon. Provided the pack comes back together on the way down to Fort Collins, you can expect an exciting mass sprint in Fort Collins.
Stage 7 – Denver – Once again, the final day finds itself in Denver. By now the winner of the race ought to be decided, and as is with the Champs Elysees in the Tour De France the final circuit is an opportunity for teams to line up their sprinters for the win and should provide plenty of excitement to everyone watching this stage. If the leaders are separated by only a couple seconds though you may see one of them set on changing their fate and attack on the flats hoping to take the other off guard.
Curiously absent for 3 years however are some of the more daunting climbs in the state like Trail Ridge Road which connects Estes Park to Grand Lake and the deceivingly difficult Berthoud Pass from Empire to Fraser. Another absent is one of Colorado's toughest, Loveland Pass connecting Loveland Resort and Keystone. Lastly, the only climb categorized as "HC" in the state is the brutal 7,000' climb over 27 miles from Idaho Springs to the top of Mt. Evans at 14,100'. While they have yet to be used in this epic race, it is only a matter of time until they rear their heads.
The USA Pro Challenge represents Colorado's major foray into another professional sport and highlights our state as a mecca of physical fitness and athletics in the US. The mountains are also brought to the forefront as Summit County always seems to play a role in this incredible race. Come see it, experience it, and immerse yourself in it! The race is slated to start on August 19 and finish on the 26th.