The nation's most prestigious professional bike race returns to Vail this summer and adds a grueling leg from Steamboat Springs to Beaver Creek.
The USA Pro Challenge is scheduled to roll through the valley August 22 and 23. The seven-day stage race runs Aug. 19-25.
Riders will once again race the Vail time trial, which traces its lineage to the days of the Coors Classic. That's Aug. 23.
But it's the Aug. 22, Steamboat Springs-Beaver Creek stage that should be the racers' most challenging. They're calling it the Queen's Stage and it gives Steamboat Springs its first start. Steamboat hosted finishes in 2011 and 2012.
The stage gives riders an OMG moment. They'll negotiate some Routt County roads and the river bottom at State Bridge north of Wolcott. From there they'll head toward Beaver Creek, up an 18 percent grade for the inaugural Bachelor Gulch hill climb, down a technical descent and then back up 1.2 miles to the finish in Beaver Creek Village.
"That will be a punishing day," said Shawn Hunter, race CEO.
Race officials unveiled this year's route Thursday. It will roll through eight Colorado cities, kicking off in Aspen Aug. 19 and ending in downtown Denver Aug. 25.
The start and finishes of most USA Pro Challenge stages are above the highest points in the Tour de France. Loveland and Fort Collins host new stages this year.
"We are excited to have Beaver Creek back on the schedule for the finish of Stage 4, especially with the resort being part of the Queen Stage," said Ceil Folz, president of the Vail Valley Foundation and president of the Vail and Beaver Creek organizing committee. "We are also extremely pleased to be able to bring the Time Trial back to Vail."
The gives racing fans a reason to stay that extra night, said Chris Romer, CEO of the Vail Valley Partnership.
"The race rolls through the valley on a Thursday and Friday in late August when families have stopped traveling because school is back in session, Romer said. "This really creates a good opportunity for us. Add to that the broadcast schedule and the chance to partner with that big brand, and outside the World Alpine Ski Championships, this is the biggest event the valley sees."
"The most important thing to us in creating the route for the 2013 USA Pro Challenge was to find a course that would be safe and challenging for the riders, while providing ideal viewing locations for the crowds of spectators," Hunter said.
Once again, riders will climb to the top of Independence Pass, the highest point of any professional cycling race.
Sen. Mark Udall worked with the U.S. Forest Service and others to make sure racers have a smooth ride.
"Colorado is the envy of the world because we have a high quality of life and scenic landscapes - and we love to show off," Udall said. "Cycling events create jobs, drive tourism and showcase some of what makes Colorado incredible."
Staff Writer Randy Wyrick can be reached at 970-748-2935 or firstname.lastname@example.org.