FORT COLLINS – As the best male cyclists on Earth depart Loveland Saturday, some of the fastest female riders will be racing in the stage’s finish area.
The Fort Collins Women’s Grand Prix criterium race will start and end where the USA Pro Challenge men finish in a salute to the women of the sport, which will include professional road racer and Vail Valley native Christa Ghent.
Ghent’s team, Exergy Twenty 16, has been traveling from stage to stage along with the USA Cycling Development Foundation and the enormous race crew that makes the USA Pro Challenge come together. Members of Exergy Twenty 16 who are also on the women’s national team have been riding some of the stages and promoting women’s racing along the way. They’re excited to see Saturday’s crit – which the Pro Challenge, the stage’s local organizing committee and the local women’s cycling group Fort Follies joined forces to create – honor the women of cycling, but for Exergy team leader Nicola Cranmer, it’s nothing more than a good start.
“Our goal is to show that women can race the same kind of races as men, which they absolutely can,” Cranmer said Friday from Vail. “We did it with the Tour of California, and we’re hoping to have a women’s stage here at the Pro Challenge some day, too.”
From crisis to opportunity
Ghent stumbled, literally, into cycling, as she discovered the sport while recovering from a knee injury she received skiing.
“The first thing you can do when you have ACL surgery is get on the bike right away,” she said. “I stuck with it and started racing with the collegiate team ... the female community of racers in Colorado is a great community, it’s been really fun.”
Like in Ghent’s case, elite-level athletes transferring to track and road cycling after injuring themselves in other sports is more common than you may think, says Cranmer.
“I would say 75 percent of my athletes came over from other sports,” said Cranmer. “Soccer mainly, and triathletes. We have a speed skater on our team as well. And Christa.”
Ghent said it was a natural transition for her.
“I’ve always liked the sport,” she said. “My dad and I would always get up early and watch the Tour de France, then go ride our bikes together.”
Just 23 years old, Ghent has already underwent a number of surgeries from Dr. Richard Steadman. Now fully recovered, she’s fully vested in cycling.
“It was fun to watch her ski, you see her carve turns and think ‘Wow it’s too bad that didn’t work out,’” says her father, Brad Ghent. “But it’s working out on the other side.”
For Brad – whose other daughters, Erika and Abby, Christa’s older and younger sisters, respectively – it may be a nice change of pace, as Erika was a champion ski racer for CU and Abby is currently a member of the U.S. Ski Team’s B Team.
“It really is fun for us as parents to get to watch Christa on the bike,” he said.
The cyclists Ghent’s racing with now are serious. Olympic gold medalist Kristin Armstrong is a member of Exergy Twenty 16, along with a list of other Olympians and champions.
Seeing how many athletes come to her sport from injury has Cranmer acutely aware of injury prevention in her own sport. While in the Vail Valley, she said she made a point to tour the world-renowned Steadman-Phillipon Research Institute as she tries to keep her athletes healthy heading into the Olympics.
“I’ve become interested in injury study just because of the large number of athletes like Chirsta who are coming to our sport after injury,” she said.
She says if they stay healthy in their training, the cyclists best at climbing are going to be the ones who benefit most from the course at the 2016 Olympics.
“Rio is really hilly, it’s gonna be a really hard race,” she said.
‘Maybe some day’
For her part, Ghent is currently finding more success in track cycling, stacking up an impressive resume of podiums and top-ten finishes as both a member of the University of Colorado cycling team and team Exergy.
Most recently, she claimed a win in the competitive women’s A collegiate division at the CSU Circuit Race and Critium in March.
Her goal is to win the collegiate national championship event at the track cycling national championships, which are in Colorado Springs this year.
Cranmer says Ghent shows great promise, and could go as far as the Olympics with the sport.
“Probably 2020 is more realistic for (Ghent])than 2016,” Cranmer said.
But Cranmer hopes for a day when the end goal for Ghent won’t necessarily be the Olympics.
“The Olympics is the pinnacle of the sport for women,” she said. “But not for men. For men it’s the Tour de France.”
Ghent says a dream of hers would be to race in a women’s version of the USA Pro Challenge in her home-region of the Vail Valley.
“Maybe some day,” Ghent said.
Staff Writer John LaConte can be reached at 970-748-2988 or firstname.lastname@example.org