Miss the USA Pro Challenge? Head over Vail Pass on Friday to catch the Colorado Classic in Breckenridge | VailDaily.com

Miss the USA Pro Challenge? Head over Vail Pass on Friday to catch the Colorado Classic in Breckenridge

Phil Lindeman
plindeman@summitdaily.com

Everyone who knows cycling agrees: Breckenridge will be the toughest single day of the brand-new, never-before-seen Colorado Classic.

Take it from Jim Birrell, men's race director for the return of professional road cycling to Colorado from Aug. 10-13, which features an unorthodox format built around circuit stages in three locations: Colorado Springs, Denver and Main Street Breckenridge.

"Breckenridge is going to be the survival of the fittest," said Birrell, whose ties to Colorado pro racing date back to the Red Zinger and Coors Classic stage events in the '80s. "Racing at altitude with 10 laps on Moonstone Road, at the pace these kids will be racing, that's going to be survival of the fittest."

Or take it from Alison Powers, owner and team director for Alps Cycles Racing, a female-only team based in Boulder. By living and training at 6,000 feet, her team of six pros already has an upper hand on sea-level teams, but add an extra 3,600 feet on race day and it's anyone's game.

"That Moonstone climb is hard," said Powers, who also boasts decades of cycling experience as both an athlete and a coach. "We pre-rode it to get ready for that women's race, which is short at five laps, but that means we'll be going full gas every time we make that climb."

Or even take it from Sean Petty, the women's race director and past official with the USA Pro Challenge, the last pro-level tour in Colorado. That one fizzled out in 2015 due to financial woes, but it still drew thousands and thousands of fans to Breckenridge for a time trial on that dastardly Moonstone incline.

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"With five women's laps and 10 men's laps, you can move across the course during the race so you can catch a couple laps on Moonstone, and then catch the finish in Breck," said Petty, who's excited that women are part of the inaugural Classic, seeing as how it took five years for ladies to join the Pro Challenge. "If we were only going to have two days, I wanted us to have two hard days, and man, we're going to get it.

3 cities, 3 circuits

The chest-battering Moonstone climb on Aug. 11 (women at 11 a.m., men at 2 p.m.) might be the toughest stage of the race, but that doesn't mean any of the Colorado Classic will be easy. The men and women begin in Colorado Springs on Thursday, Aug. 10, with a circuit through Garden of the Gods park before coming to Breckenridge on Friday for the shared second stage, and final women's race. The men finish with two stages based out of downtown Denver on Saturday and Sunday, including an urban circuit through the RiNo district near Coors Field.

"I don't think any of the stages will be particularly easy," said Breckenridge native Taylor Shelden, a pro with Jelly Belly Cycling Team who also kills it on a mountain bike: he took third at the 2017 Firecracker 50 in his hometown. "The last day is a little flatter than the rest, but you still have to be heads up and aware. Things can always happen, especially near the end."

At four stages for the men and two for the women, the Colorado Classic is shorter than most U.S. pro tours, like the seven-stage Tour of Utah that wraps up Aug. 6. It's also three days shorter than the old USA Pro Challenge it's meant to replace — that one went belly up in 2015 when funding disappeared because, well, classic point-to-point races are expensive — but the two still share a Union Cycliste Internationale second-tier classification. It means they're both one step below big, bad tours like Tour de France, and that's attracting UCI pro teams like BMC Racing, Team Novo Nordisk, Trek-Segafredo and Cannondale Drapac to Colorado.

Birrell hopes this recaptures the magic of those legendary years at the Coors Classic, when a bike race was as much about the town and the party as the race. That's where the Velorama Festival in downtown Denver, from Aug. 10-13, fits in. It's bringing in bands like Wilco, Death Cab for Cutie and The Jayhawks for a bona fide music festival, plus pro cycling, and both Breck and the Springs are planning parties, VIP tents and more for their circuits.

"If you look at the evolution in my professional career, with 35 years in the sport, what we're doing with the Colorado Classic is the right thing," Birrell, who oversaw a similar format at the 2015 UCI Road World Championships in Virginia, said. "When you have a point-to-point stage race, it's hard to convince the family to pack up and drive hours for 30 seconds of racing. Here we've got value for three or four hours."

It's the truth. From 11 a.m. to about 5 p.m. on Thursday and Friday, fans in Colorado Springs and Breckenridge get nonstop racing from pros like Shelden, Boulder's own Taylor Phinney, Tour de France runner-up Rigoberto Uran and Brent Bookwalter, who won the worse-than-Moonstone Arapahoe Basin stage at the 2015 USA Pro Challenge. He knows how this altitude thing works.

So does Shelden. The two will pass his childhood home 10 times at race pace en route to Moonstone, covering 64 total miles and 7,320 vertical feet before they cross the finish line on Main Street.

How's that for a return to Colorado?

"The first stage could catch some people unaware, just because it might be harder than people are expecting, but it's nothing like being at 10,00 feet all of a sudden in Breckenridge," said Shelden, who's happy that a busted collarbone from Tour of California in May won't keep him from the Classic. "That will be the defining stage."

2017 Colorado Classic

What: The inaugural year for a unique type of pro cycling tour, featuring spectator-friendly circuit races in Colorado Springs, Breckenridge and Denver before a tour-ending out-and-back race

When: Thursday through Sunday, Aug. 10-13

Where: Various locations

Cost: Free for spectators

Breckenridge is the second stage of a four-stage men’s race and two-stage women’s race. The entire event is free for spectators, but VIP tickets, the Denver Velorama festival and other paid options are available. For more info, including tickets, see ColoradoClassic.com.

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Breckenridge hour by hour

The Colorado Classic features a circuit format to give race fans the most cycling action they can handle in a single sitting, with options to catch critical moments from several different locations — all within walking distance of the finish line on Main Street at Blue River Plaza.

Women’s race

5 laps | 32 miles | 3,660 vertical feet

11 a.m. — Start, Main Street at Washington Avenue

11:20 a.m. — Sprint No. 1, finish line with four laps remaining

11:30 a.m. — Queen of the Mountain No. 1, Moonstone Road climb

Noon — Sprint No. 2, finish line with two laps remaining

12:10 p.m. — Queen of the Mountain No. 2, Moonstone Road climb

12:40 p.m. — Finish, Main Street at Washington Avenue

Men’s race

10 laps | 64 miles | 7,320 vertical feet

2 p.m. — Start, Main Street at Washington Avenue

3 p.m. — Sprint No. 1, finish line with seven laps remaining

3:30 p.m. — King of the Mountain, Moonstone Road climb with six laps remaining

4 p.m. — Sprint No. 2, finish line with four laps remaining

4:30 p.m. — King of the Mountain, Moonstone Road climb with two laps remaining

5:25 p.m. — Finish, Main Street at Washington Avenue

Note: Times are approximate.

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Volunteer at the Classic

Want a front row seat to the action? Volunteers are still needed to help on race day, Aug. 11, with course marshaling, parking, hospitality and more. To sign up, visit ColoradoClassic.com and click on “volunteer.” If you have questions, contact local organizing committee volunteer chair Mary Quinn at quinbilly@gmail.com.

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