Eagle County is hosting Stage 4 and Stage 5 of the USA Pro Cycling Challenge next week, on Aug. 22-23, and those are anticipated to be the big stages of this year’s seven-stage race.
“We’ve got pros all over our roads scouting these two stages right now,” said Adam Lueck, Vail Valley Foundation Senior Manager of Operations, when he updated county commissioners about the race on Tuesday. “These two stages in Beaver Creek and Vail are the pivotal stages of the race. The first three stages are anticipated to be ‘pack finishes’ and the first real opportunity for the climbers – the team leaders – to make their mark on this race is going to be Beaver Creek’s finish.”
Lueck said that’s because of a big climb that is new to this year’s course through Beaver Creek.
“The course through Beaver Creek this year is a little different from last year,” Lueck said. “Last year, the riders went straight to the finish line. This year we’re putting the hurt on them a little bit and we’re sending them up over Strawberry Park, up Bachelor Gulch.”
The climb even has an official name – “The Brink.” It entails 5.5 miles with an average grade of 10.3 percent.
“There are certain areas that are around 20 percent,” Lueck said, describing the steep hill racers will be riding near the end of the stage.
“The pros do the section in about 15 minutes and a rider like me takes about 45 minutes,” he said. “This will be the first opportunity in the seven-day race to create any time gaps.”
That sets up the next stage – a time trial from Vail to the top of Vail Pass – to be more interesting.
“The leaders will have to protect any time gap they made in Stage 4,” Lueck said. “Whoever is in the yellow jersey after Vail probably has the win locked up, so all eyes will be on us. It’s going to be a fantastic opportunity to showcase the valley.”
Lueck said at least 128 riders will come into the area during Stage 4, which starts in Steamboat.
“A percentage of them will probably be eliminated in that stage,” he said.
While the rider numbers are easy to forecast, spectator numbers are harder to predict.
“In 2011, there were an estimated 25,000 to 30,000 in Vail, split between Vail Village and up on Vail Pass,” Lueck said. “Last year in Beaver Creek there were about 10,000 to 15,000 and we anticipate hitting a similar mark this year.”
Lueck said the time trial is very spectator friendly, since it is more predictable when the riders pass through certain sections and it allows people to move around and watch different parts of the course during the event.
“The road race is harder to predict for time-frame and traffic closures,” he said. “It depends on things like the wind and weather for how fast the riders will be moving.”
Recent road improvements are likely to make this year’s race even better.
“The paving that the Colorado Department of Transportation did on U.S. Highway 6 is unbelievable,” he said. “A race director came out a couple months ago to scout venues and he didn’t know that Highway 6 had been repaved. He said, ‘This is amazing. It’s going to change the tactics and the times – we’re going to see records broken, the pavement is so smooth.’”
Lueck said the Bachelor Gulch Metro District in Beaver Creek also made improvements by patching over manhole covers on Daybreak Ridge, which will increase safety on the downhill section.
“It’s outstanding that we are securing these international activities,” said Commissioner Sara Fisher. “I encourage people to be patient, kind and grateful we have this unique opportunity.”