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Epic Saturn Cycling Classic set to roll into Breckenridge

Helen Hill Cospolich

As the sport of cycling grows, boosted by the unchallenged success of individual riders like Lance Armstrong and the nation’s top domestic team sponsored by Saturn, so too does the caliber of American racing. The Saturn Cycling Classic has come to define high quality, challenging racing otherwise unknown to this country.

When the Saturn Cycling Classic rolls into Breckenridge on Saturday afternoon, the riders who remain in the race will have conquered seven difficult passes and four sprint points along the route. Annually, only about one-third of the 100 or so starters finish the Classic, which begins in Boulder and ends in Breckenridge. Teams of five or more elite-level male riders face 14,000 feet of accumulated climbing in 140 miles as they cycle from the plains to the mountains and across the Continental Divide. It takes them more than seven hours to complete the grueling challenge.

“This is really a dramatic event. When you see it on TV, it just looks easy,” said Len Pettyjohn, the mastermind of the Saturn Cycling Classic. “This year we’re really trying to capture the agony, the difficulty and pain these guys are going through. Everyone in the race who finishes knows that, when you’re done, you’ve done something very, very

difficult.”

The race begins with a lead-out start in Boulder at 9:20 a.m. Saturday. Cycling legend Greg LeMond, known for his stage wins in the Tour de France and accomplishments as part of the 7-Eleven team, will be the official starter this year. LeMond will ride in a lead car with the race and help present awards in Breckenridge.

The procession through the city of Boulder resembles a parade until racers get to the southern outskirts of the city and the race officially begins. The attacks start before the first elevation changes in the race, but most – if not all – are caught on the first classified climb

up to Wondervu, a category 2 hill. From there, it’s anybody’s race, as riders come off the front and get pulled back in by the peloton over Golden Gate Road (category 3 climb) and down to the first exciting sprints for points in Black Hawk and Central City. From there, riders make their way to the crest of Oh My God Road and down the harrowing, steep, dirt descent to Idaho Springs. Then it’s to historic Georgetown for sprint points and up and over Guanella Pass, a favorite viewing point among spectators. Guanella is the only Hors Categorie climb of the

race, meaning it is too difficult to be classified.

The next big climb comes at about mile 95 as riders head southwest on Highway 285 after the town of Grant. Kenosha Pass is a category 2 climb, followed by Red Hill Pass, a category 4 climb. Then it’s north through Fairplay for the last sprint points location and to Hoosier Pass and the fast descentinto Breckenridge. Racers circle on Ridge and French Streets before

finally hitting the finish line on Main Street, just in front of the Riverwalk Center.

This year look for the familiar faces of past Saturn Cycling Classic competitors, as well as some newcomers to the race. Both the Saturn and Mercury squads look to be strong, and defending champion Jonathon Vaughters most likely will fight for his title after a shortened Tour de France. Vaughters (Handle Bar and Grill) took second to Scott Moninger (Mercury) at the Mount Evans Hill Climb in Colorado recently. Moninger won the inaugural Classic in 2000, and Vaughters crossed the line first in 2001. Other top riders who will return to the Saturn Cycling Classic this year include Chris Wherry (Mercury), Will Frishkorn (Mercury), Henk Vogels (Mercury), Carl Swenson (Tokyo Joe’s) and Jeremy Horgan-Kobelski (Tokyo Joe’s).

The Prime Alliance and Navigators squads may also field some top competitors, and wild cards always emerge from the lesser-known teams from both the United States and overseas. Pro mountain bikers, including Walker Ferguson and Travis Brown, also look to do well in the Saturn with the varying road and weather conditions working in their favor.

This will be the third year of the Classic, which began as the Zinger – an offshoot of the once-dominant Red Zinger/Coors Classic races in Colorado. Race organizers had history in mind when they created the Saturn Cycling Classic, remembering the excitement surrounding cycling in Colorado in the 1970s and 1980s. And while Pettyjohn admits the hoopla around the Zinger/Coors races may never be duplicated entirely, he has hope for the new epic race that is redefining American cycling.

“Like anything, it takes time for the word to get out,” Pettyjohn said. “Nationally, there’s more interest in the Saturn Cycling Classic every year.”

And the challenge of the course will continue to elevate this competition in the minds of racers and spectators, alike.

“It is, for so many reasons, a lot tougher than any day of the Tour (de France),” Pettyjohn said. “Looking at all conditions – the altitude, possible heat, the road conditions. In the Tour, they don’t ride anything close to Oh My God Road or Guanella Pass. It goes beyond anything in Europe. I don’t know about it being the biggest race in the country, but it’s definitely the hardest.”


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