ASPEN - Few locals were thinking about bike racing Wednesday morning in Aspen, with up to 10 inches of fresh snow on the slopes and more coming down, but USA Pro Challenge officials, holed up at the resort's Little Nell hotel, revealed Aspen will host the opening leg of the 2013 USA Pro Challenge.
The pro cycling race will hit eight Colorado cities with its third edition, starting in Aspen on Aug. 19 with an Aspen-Snowmass circuit and ending in Denver on Aug. 25. Aspen has been part of the tour every year since the event's debut. In 2012, Aspen hosted both a finish and a start. Next year, the USA Pro Challenge will begin in Aspen with circuit racing. The following day, competitors will depart Aspen for Breckenridge via Independence Pass.
Also in 2013, the race make its debut in Fort Collins and Loveland, while bringing many of the world's top riders back to cities like Steamboat Springs, Vail and Denver. Next year will be the first time, though, that riders aren't forced to tackle the daunting "Queen Stage." For the past two years, it has taken competitors over both Cottonwood and Independence passes en route to Aspen.
The host cities and stages of the 2013 USA Pro Challenge are: Monday, Aug. 19 (Stage 1) - Aspen/Snowmass circuit; Tuesday, Aug. 20 (Stage 2) - Aspen to Breckenridge; Wednesday, Aug. 21 (Stage 3) - Breckenridge to Steamboat Springs; Thursday, Aug. 22 (Stage 4) - Steamboat Springs to Beaver Creek; Friday, Aug. 23 (Stage 5) - Vail time trial; Saturday, Aug. 24 (Stage 6) - Loveland to Fort Collins; and Sunday, Aug. 25 (Stage 7) - Denver circuit.
"Riders now know that there is no race in America like the USA Pro Challenge, and these host cities help ensure cycling's world stage returns to Colorado for seven days of grueling competition," said Shawn Hunter, CEO and co-chairman of the USA Pro Challenge, in a statement accompanying Wednesday's announcement. "Each of these communities will be on an international stage as we partner with them to ensure the USA Pro Challenge takes its place as America's greatest race."
A number of criteria were taken into consideration when evaluating potential host cities, including city support, according to organizers. The race also considered commitments in the areas of lodging, volunteer recruitment, marketing and local tourism, as well as an ability to host world-class athletes and promote the state of Colorado.
The two previous winners of the Pro Challenge were Levi Leipheimer in 2011 and Christian Vandevelde in 2012.
"When you combine the high-altitude climbs, the enthusiasm of the crowds and the level of competition, the USA Pro Challenge is one of my favorite race weeks," said Vandevelde in a prepared statement.
See Thursday's Aspen Times for more on Wednesday's announcement.