ASPEN - This year's USA Pro Challenge will start with a 66-mile circuit race between Aspen and Snowmass Village, while the vaunted "Queen Stage" will shift from Cottonwood and Independence passes to one involving Bachelor Gulch outside Beaver Creek.
The 2013 event also will bring back the Vail time trial and add two new cities to the race across Colorado - Loveland and Fort Collins.
While host cities for this year's race were announced previously, details about the route for each leg of the seven-stage event were formally announced Thursday in Denver. The race again will boast a mix of mountain climbs and sprint challenges, including a new route from Steamboat Springs to Beaver Creek.
The Aug. 19 start, featuring three 22-mile laps that take riders on a loop between Aspen and Snowmass, comes as no surprise: The details have been the subject of several discussions as local organizers sought a route that could gain government approval.
Stage 2, on Aug. 20, will take riders over familiar high-country terrain. They'll leave Aspen via 12,095-foot Independence Pass, bound for Breckenridge on a route that takes riders through Buena Vista, Fairplay and Alma before tackling Hoosier Pass from the south en route to Breckenridge.
While Independence Pass has been featured each year since the event began in 2011, this is the first time riders won't cross both Cottonwood and Independence passes in a grueling leg dubbed the "Queen Stage" ending in Aspen. Instead, this year's Queen Stage is the ride from Steamboat to Beaver Creek, with an accent through Bachelor Gulch, according to organizers.
Aspen has secured a stage of the USA Pro Challenge each year since its launch, but hosting the overall start to the weeklong race is significant - not just for the attention it will bring to the resort but from an economic standpoint.
Bill Tomcich, president of local reservations agency Stay Aspen Snowmass, said Thursday that he expects some race officials and competitors to begin arriving as soon as a full week before the race start. In all, more than 1,000 people associated with the race will stay for three days, mainly in Snowmass Village. While host cities must provide many of the race-related accommodations at no charge, Tomcich said he expects Aspen to be packed for the weekend leading up to the race.
"I believe the opening and closing stages are going to be two of the most spectator-friendly stages of the entire week," he said. "I expect it to create an incredibly strong draw for the opening stage."
Aspen lodging typically would be 80 percent full for the weekend before the race, so a sellout for that weekend and Monday night, Aug. 19, is likely, Tomcich said.
"I think people will make a long weekend out of it," he said. "Whether Snowmass sells out remains to be seen."
Racers might show up as much as a week early to begin training at high elevation, Tomcich added. Local bicyclists might encounter some heady competition as they hit the pavement for their usual road rides.
This year's competitors will cover about 600 miles in seven days, starting with the Aspen-Snowmass circuit.
The Stage 1 circuit in Aspen/Snowmass will pack in about 3,000 feet of climbing per lap and start at 7,900 feet in elevation.
"No one will win the 2013 USA Pro Challenge on this opening day, but without a strong start, someone could lose it," organizers said in their summary of the stages.