Colorado Classic race set to hit Vail streets with first stage on Thursday | AspenTimes.com

Colorado Classic race set to hit Vail streets with first stage on Thursday

John LaConte
Vail Daily

VAIL — It's true, Vail will probably never find another cycling event like the Coors Classic.

But the Colorado Classic, which Vail has signed a three-year deal with, is the town's best shot.

The event arrives Thursday and will shut down a large part of the town. The Lionshead Village parking structure will be unavailable — for entry and exit — between 9 a.m. and 3 p.m., and the East Vail exits on Interstate 70 will be completely closed on Friday, along with dozens of other roads in town.

For cycling fans, that's a good thing, as it's all in an effort to bring back that Coors Classic vibe.

At this point you may be asking two questions: What's the difference between this race and other major cycling events to hit Vail, and why do they need to close so many roads?

Those questions can be answered with one response — Vail. Circuit. Race. (Baby).

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"A circuit route through the village, along with music, expos and other engaging activities, are all key components into why I think the Colorado Classic is going to be a great success this year and for many years to come," said Vail Mayor Dave Chapin.

VAIL CIRCUIT RACE

While many other iterations of professional cycling in Vail have included the iconic time trial up Vail Pass, none have went so far as to bring back the Vail Circuit Race.

The Vail Circuit Race created an atmosphere Eagle-Vail resident Stephen Lloyd Wood remembers well, as he participated in the Coors Classic in Vail as a former professional cyclist and national champion.

"The event overall was a phenomenon," Wood said of the Coors Classic. "It was among the biggest and best in the world by many measures."

In the circuit race, Wood remembers an electric atmosphere, and a hellacious course.

"The hills were a factor, both the climbs and the descents," he said. "It will favor someone who has a lot of power and can recover quickly over and over again. It will be fun to watch, for sure."

Thursday’s Colorado Classic stage will be very similar to that race Wood remembers so well. It will take riders through an 8.8-mile loop around Vail, starting at Mountain Plaza near the bottom of Gondola One, up a dirt climb on Vail Mountain heading toward the bottom of the Bear Tree run on Mill Creek Road. From there, the riders cross onto Forest Road until it intersects with the South Frontage Road west of Lionshead Village.

They'll continue on South Frontage Road past Donovan Park into West Vail, looping around on Gore Creek Drive in the Matterhorn neighborhood, back onto South Frontage Road where they'll head east into Lionshead Village.

They'll pass the Lionshead Village parking structure, turn right on Vail Road, turn left on Meadow Drive where they'll ride right past Solaris and the back side of the Vail Transportation Center before getting back onto South Frontage Road and heading out to the Vail Golf Club.

They'll turn right on Vail Valley Drive, where they begin heading east again into Vail Village, using Vail Valley Drive to go past Golden Peak back to Mountain Plaza again to do it all over. The men will perform this loop eight times, while the women will do four loops.

FRIDAY TIME TRIAL

With so much excitement surrounding the Vail Circuit Race, it's easy to forget that the classic Vail Time Trial will also be taking place as Stage 2 of the Colorado Classic on Friday.

Born out of the Coors Classic and its predecessor, the Red Zinger, the Vail Time Trial became an iconic course, ridden by legendary cyclists such as Greg LeMond and Bernard Hinault back in the '80s.

For many years, the course record of 26:33 was held by Andy Hampsten, who set that time in 1987 at the Coors Classic.

A new record was set at the Mountain Games by Chris Baldwin, who rode it in 26:29, before Tejay van Garderen set the new record at the USA Pro Challenge in 2014, riding the course in 24:26.

Most recently, at the GoPro Mountain Games, Jelly Belly Professional Cycling Team rider Keegan Swirbul rode to victory in the tough race up Vail Pass, blazing the course in 26:53. Swirbul said that race would be a good tune up for the Colorado Classic.

"It was good to see how to ride this course again," he said.

In fairness, the time trial will start at Mountain Plaza, so times may not be comparable, but the stage is set.

Spectators are encouraged to line the trail at Vail Pass and encourage the riders on as they attempt to set a new record.

WHO TO CHEER FOR

Swirbul is from Aspen and will be a good rider to cheer on. The only true local with a shot of competing in the Colorado Classic, however, is Eagle-Vail native Cristhian Ravelo, who rides for new Colorado cycling team The 303 Project.

The 303 Project just began racing in 2017 and made a big splash when it punched above its weight class as a domestic elite squad. Domestic elite teams are not professional, but can race in pro races. Racers from The 303 Project, aided by Ravelo, were regulars in the pack at some of the difficult races around the country.

As a result, the team made it into the continental professional designation for this season, and started the season off strong by claiming top 10s in all five stages of the Tour of the Gila in New Mexico from April 18-22.

They received entries into the coveted Tour of Utah and Colorado Classic, where six of the team's 14 members will race.

Ravelo is a domestique who helped many of The 303 Project riders achieve their impressive results in their debut season. He raced in the Tour of Utah — the first rider to take on the time trial on Aug. 6 — and said it's unlikely that he would also receive a spot on The 303 Project's Colorado Classic roster.

"But you never know, anything can happen in cycling, that's for sure," he said. "Either way, The 303 Project is my team and I'm really hoping all the locals who have supported me so much will continue to show that love and support by cheering as loud as they can for The 303 Project at the Colorado Classic."

jlaconte@vaildaily.com