Route set in Aspen, the state for USA Pro Cycling Challenge |

Route set in Aspen, the state for USA Pro Cycling Challenge

ASPEN – The organizers of the inaugural USA Pro Cycling Challenge released details Monday about the stages in the August race and heaped praise on the leg that crosses Independence Pass and ends in Aspen.

The host cities and towns had been previously announced along with general information about some of the routes. Now that summer has arrived, race organizers are trying to generate a buzz about the event by fleshing out details of the routes.

Stage 2, on Wednesday, Aug. 24, will start in Gunnison and end in Aspen, climbing Cottonwood and Independence passes in between. Both are in excess of 12,000 feet in elevation. Pro riders don’t deal with elevations nearly that high in races in Europe.

The race organizers labeled the Gunnison-to-Aspen race the “crown jewel of the seven stages.”

“What’s really remarkable is that the athletes will ride both these passes in one stage,” said Shawn Hunter, co-chairman of the USA Pro Cycling Challenge, in a press release.

The course will start at the intersection of Main and Virginia streets in Gunnison, then ascend 2,740 feet over 13.7 miles to the top of Cottonwood Pass at 12,126 feet.

“In a unique twist, the ascent up Cottonwood Pass is on a dirt road, an extra challenge for these racers’ thin road tires,” the press release said.

After traveling up the Arkansas River Valley, the riders will ascend the 6.5 percent gradient and switchbacks of Independence Pass, which “will certainly separate the true competitors from the peloton,” the press release said. The race organizers took a bit of geographic license with the description of the race course in Aspen.

“After 131 miles, this take-no-prisoners stage ends in downtown Aspen on Main Street at Galena, in the shadow of the Maroon Bells, Colorado’s most photographed mountain peaks,” the organizers said.

Following is a recap of the other stages:

• The first day of racing on Monday, Aug. 22 will be a prologue in Colorado Springs. Riders will descend 5.2 miles out of Garden of the Gods, through Old Town Colorado Springs and into downtown for the finish at Cascade and Colorado streets.

• Stage 1 on Aug. 23 will be a century ride from Salida to Mt. Crested Butte. Riders will make a circuit through downtown Salida before traveling to Mt. Crested Butte via Monarch Pass. They will cross sprint lines, where the leading racer is awarded points, near Gunnison and Crested Butte, then end with a climb to Mt. Crested Butte.

• Stage 2 on Aug. 24 is the grueling race over Cottonwood and Independence passes on a 131-mile route.

• Stage 3 on Aug. 25 will be an individual time trial in Vail. The race course starts in the heart of Vail Village, then climbs 10 miles, ending 3 miles from the summit of Vail Pass.

• Stage 4 on Aug. 26 features a rolling course with 5,000 feet of elevation change from Avon to Steamboat Springs. The course travels 83 miles along Highway 131 through Wolcott and Oak Creek. There are no big climbs or fast descents, but lots of rolling terrain provides opportunities for breakaways.

• Stage 5 on Aug. 27 will take racers 106 miles from Steamboat Springs to Breckenridge. After leaving Steamboat racers will climb the double summits of Rabbit Ears Pass then race along Green Mountain Reservoir. They will wind through Dillon and Keystone and race to the finish line in downtown Breckenridge.

• Stage 6 will conclude the race on Sunday, Aug. 28, with a climb and sprints in Golden and Denver. The race will start in Golden, loop around town and go back through downtown before climbing the steep Lookout Mountain. Racers will descend the same way, negotiating numerous switchbacks, then head back through Golden a third time before en route to Denver. They will make six laps in a 5-mile circuit course along Speer Boulevard before finishing at Civic Center Park.

“I think it’s a good, solid mountain course,” said cycle racing fan Rick Schultz, a business owner in Aspen.

He said he believes it is more challenging than other races in the U.S., including the recently concluded Tour of California, but not as grueling as races in France and Italy. Some mountain stages of the Tour de France take racers over three major passes over 140 or so miles.

Nothing in the U.S. really compares to the incredibly steep passes used in races such as the Tour de France or the Giro d’Italia, Schultz said. On the other hand, the racers never have to deal with passes in Europe as high as they will experience in Colorado, he noted.

The Gunnison-to-Aspen stage stands out in the inaugural race because of all the high-altitude climbing, Schultz said. “That is the big, mean stage,” he said. The time trial in Vail is also intriguing to him because it goes uphill. He plans to watch them both.

Schultz said he doesn’t think Aspenites have fully grasped yet how big the race will be. He traveled to France to catch the tour in 2003 and witnessed how dedicated Europeans are to bike racing. He believes the race will pull in a big crowd of spectators and create a carnival atmosphere with team entourages, media and an expo of advertisers and sponsors. It will be much bigger than when Aspen hosts a stage of World Cup ski racing, he said.

“It’s not the Tour de France but it is a taste of it,” Schultz said.

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