Aspen Sprint Challenge lines up cyclists |

Aspen Sprint Challenge lines up cyclists

Dale Strode
The Aspen Times
The pack with Bradley Wiggins of Britain, wearing the overall leader's yellow jersey climbs Col des Ares during the 17th stage of the Tour de France cycling race over 143.5 kilometers (89.2 miles) with start in Bagneres-de-Luchon and finish in Peyragudes, Pyrenees region, France, Thursday July 19, 2012. (AP Photo/Laurent Cipriani)

When it comes to cycling, Aspen takes is challenges seriously.

Here’s another challenge, a local challenge, which will be part of the USA Pro Cycling Challenge and its 2013 launch in Aspen.

The third annual USA Pro Challenge, a seven-stage professional bicycle race around Colorado, will start in the Aspen area this year with the Aspen/Snowmass Circuit Race on Monday, Aug. 19.

Stage 2 also will start in Aspen on Tuesday, Aug. 20, with the cyclists heading over Independence Pass to the finish in Breckenridge.

While the USA Pro Challenge is in Aspen, with the course infrastructure in place, cyclists will have a chance to sprint down Main on the pro course as part of the benefit Aspen Sprint Challenge.

“This really came out of an idea that was generated by the Ajax Cup,” said Aspen’s Pam Alexander, a cycling liaison for the local organizers and the USA Pro Challenge. The Ajax Cup, a team philanthropic event, was a popular fundraiser for the Aspen Valley Ski Club last year.

Steve Johnson, the CEO of USA Cycling, was invited to ski on a team in the Ajax Cup. And it made quite an impression.

“We … talked with Steve about what John Bucksbaum … had done with the Ajax Cup. We said we could do a modified version of the Ajax Cup during the USA Pro Challenge,” Alexander said. “It will be the same concept of getting people who are philanthropic together … to support, in this case, the cycling development program (of USA Cycling) as well as Aspen, Snowmass and the Pro Challenge.”

“The Aspen Sprint Challenge is patterned after the Ajax Cup,” Johnson said in a telephone interview, conducted on Bike to Work Day. “The success of that showed how much fun they are and how great they are for raising money.”

Johnson said the team racing format, with a handicapping factor, creates a fun and entertaining event.

“It’s a short, sprint event … like a giant slalom run. With the handicapping system, it creates a level playing field,” Johnson said. “Put a team together and fight it out for bragging rights.”

Team entry fee for the Aspen Sprint Challenge is $10,000. Individuals may enter for $2,500. They’ll be assigned to a team.

“There will be four-person teams, and we’ll be using the race course that is already set up,” said Nancy Lesley, director of special events and marketing for the City of Aspen. “The fencing, the start/finish, will already be up.”

She said the head-to-head sprint races will take place down Main with handicap seeding rounds on Sunday evening, Aug. 18.

The elimination rounds will be staged Monday, between laps of the USA Pro Challenge’s first stage.

“We’ll have our final championship rounds between laps 2 and 3,” Lesley said. The Aspen/Snowmass Circuit Race will feature three laps for the 128 cyclists scheduled to ride in the 2013 USA Pro Challenge.

“We can use the same infrastructure; we’ll have the same crowd … and we can create a competitive platform for (amateur) cyclists,” Lesley said. “Between laps, it gives everyone something else to do.”

Host communities for the USA Pro Challenge, she said, must meet fundraising obligations as part of the event.

“Fundraising and sponsorship are a big component to this,” she said.

The event also will benefit the USA Cycling Development Foundation and the Aspen/Snowmass Local Organizing Committee.

“The foundation funds our athlete development program,” Johnson said of the USA Cycling stairstep system that helped nurture cyclists like Tejay van Garderen, who recently won the Tour of California for his BMC team.

Van Garderen likely will be one of the favorites at the USA Pro Challenge after two years of podium finishes.

“The foundation drives most of that work,” Johnson said, adding that about 30 cyclists scheduled to race in the USA Pro Challenge came through the USA Cycling development program.

That’s a number supported by $19 million raised over the last 12 years.

Events like the Aspen Sprint Challenge will help USA Cycling forge the next generation of American cyclists, he said.

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