Colorado Classic the only race of its kind in western hemisphere
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — Pro women cyclists have less than half the opportunities to compete in stage races than men pro cyclists.
Pro women don’t make nearly as much money as pro men cyclists, and when a woman wins a race, she doesn’t earn anywhere near the same amount as a man who won a similar race.
The Colorado Classic wants to change that.
The 2019 version of the four-stage race will only feature female riders and begins in Steamboat Springs on Thursday, Aug. 22. When the race was created in 2017, there were four men’s stages and two women’s stages and in 2018, both men and women had four stages.
“As we looked at 2019 and thought what the Colorado Classic was going to look like in the upcoming year, we really kept coming back to this: What if we just did a women’s race? What if we dropped men and only focused on women?” said Lucy Diaz, COO of RPM Events Group, which puts on the race. “In previous years, while we did have women’s racing, it was really a plus-one to the men’s sport.”
What’s more, the entire race will be broadcasted. While there have been large gains in the number of pro women’s races that are aired, there are still more men’s races making it to a screen. Since the sport is very much sponsor-driven, exposure and broadcasts greatly help the riders, teams and events succeed.
What’s more, the Colorado Classic has a massive prize purse of $75,000, more than the $70,000 awarded to the men last summer and far more than the $30,000 handed out to the women in previous races. The Classic also puts riders up in conveniently located hotels and supports their travel between stages.
Diaz said she hopes the Classic can serve as inspiration for other races that want to better support women cyclists.
“We want to continue to develop and grow our event, hopefully in a way in which others can look at and say, ‘Those are the elements of success. Those are the elements of the event that will ultimately drive success and women’s racing,’” Diaz said. “Particularly with women’s races, they’re not being televised, whereas the men’s are. If there’s a two-week men’s tour, there’s four days for women. There’s not really this sense of an even playing field as it relates to opportunity, not even on the financial side.”
Another addition to the race this year is the fact it earned a 2.1 class designation on the Union Cycliste Internationale — UCI — calendar, making it the only 2.1 race in the Western Hemisphere and just one of 13 in the world.
The class rating doesn’t actually change anything, but it’s a big deal for the riders. The more points a cyclist earns by the end of the year, the more athletes her country can send to the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo.
The designation also helps draw top talent, including defending champion Katie Hall and Australian Brodie Chapman, who won the women’s 140-mile race at SBT GRVL this past weekend in Steamboat.
At 11:30 a.m. Thursday, the pack of nearly 100 riders will take off, heading south to Stagecoach Lake. The field is comprised of 16 teams, seven being UCI elite teams.
The Steamboat Stage features 53.2 miles of pavement and gravel roads. The route includes one sprint and two climbs, which spectators may want to stake out and watch as cyclists battle for the coveted Queen of the Mountain and Sprint Leader jerseys.
“The course that our team put together for stage one, it’s aggressive,” Diaz said. “There’s sprints and climbs and gravel. There’s technical elements to it.
“That’s one of the things we were paying attention to,” Diaz explained. “This isn’t, for lack of a better term, a patronizing little loop that the athletes will do. This is hardcore. This is real. This is for serious, professional riders, and Steamboat really played into that well.”
There are no permanent road closures, but expect delays as the race passes.
From 10 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. there will be a Bike and Lifestyle Expo at the Meadows Parking Lot. Spectators can pop by the Smartwool tent to pick up a free cowbell to cheer riders on to the finish line, which is also at the Meadows lot.
Upon finishing, six jerseys will be awarded, including Overall Leader, Best Young Rider (younger than 25), Most Inspirational Rider and Most Badass Rider.
The tour will continue into Avon and Golden before concluding in Denver on Sunday, Aug. 25.
“I think there’s some great momentum behind the sport right now,” Diaz said. “With women’s cycling, there’s still quite a ways to go, but I think there’s opportunities for the sport to continue to ride that momentum and bring that momentum.”
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