Pro Challenge routes announced
Steamboat Springs — The USA Pro Challenge cycling stage race will hit some familiar roads in Steamboat Springs. The difference when the race returns to town this August will be that it will hit them more often.
In its third appearance in the race’s five-year history, Steamboat is slated for its role in the spotlight, playing host to the event’s first two stages.
The actual routes of those two stages were announced today in a press conference.
The first stage will be comprised of two laps on Twentymile Road. The second stage will head out of town on U.S. Highway 40 over Rabbit Ears Pass en route, eventually, to Arapahoe Basin.
Stage 1, on Aug. 17, will be comprised of two 49-mile laps. The race will start in town and head southwest, out Twentymile Road, Routt County Road 33, before turning east on Routt County Road 27 to meet up with Colorado Highway 131 just north of Oak Creek. It will follow 131 back to Steamboat, do it all again for a second lap, then finish in Steamboat.
That’s proven a popular route for cycling events. The Pro Challenge rode Twentymile in 2013, during its last visit to Steamboat Springs, as it headed out of town. That summer, the race turned south on 131 instead.
Ride the Rockies events have often used the Twentymile loop, as well.
Stage 2 will give the race its third taste of Rabbit Ears Pass, though only the second the hard way.
In 2013 the race came from the east and descended the pass into Steamboat Springs.
That was the stage for a thrilling finish as German Jens Voigt tried to hold on as a lone breakaway rider, but it’s the easier way to ride it.
In 2011, the race’s first year and its first Steamboat stop, riders went up Rabbit Ears heading out of town, riding to the east. The slope split the peloton early, but the long, gentle stretch of highway beyond toward Kremmling, then Silverthorne, allowed the riders to come back together.
Set for another sprint
For spectators, it all means there will be multiple and fairly predicable chances to see the race zoom by.
The first day will feature some difficult terrain on Twentymile Road and present a challenge for climbers. There will be a King of the Mountain checkpoint near Oak Creek, giving the strongest riders something to shoot for.
The long and mostly flat highway back to Steamboat will provide chase groups plenty of opportunity to catch back up, however, so those waiting in town will most likely be subject to another sprint finish in town.
“A lot of the sprint teams will be working it to have it come together as a sprint,” said Tanner Putt, a pro cyclist with the United Healthcare team who spoke of the course at today’s event.
“There will not be too many opportunities,” he said. “The first day should come down to a sprint unless someone wants to try at the end of the race.”
The second stage, meanwhile, should unfold much like 2011, at least early.
There will likely be breakaway groups trying to gain time going up Rabbit Ears Pass, and there will be another King of the Mountain checkpoint to offer incentive, not to mention a place and a reason for crowds to congregate and cheer. But, the slope is neither long enough nor steep enough to keep the field from eventually coming back together.
Sprint checkpoints in Kremmling and Silverthorne will give teams reason to make that happen sooner rather than later, though a final five-mile climb up Loveland Pass to the day’s finish at Arapahoe Basin will offer one final chance for the strong climbers to split off.
“That will be the first real GC day,” said Putt, referring to opportunity for the top riders to set themselves apart in the overall race “general classification” rankings. “That last climb isn’t too long and maybe not too steep, but climbing up to 11,000 feet, it doesn’t matter how long or how steep it is. It’s tough.”
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