The men and women of Optum Pro Cycling presented by Kelly Benefit Strategies begin their final preparations for Colorado’s USA Pro Challenge, the final leg of the “Big Three” of American stage racing. The 7-day UCI 2.HC ranked men’s race, kicking off in Steamboat Springs, will be joined for the first time with a women’s stage race, a 3-day event coinciding with the final three days of racing.
The Pro Challenge expands on its one-day women’s race in 2015 with the 3-day race, beginning with an individual time trial in Beckenridge. A road race from Breckenridge to Fort Collins and a criterium in downtown Golden will round out the inaugural Women’s USA Pro Challenge. Top international talent will help usher in a new era of women’s stage racing in Colorado, which has stayed dormant since the Coors Classic of the 1980s. It is the first time in 27 years the top men’s and women’s teams in the world will share the same roads in Colorado.
“The expansion of women’s cycling on American soil is overdue, and a women’s race at the USA Pro Challenge is certainly a key piece of that,” said Performance Director Patrick McCarty. “We are excited to bring a team with riders that has collected some serious experience on the European circuit in recent months, as well as Colorado residents like Amy Charity and Maura Kinsella. The three courses they have designed cater to a diverse skill set, and the athletes we are bringing have the ability to sprint, climb and time trial with the best in the world.”
The seven-day men’s race revisits many of classic mountain towns that have made the USA Pro Challenge one of the most beautiful high-altitude stage races on American soil. Beginning with a circuit race in Steamboat Springs and finishing, as always, in downtown Denver, the mostly mountainous route will be bookended by these two likely chances for the sprinters. The men will hope to continue on the incredible momentum they established at the Tour of Utah one week earlier, where they won two stages (Eric Young, Stage 4; Mike Woods, Stage 5), finished 2nd once (Mike Woods, Stage 6), and delivered Woods to 2nd on the general classification. It was the team’s greatest performance ever at a UCI 2.HC ranked race, and Performance Director Jonas Carney brings a similarly well-rounded roster – leadout focused, with two key climbers in Phil Gaimon and Will Routley.
“Our Colorado roster is similar to the one we brought to Utah, for obvious reasons,” said Carney. “We are bringing the core of our leadout train, bolstered by some all-rounders in Ryan Anderson and Guillaume Boivin. With the courses this year, we expect to see field sprints, but also reduced bunch sprints for the sprinters who can also go uphill fast. On the climbing side, we hope to set up Gaimon as much as possible for the big summit stages, with Routley and Tom Zirbel there to help Gaimon get positioned when he needs to be.”
The men’s race begins on August 17 in Steamboat Springs, and the women’s peloton will join in Breckenridge on August 21, following a similar route through Loveland, Fort Collins, and Golden. The race will be televised live on NBC Sports Network and Tour Tracker.
Stage 1 | Steamboat Springs | 156 km
Stage 2 | Steamboat Springs to Arapahoe Basin | 186 km
Stage 3 | Copper Mountain – Aspen | 163 km
Stage 4 | Aspen to Breckenridge | 203 km
Stage 5 | Breckenridge ITT | 13.6 km
Stage 6 | Loveland to Fort Collins | 165 km
Stage 7 | Golden to Denver | 110 km
Stage 1 | Breckenridge ITT | 13.6 km
Stage 2 | Loveland to Fort Collins | 93 km
Stage 3 | Golden Criterium | 2.25 km, 60 minutes plus 3 laps