USA Pro Challenge route
Stage 1, Aug. 19: Aspen/Snowmass Circuit
Stage 2, Aug. 20: Aspen/Snowmass to Breckenridge
Stage 3, Aug. 21: Breckenridge to Steamboat Springs
Stage 4, Aug. 22: Steamboat Springs to Beaver Creek
Stage 5, Aug. 23: Vail Time Trial
Stage 6, Aug. 24: Loveland to Fort Collins
Stage 7, Aug. 25: Denver circuit
Steamboat Springs The USA Pro Challenge’s 2011 visit to Steamboat Springs was marked by plenty of memorable emotions and moments. There was the intense anticipation as the racers approached, the massive crowd that filled downtown and erupted during the awards ceremony, the meet and greet with world-famous riders in the Meadows Parking Lot the ensuing day and the peloton’s winding tour through town on its way out.
Maybe no moment stood out more than the race’s arrival, a desperate sprint down Lincoln Avenue that featured all the subtlety of a jet airliner landing downtown complete with a speed-induced “whoosh” that left thousands turning to each other mouthing, “wow!”
Fans found out Thursday that they’d better secure their finish-line viewing spot early because that “whoosh” will be back.
Steamboat was announced in December as the host for two stages of the third annual Pro Challenge, and on Thursday, the details of that honor were made clear when the course for the 2013 race was released.
The third stage, Aug. 21, will start in Breckenridge, race up Colorado Highway 9 and finish in downtown Steamboat. The race will begin again the next day in Steamboat, work through town and exit on Twentymile Road before joining Colorado Highway 131 in Oak Creek and proceeding to finish in Beaver Creek.
“Those two days, those were two of my favorite days in Steamboat,” Steamboat Springs cyclist Ben Clark said about the 2011 race. “I loved the energy and watching those guys go for it. I’ll absolutely be downtown again.”
Stage 3, Breckenridge to Steamboat Springs
According to local cycling fans, the route has a lot to like.
Roughly speaking, the course is reversed from the 2011 schedule, but that one big change could alter the nature of the race locally.
One of the highlights in the race’s first Steamboat stint was the second-day climb from town to the top of Rabbit Ears Pass. Fans flocked to the top of that road ahead of the riders. The peloton was strung out by the intensity of the challenge, 3,000 feet of elevation gain along U.S. Highway 40. The riders reached the summit in small groups, and there they found thousands of fans roaring, some running next to the riders while decked head to toe in wild costumes.
“Things were spread out because of the length of that climb,” said Corey Piscopo, an avid local cyclist and director of the Steamboat Stage Race.
“Riders were coming through for about a 10-minute period, so that was really cool,” he said. “I’m sure it will be the same type of scene this year.”
Perhaps, but the climb from the northwest, Steamboat to the summit, is much more steep than the climb from the southeast, Muddy Pass to the summit, reducing the chance of a widely splintered group and making a sprint finish into downtown Steamboat likely.
The stage, 106.1 miles in total, starts at about 9,400 feet in elevation in Breckenridge, climbs only slightly higher over Swan Mountain in the first 10 miles, then descends for the next 45 miles, bottoming out in Kremmling at about 7,400 feet. The climb to the Rabbit Ears summit is gradual, gaining about 750 feet in 30 miles on U.S. Highway 40, then gaining another 1,200 in the next 10 miles. The climb from the other direction is about 3,000 feet in 10 miles.
“That basically turns it into a flat stage, a stage for the sprinters,” Clark said. “That climb up Muddy Pass isn’t very challenging from the south. It should be a good, fast stage.”
The lack of a gear-grinding climb doesn’t mean it has to lack excitement or a big day from a breakaway group.
“There could be some moves on the rollers before they get to Muddy Pass,” Piscopo said. “There could be some team dynamics that could play out, and there could be some pretty hard attacks on that climb.”
Local cyclist J.R. Thompson began studying the course as soon as it was released. He offers customers the chance to shadow the race, riding the same roads often on the same day as the event, through his Steamboat-based Spindle 1 Bike Tours.
He pointed out that if anyone does manage to break away on Rabbit Ears, there’s a much better chance they will stay ahead and win the stage. A year ago, there were huge fractures in the field by the time it reached the top of the pass, but the long flat stretch that followed allowed the riders to come back together for a sprint finish in Breckenridge.
“Someone would only have to hang on for 20 miles,” Thompson said. “I think it will be a similar finish to what it was two years ago, but you never know.”
No matter how they’re spaced out, the dive down from Rabbit Ears Pass to Steamboat Springs should be thrilling. The best racers in the world will have a wide highway all to themselves.
“It should be spectacular,” Piscopo said. “It will be just as exciting.”
Stage 4, Steamboat Springs to Beaver Creek
The second stage will be a 102.9-mile jaunt from Steamboat to Beaver Creek. The end of the stage provides the kind of steep terrain that might allow the race’s strongest climbers to escape, with the course topping out at about 9,200 on Bachelor Gulch within 10 miles of the finish. It’s enough to have earned the “Queen stage” moniker, which is awarded to what’s considered likely to be the deciding stage in a race.
The stage will start on one of the most popular tracks for local road riders.
The peloton will exit Steamboat Springs via Twentymile Road, connecting with Colo. 131 about 28 miles into the ride.
Piscopo said the paved roads and relative seclusion have made it ideal to host the majority of his Steamboat Stage Race stages, and many local cyclists regularly stream up and down the roads.
“That area is definitely some of the most pristine riding around here in a few senses,” Thompson said. “It’s very low on traffic. It has nice roads, and it has amazing scenery, those classic wide open Routt County views.”
The road is marked by rolling hills, enough to leave locals winded but not likely enough to make the pros blink.
“For a guy of my ability, they’re very difficult,” Clark said. “For those guys, I’d call those hills short and punchy. It will be a good place to watch them. There could be a lot of attacks in there.”
The drive south will get even more interesting at State Bridge, where the climbing will get difficult.
“Someone’s going to break away there, and whoever it is, they’ll stay away until the finish,” Thompson said.
From there, the riders will travel to Vail for a Stage 5 time trial, return to the Front Range for a stage winding between Loveland, Estes Park and Fort Collins, then finish the event with the seventh stage Aug. 25 in Denver.
“It’s a great route this year,” Thompson said. “I’m excited for it, for sure.”
USA Pro Challenge 2013 route
To reach Joel Reichenberger, call 970-871-4253 or email jreichenberger@SteamboatToday.com