USA Pro Challenge: What to expect: Stage 1 of the 2015 USA Pro Challenge | SteamboatToday.com

USA Pro Challenge: What to expect: Stage 1 of the 2015 USA Pro Challenge

Riders in the 2015 USA Pro Challenge ride on Twentymile road, which will also serve as the path for this year's race.

— Stage 1 of the 2015 USA Pro Challenge will likely feature a fast charge down Oak Creek Canyon, across the Yampa River Valley and into Steamboat Springs for a sprint finish. Here's how fans can expect it to unfold.

Plenty of ceremony
Riders will begin the sign-in ceremony at 10:45 a.m. at the stage at Seventh and Yampa streets. The race will begin rolling at 11:40 a.m., but even then it won't start for several more minutes. Riders will make two laps of downtown, starting west on Lincoln at Sixth, turning right onto 10th, right again onto Oak, and then east on Oak before a right turn on Fourth. They do that twice, then after turning left on 13th, the race will actually begin.

A breakaway at the beginning
Each team has goals, and not every team's goals includes setting up a rider to win the stage, or the entire race. For some teams and riders, getting into a breakaway group can be a part of the day and event strategy, so there will very likely be a collection of like-minded riders who will push the pace early and try to break away from the peloton.

The peloton is likely to let them go, too, unless there's a major contender for the race's general classification championship in the group. The logic behind allowing the escape is, in part, because there is strength in numbers in cycling, and the big group should be able to catch back up to the small group when it's prudent.

Slogging up the hills
The race rolls out of Steamboat on 13th Street and Twentymile Road. The terrain is rolling early but not nearly enough to cause any unplanned breaks in the field. The "Three Witches," a series of hills on the southeast corner of the trail on Twentymile Road near Oak Creek, are a different story.

"They'll do some damage," said Corey Piscopo, an avid cyclist in Steamboat and the founder of the annual Steamboat Stage Race. "Those hills are pretty devastating for us amateurs. The pro teams will have so much power it will be challenging for riders to get away, but people will be suffering."

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A prize, a King of the Mountain points checkpoint, awaits at the top, and that may dictate much of the strategy, from who tries to get away on a break to how seriously the peloton pursues that group.

A coming together
The hills may bring the pain, but they're not close enough to the finish line to alter the outcome. The peloton will turn onto Colorado Highway 131 near Oak Creek, then it's going to fly. Oak Creek Canyon is largely downhill and the open valley meadows, with mostly flat, mostly straight highway to the north, will allow the riders to reach top speed.

It's 12 miles from the end of the canyon to the turn onto Routt County Road 14 (River Road), and any rider or small group that's managed to stay away will almost surely get gobbled up.

A sprint finish
As the peloton screams toward Steamboat Springs, the top teams will already be setting up for the endgame — the sprint finish. They will have their riders grouped at the front, pushing the pace and allowing their sprinter to sit just behind, relaxing and waiting in their wake.

"For a lot of the smaller teams, maybe they will be in the mix — anything can happen — but they probably won't be able to set that kind of pace with the big teams," Piscopo said.

As each rider wears out, his gas spent, he will peel off and drift to the back.

The race's last series of turns takes it up Mount Werner Drive then onto U.S. Highway 40, two miles from the finish. By that point, only one or two riders per team are likely to be at the front leading the sprinter.

The race will storm into downtown, and it will end fast and intense.

To reach Joel Reichenberger, call 970-871-4253, email jreichenberger@SteamboatToday.com or follow him on Twitter @JReich9