ASPEN - The best professional female cyclists in the U.S. will return to Aspen and Snowmass Village next month for a three-stage race that overlaps with the men's USA Pro Cycling Challenge.
The women's race has been renamed the Blue Ribbon Alpine Challenge after title sponsor Bromberg Bros. Blue Ribbon Restaurants. The women will begin Aug. 20, with a prologue time trial that climbs nine miles to the Maroon Bells.
Stage 2 is a 35-mile circuit race around Snowmass Village.
Stage 3 is a criterium on an Aspen course that showcases the women to thousands of fans that will be gathering for the men's race that will be finishing in Aspen that same day.
Race organizer Jessica Phillips said she is hopeful that Kristin Armstrong will be among the racers. Armstrong is a mom and former Olympic gold medalist who is competing in the road race and time trial in the London Olympics this year.
"I truly believe she will bring home the gold medal," Phillips said.
Armstrong is focused on the Olympics, so she hasn't committed yet to any races after the games. Her presence would provide a big boost to the Blue Ribbon Alpine Challenge at a time when Phillips needs one.
Phillips, an accomplished pro cyclist herself, is taking this season off to concentrate on organizing the Aspen-Snowmass Village races. The required effort is equivalent to any climb or sprint she endured during her racing days. And the frustration of being a race organizer exceeds what she experienced as a racer.
Phillips said she tried to get other Colorado towns and resorts hosting men's races interested in hosting women's races so more stages are possible. Most towns seem so overwhelmed hosting the men's races that they are unwilling to take on extra effort, she said. In some cases, they don't understand why the women's races are being presented at the same time as the men's.
The organizers of the USA Pro Cycling Challenge also have been somewhat reluctant to embrace women's racing, according to Phillips. She doesn't understand the reasoning.
"It doesn't compete against the men's race," she said.
Phillips knows firsthand that many of the men racing in the international field of the USA Pro Cycling Challenge enjoy it when the women's races coincide with their stages. Phillips is married to Tejay van Garderen, a top U.S. racer who is competing for the "best young rider" jersey in the Tour de France. Phillips said many of the male riders she has met have expressed support for women's racing.
The Blue Ribbon Alpine Challenge attracts the top teams and many of the top riders in the nation. Phillips expects about 40 riders. There were 38 last year.
"To get top teams and top riders from Europe, you need more than three stages," Phillips said. They cannot justify the travel expenses for short races.
The women's races also have a tougher time than the men's races to attract spectators and sponsors. Despite the hurdles, Phillips is convinced her team has put together a good event. "Everything's put together better this year," she said.
The criterium was very popular last year and once again will take advantage of the crowds gathering Wednesday for the men's race. The circuit race at Snowmass Village will move from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday to make it more fan-friendly.
More information on the race is available on the official website at www.aspenwomensprorace.com/.