USA Pro Challenge organizers held a news conference Tuesday in Denver to announce the cycling race’s 2014 route.
“Every year we strive to create a route that will challenge the riders in new ways, give spectators more opportunities to see some of the toughest athletes in the world and highlight new parts of Colorado,” Shawn Hunter, CEO of the USA Pro Challenge, said. “I can’t wait for version number four.”
This year’s seven-stage race (Aug. 18-24) will once again include stops in Breckenridge, Vail, Aspen and Denver, with additional stops in Crested Butte, Gunnison, Woodland Park and Colorado Springs. The race will also return to Boulder — after a year’s hiatus — for the start of the final stage on day seven. In addition to the host sites, riders will also pass through Golden, Salida, Snowmass and Fairplay.
The 2014 route will include a number of popular features from years past including the Vail Time Trial, the Aspen Circuit Course and a trip over Hoosier Pass for a finish in Breck. New this year, the route will include its first mountaintop finish, with Stage 3 concluding at Monarch Mountain after a trip over Monarch Pass.
Australian cyclist and Boulder resident Ben Day of the UnitedHealthcare team was at Tuesday’s news conference and commented on the course. “I’m still looking for the easy stage,” he said, laughing, after the route was introduced. “I think I’m going to start my diet tomorrow.”
As in years past,the race is expected to draw many of the top riders in the world of pro cycling.
“If you talk to the riders from across the world, they want to come here,” Day said. “It’s an amazing race, the spectators are incredible.”
In a news release from Pro Challenge organizers, last year’s winner, Tejay van Garderen of Aspen, said, “It looks to be the most challenging course yet.”
The 550-mile course will again start in Aspen and finish in Denver. Here’s a quick preview of each stage:
Stage 1: Aspen Circuit Race
With the popularity of the 2013 start in Aspen, Pro Challenge organizers decided to once again start the race with the Aspen/Snowmass circuit course. Those who arrive just prior to the race will have little opportunity to acclimatize, with the route beginning at 7,900 feet. Riders will start in downtown Aspen and run a three-lap, 65-mile course between Aspen and Snowmass Village. Each lap will include 2,300 feet of climbing. The course includes two sprints in downtown Aspen and king of the mountain (KOM) climbs near Snowmass Village and on McClain Flats.
Stage 2: Aspen to Crested Butte
Day two will see a start in Aspen again this year. But instead of heading over Independence Pass to Breckenridge as they did last year, riders will head through Aspen Valley on their way to a Stage 2 finish in Crested Butte. After passing through Basalt and Carbondale riders will have to tackle big climbs over 8,700-foot McClure and 9,900-foot Kebler Pass. Between the two passes riders will have to tackle a challenging 20-mile stretch that alternates between dirt and pavement.
Day two concludes by revisiting sprints through downtown Crested Butte and a climb to the finish up to Mount Crested Butte, similar to the 2011 and 2012 courses.
Stage 3: Gunnison to Monarch Mountain
After Stage 2 riders will skip to a Stage 3 start in Gunnison and face what may end up being the toughest section. This stage will include the first mountaintop finish in the race’s history at Monarch Mountain (10,800 feet). Riders will start in Gunnison, then contend with a substantial climb over 11,300-foot Monarch Pass. From there riders descend into Salida, then loop back to the finish at the ski area.
Stage 4: Colorado Springs Circuit Race
Riders will again be shuttled from the stage finish on the previous day to the start of Stage 4. The fourth day of racing will be a circuit race through Colorado Springs. After a start at the Broadmoor, riders will connect to a 16-mile circuit course that they will run four times. The course presents challenging climbs through the Garden of the Gods, and on Mesa and Ridge roads, the latter of which includes nearly 17 percent grades.
Stage 5: Woodland Park to Breckenridge
Stage 5 will kick off north of Colorado Springs at Woodland Park and finish in downtown Breckenridge. The course runs from first-time host site Woodland Park through scenic portions of Pike National Forest on recently paved Tarryall Road. From there the peloton will head toward Fairplay and start the long climb up 11,500-foot Hoosier Pass — the highest point along the entire seven-stage route. The finish in Breckenridge will again include a steep climb up Moonstone Road. Stage 5 will also include a sprint in Fairplay and KOM climbs on Hoosier and Boreas passes. This stage will give Breckenridge a much later, and potentially difference-making, phase of the race. Last year the town hosted a Stage 2 finish and Stage 3 start.
Stage 6: Vail Individual Time Trial
Vail will again host its now infamous time trial. Last year, four seconds separated stage winner Tejay van Garderen of Aspen and Boulder’s Tom Danielson during the trial. Riders will race individually from a starting line in Vail, then head straight up Vail Pass to the finish line. The 10-mile time-trial course will include a 1,500-foot elevation gain.
Stage 7: Boulder to Denver
For the final stage, riders will race along the Front Range from Boulder to Denver, passing through Golden en route to the finish line. After a series of rolling hills on the way to Golden, riders will face a 4-mile climb up Lookout Mountain. The peloton will then return through Golden on its way to Denver. Before the finish line, racers will face a shortened version of last year’s Stage 7 circuit in downtown Denver.