Return of the Classic: Brand-new Colorado Classic pro cycling race in Breck this August | SummitDaily.com

Return of the Classic: Brand-new Colorado Classic pro cycling race in Breck this August

Summit Daily staff report
news@summitdaily.com

After four decades and three pro-level cycling races, Colorado is about to get a race it can call its own.

This August, the brand-new Colorado Classic men's and women's stage race debuts with four days of cycling spread between Colorado Springs, downtown Denver and Breckenridge. First announced in January, the men's race features four stages and will be held Aug. 10-13, with starts and finishes in Colorado Springs, Breckenridge and Denver. Sanctioned by Union Cycliste Internationale and USA Cycling, the men's Colorado Classic promises to feature the sport's top squads, according to a release from event organizers with RPM Events Group. Those teams and individual athletes will be announced in late May or early June — pretty typical for a high-level event. Final course descriptions, including distances and featured mountain passes, will also be announced early this summer.

The women's race will be held on Thursday, Aug. 10, in Colorado Springs and Friday, Aug. 11, in Breckenridge, the release continued. A separate women's criterium, which is not part of the Colorado Classic stage race, will feature pro and amateur riders the evening of Aug. 11 in Denver. Those teams and athletes have already been announced, with an eclectic collection of cyclists from across the nation and world: Alp Cycles Women's Racing Team (Colorado based), Amy D. Foundation Team (Colorado based), Colavita/Bianchi, Cylance Pro Cycling, Sho-Air Twenty20 and six more.

Women, back in the saddle

The women's Colorado Classic races continue a long and proud tradition of pro female cycling in Colorado. It began in the mid-'70s with the Red Zinger Bicycle Classic — considered the largest pro-level women's race in the world at the time — and continued on through the Coors Classic and now-defunct USA Pro Challenge, which added women's time trials and abbreviated races to its seven-stage format in 2014 and 2015.

"I raced in Colorado in 1977 for the first time in the race known as the Red Zinger, which grew into one of the biggest bike races in the world," said Connie Carpenter-Phinney of Boulder, who won the first-ever gold medal in a women's Olympic road race and is married to cycling legend Davis Phinney. "Now, 40 years later, I'm excited to see Colorado once again leading the way forward for men's and women's pro racing."

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In mid-March, organizers announced that the women's Colorado Classic was added to the prestigious USA Cycling Pro Road Tour, which showcases the premier domestic road events in the United States.

"The U.S. has consistently produced women who have won Olympic medals and World Championships," said Sean Petty, women's race director and UCI Road Commission. "I'm proud we get to showcase some of the best riders in the world for two tough days of women's racing in Colorado … The PRT highlights some of the best teams and athletes in our sport and we think not just race fans, but fans of amazing athletes, will be impressed by the caliber of riders and quality of racing they see in August."

The PRT showcases a slew of events, including criteriums, road races, stage races and omniums. Over six months, with races spanning from coast to coast, the PRT will include overall individual and team rankings for men and women, crowning PRT Champions following the 21-event calendar. The PRT features the nation's top road race events, including the Tour of California, and is open to both professional and amateur cyclists.

The amateur angle is another oddity for the Colorado Classic. Unlike the USA Pro Challenge, which struggled to be recognized on the same level as events like the Tour de France, the Classic is touted as a pro-am mashup. After four days of men's racing and two days of women's racing, Colorado Classic organizers hope new faces — and new legends — will emerge.

"The Colorado Classic's commitment to a women's race is important for women's cycling in general, and will serve as a great platform to recruit new participants and fans to the sport," said Laura Charameda, a former pro rider and World Championship winner who serves as the director of competition for the Colorado Classic women's race. "Women's cycling is in a growth phase globally and interest is strong in North America, so we expect a robust response to the women's event in Colorado."

2017 Colorado Classic schedule

Aug. 10 — Stage One: Colorado Springs (men and women)

Aug. 11 — Stage Two: Breckenridge (men)

Aug. 11 — Denver circuit race (women)

Aug. 12 — Stage Three: Denver, start and finish RiNo Art District (men)

Aug. 13 — Stage Four: Denver, start and finish RiNo Art District (men) and closing festivities

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Colorado Classic training wheels

Over the years, Colorado has played host to its fair share of pro-level cycling tours, and it’s no wonder: Colorado is a breeding grounds for two-wheeled talent, from Boulder to Colorado Springs to every mountain pass in between. Each of the following three races fizzled out for one reason or another, but they all shared one thing in common: stunning courses along the state’s dizzying high-alpine roads.

Red Zinger Bicycle Classic (1975-1979)

The Red Zinger was the state’s first official pro-level stage race, but that’s not why the name lives on today. It was also one of the first professional stage races to feature male and female events, with U.S. cyclist John Howard winning the first men’s title and fellow American Hannah North taking the women’s title. Colorado transplant Connie Carpenter-Phinney, who is now heavily involved in the Colorado Classic with her husband, legendary pro Davis Phinney, won the women’s title in 1977. As legend has it (via Wikipedia), the race’s PR director sold the concept rights for $1 to Mo Siegel, co-founder of Boulder’s Celestial Seasonings, who then turned it into…

Coors International Bicycle Classic (1980-1988)

When Siegel brought the burgeoning Red Zinger to Coors, the Golden-based beer baron turned it into one of the biggest stage races in the nation at the time, and by far the biggest pro-am and women’s race in the world. It ballooned from four or five stages to 10 or more, with two weeks of racing on courses that led through the mountains and valleys of Colorado, Nevada, California, Wyoming and, in one odd turn, Hawaii. Greg LeMond, the first American to win the Tour de France, holds the Coors Classic record with two wins (1981, 1985), while the Nederland’s Keetie van Oosten-Hage and France’s Jeannie Longo are tied for women’s titles with three apiece.

USA Pro Challenge (2011-2015)

This one was nearly doomed from the start. After nearly two decades with no pro-level cycling, the USA Pro Challenge debuted in 2011 as the Quizno’s Pro Challenge with Lance Armstrong of all people as a backer. By the first race in 2011 it was known as the USA Pro Cycling Challenge, and then organizers finally settled on USA Pro Challenge from 2012 to the final event in 2015. This one was all about lung-burning stages held in the high alpine, from the debut Vail Pass time trial in 2011 (also shared by the Coors Classic) to the first-and-only mountain-stage finish at Arapahoe Basin in 2015. The USA Pro Challenge regularly drew some of the world’s best — Americans Levi Leipheimer, Tejay van Garderen and Christian Vande-Velde all won overall titles — but the event’s early naming woes were a harbinger of things to come when it failed to perform as promised (financially, at least) and died before 2016.

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