Colorado Classic: Americans John Murphy, Jenn Valenta lead pack after Stage 1 through Garden of the Gods |

Colorado Classic: Americans John Murphy, Jenn Valenta lead pack after Stage 1 through Garden of the Gods

Cyclists race through the Garden of the Gods during the women's race of the first stage of the inaugural Colorado Classic bike race on August 10, 2017 in Colorado Springs, Colorado. The race was a total of 38.4 miles with two laps going through the Garden of the Gods and finishing on Tejon Street in downtown Colorado Springs.
Helen H. Richardson, The Denver Post / Special to the Daily | THE DENVER POST

COLORADO SPRINGS — Sun, hail, redline sprints and hometown heroes were the name of the game at the opening stage of the brand-new Colorado Classic, with Colorado’s Jenn Valente of Team Sho-Air Twenty 20 snagging the women’s overall lead and John Murphy of Holowesko/Citadel Racing sprinting down the stretch to capture the overall race leader jersey for the men.

Stage 1 was hosted on a 15.5-mile circuit course from downtown Colorado Springs to the Garden of the Gods and back. The route featured a harsh hill climb up Ridge Road, followed by a dramatic descent for both the men’s and women’s races, according to a post-race release from race officials.

On the men’s side, weather played a huge role in the final two laps, as riders battled thunderstorms and small hail for a good portion of their contest.

Unable to see through his glasses following the downpour, Murphy said teammates Joe Lewis and Bryon Miguel guided him through the field to the finishing sprint down the final 500 meters of the course.

“It was a perfect lead out — textbook — and I was super happy to be able to go all the way to the finish,” said Murphy, who has the distinction of being the last man to win a stage of the now-defunct USA Pro Challenge with a victory in Denver in 2015. He also won on a stage of the Tour of Utah last week and wasn’t sure to what he could ascribe his newfound success.

“Dad strength? We had our first son in September of last year,” Murphy quipped, before crediting the “freedom” provided racers on his team. “We’re a little less afraid to take chances and do some cool stuff.”

Second-place finisher Travis McCabe (UnitedHealthCare) couldn’t quite close the gap on Murphy at the line. “It’s a long finish, so you really have to be patient and wait to go,” he said. “It was a drag race to the finish, and he was the faster rider today.”

Beyond the thrilling sprint, the day may be best remembered for the afternoon storms that sent many spectators running for cover while riders completed the final lap.

“Once the storm hit, it was just survival mode for most of the guys,” said McCabe.

Phinney named ‘most aggressive’

The most aggressive rider jersey went to Colorado’s Taylor Phinney (Cannondale-Drapac), who headed out on a breakaway on the fifth lap before being reeled in by the field on the sixth and final lap.

“After the fourth lap I talked with Kiel (Reijnen) from Trek-Segafredo and we were going up the climb relatively steady, and we wanted to up the pace a bit and inject something into the race,” Phinney said. “We brought back the breakaway, a group of 15 riders, and once we caught them just on the bottom of the descent I felt the calling and went for it. I thought I might have a couple companions, but was solo-dolo.”

Phinney said he was a bit surprised by the action on day one.

“Given the new format … I expected more of an aggressive race all day, but it was pretty controlled,” he said.

The men’s race consisted of six laps, with each lap averaging 15.58 miles for a total of 93.5 miles traveled in the first stage. Each men’s circuit kicked off on Colorado Avenue, with cyclists continuing on to Pikes Peak Avenue and then hitting the steep climb up Ridge Road. The cyclists then descended down Juniper Way Loop through scenic Garden of the Gods before cycling back to Colorado Avenue to start another lap. The total elevation climbed for Stage 1 totaled 5,943 feet.

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