Colorado Classic Q&A: Taylor Shelden, Breckenridge native and Jelly Belly cycling pro
2017 Colorado Classic
What: The inaugural year for a unique type of pro cycling tour, featuring spectator-friendly circuit races in Colorado Springs, Breckenridge and Denver before a tour-ending out-and-back race
When: Thursday through Sunday, Aug. 10-13
Where: Various locations
Cost: Free for spectators
Breckenridge is the second stage of a four-stage men’s race and two-stage women’s race. The entire event is free for spectators, but VIP tickets, the Denver Velorama festival and other paid options are available. For more info, including tickets, see ColoradoClassic.com.
Colorado Classic etc.
Hungry for more info on the Colorado Classic? Browse our past coverage before the event debuts Aug. 10-13, with a men’s and women’s circuit in Breckenridge on Aug. 11.
Taylor Shelden has come thousands of miles since his first bike race as a teenager. Literally — thousands.
For the past eight years, the 30-year-old Breckenridge native has been fighting his way into the upper echelons of professional road cycling. He’s traveled the world with his current team, Jelly Belly Cycling Team, to race against his generation’s best in iconic locales — Tour of Utah, Tour of California, the Cascade Classic, all across Asia and Europe — but it all started with mountain biking in the one, the only: the Fall Classic, a storied race held on trails in his backyard.
Thousands of miles on dirt and road later, at the now-defunct USA Pro Challenge in 2015, Shelden made his hometown debut racing on routes he knew like the back of his hand. The signature stage that season was a brutal 8.5-mile time trial up and over Moonstone Road — a Category 3 climb that serves as the near-apex of this year’s debut Colorado Classic. Every winter and on mid-season breaks, he returns home for fat-bike races between indoor trainer sessions, and yet he somehow still finds time for family, friends and making the podium at the Firecracker 50 mountain bike race, like he did this year on July 4.
“He did not take an easy road, but he understood how to handle his athletics,” said Dave Stewart, who was Shelden’s Nordic ski coach when he raced Division I for the University of Denver while balancing a degree and burgeoning cycling career. “Growing up in Breckenridge, he had a passion to get outside, run around the woods, bike around the roads in summer and ski on the hills in winter. It was an intrinsic thing for him, not about the results on the page.”
Just two short seasons and another thousand or so miles later, Shelden believes he’s older, wiser and smarter than in 2015. He broke his collar in a freak accident at this year’s Tour of California in mid-May, but he’s back in top form and ready for 10 lung-busting laps against megastars like Taylor Phinney, Rigoberto Uran and Brent Bookwalter. Shelden’s secret weapon: patience, not to mention lungs born and bred at 9,600 feet.
“I’ve also become more confident in my abilities,” Shelden said a few days before the start of the Colorado Classic, which comes to Breckenridge for men’s and women’s circuit races on Aug. 11. “I would say I now take a more relaxed approach to everything, but I focus really hard when I need to focus.”
Between stage 3 and stage 4 at Tour of Utah — just about every major team at the Colorado Classic was racing in Utah a few days before the Breck stage — the Summit Daily sports desk talked with Shelden to hear more about his career since the Pro Challenge, the fat biking and road cycling balancing act, and why it’s always a treat to compete on home asphalt.
Summit Daily News: You’re currently riding in the Tour of Utah. How was today’s time trial (on Aug. 2)?
Taylor Shelden: It went pretty good. One of our guys, Serghei Tvetchov, took second in the time trail and he currently sits at third overall. This is my fifth or sixth time riding this race and they like challenging the riders here with lots of climbing. It might not be as high as Summit Ciounty and Colorado, but it can get up there. Definitely a tough race.
SDN: How’s the season as a whole been going for you?
TS: For me personally and the team, this season has been going well. We started nicely at Redlands in California to start the year, then we went to Tour of California. That went well for us, but unfortunately I broke my collarbone there. That set me back a little bit. Other than that, the team has been riding well. The team won this race (Tour of Utah) last year with Lachlan Morton, so we came back this year to defend and try to win again.
SDN: I didn’t know about the collarbone. What happened?
TS: I just crashed on the second stage at Tour of California. I hit a weird pothole or something like that near the end of the stage and broke it real good. It took me about a week of nothing at all, just lying on the couch in a comfortable spot if I could find it, and then another two weeks on the trainer before I could go outside. Once I was at the five-week mark, I was free to do anything I wanted — mountain biking, road, anything.
SDN: How does an injury like that impact your season?
TS: I missed all of the races in June, which were a couple good races in Canada that play to my style. I also missed the U.S. pro national time trial. I was back training in July and since then everything has come back pretty well.
SDN: The Colorado Classic is your return to pro road racing in your hometown, but you do plenty of local fat bike and mountain bike races. At this point in your career, to you prefer one style over the others?
TS: Honestly, the more the merrier. In Breckenridge you obviously can’t do a lot of mountain biking or road biking in the winter, so being able to ride the fat bike all winter is great, getting those workouts outside. It’s much more enjoyable than being on the trainer inside. I like to combo mountain and road in the summer. You can’t really ask for more than that.
SDN: What’s the most exciting part about returning home to compete?
TS: I definitely like the stage format, getting to race in front of a home crowd all over again. Racing in Colorado at this level is pretty awesome, but to have it in my backyard — it goes like 100 feet from my house — it will be great. I was riding it a lot this summer, scoping it out, so hopefully the home-turf advantage works out in my favor.
SDN: What’s the most intimidating part about returning to Breck?
TS: Doing it 10 times is going to be very different. It’s going to be an exciting stage, and I think a lot of people are nervous already for it. They aren’t sure how altitude, climbing and everything else will factor into the race. It might surprise a lot of people.
SDN: The Colorado Classic features a funky format we haven’t seen before, with circuit-style races, not point-to-point stages. What do you think about that format?
TS: It seems like it’s the way of the future. It’s easier on everyone — the organizers, the towns, the police, people who are closing the roads. It’s also less expensive, which I think helps keep these events afloat. I also think it’s better for spectating. You can watch us go by multiple times, which is always good. It’s fun to have those point-to-point long races, where you don’t have the same terrain over and over again, but with something like this Breckenridge stage it will be so hard and fast-paced that I don’t think anyone is going to be bored.
SDN: Have you competed in other similar races, or is this totally out of the ordinary?
TS: This is definitely different. Generally, the races we have in the states have a time trial, a few longer stages and then a criterium. This will be a unique event for sure to have three circuits and one longer day.
SDN: Obviously the big, nasty climb in Breck will be Moonstone. How do you train for riding that climb 10 times in a row?
TS: Most of the races we do in the states have a circuit race, something that is similar to this. There are a few road races, but at Redlands, Tour de Boise, Cascade — a lot of them — they all have something like this: a 10 or 15 kilometer circuit on the final day. We have experience racing a course like this, but the altitude will be a whole other factor. For me personally, being able to live ride and train at home, at 10,000 feet, that’s going to make the biggest difference for me.
SDN: Looking at the entire tour, what stage do you think will be the toughest?
TS: The Breckenridge stage, certainly. The first stage could catch some people unaware, just because it might be harder than people are expecting, but it’s nothing like being at 10,00 feet all of a sudden in Breckenridge. That will be the defining stage.
SDN: And the easiest?
TS: I don’t think any of the stages will be particularly easy. The last day is a little flatter than the rest, but you still have to be heads up and aware. Things can always happen, especially near the end. I’m sure it will be a sprint finish there, but that just means you won’t be able to rest for the entire four days. You’ll have to be on it for sure.
SDN: What kind of rider are you now, compared to the one who competed at the USA Pro Challenge?
TS: I’ve obviously gotten older, gotten more experience, but I’ve also become more confident in my abilities. I would say I now take a more relaxed approach to everything. I focus really hard when I need to focus. Training has been less overall volume, especially in winter, but I’ve been more intense, focusing on zoning in. I think that’s been really good for me to keep things fresh. I do some skiing, do some training, do some fat biking, and the mixture of all that will really help, especially at the end of the season when people have been racing their bikes for 8, 9, 10 months. You see some fatigue at this time of year, but I like to think I’ve figured it out.
SDN: Finally, any words of advice for aspiring road racers like yourself — kids who will see this race and think, “That’s what I want to do?”
TS: I would say that you just need to enjoy riding your bike. When you’re young, it’s super fun to go race and be competitive, but you don’t need to blow yourself out. In high school, it was just me and a bunch of buddies riding together, going super hard. We didn’t take it super seriously, but we were focused and tried hard. The results came, for sure.
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