USA Pro Challenge brings women’s stage racing back to Colorado
For the first time since the Coors Classic in the late 1980s, Colorado will celebrate the return of elite-level women’s international stage cycling races this summer with the Women’s USA Pro Challenge.
“This is something we’ve wanted to do since Day 1,” said Shawn Hunter, CEO of the USA Pro Challenge, at the announcement event in Breck in late March. “We always said we’d introduce the Women’s Pro Challenge when we got the ingredients right. We’ll start a foundation and grow upwards from there.”
Equal pay for equal work
The inaugural three-day, invitation-only race begins in Breckenridge on Friday, Aug. 21, with additional stages in Fort Collins and Golden, and the women will earn prize money equal to that of the riders in the men’s race.
Leslie Ramsay, an official who has been contracted by USA Cycling to officiate this year’s men’s Pro Challenge, said in the past, it’s been very unusual for coordinators of similar cycling races to make the women’s purse the same as the men’s.
“Certainly they’re trying to attract an elite women’s field,” she said of the payouts. “They could be setting a precedent. I think it’s been a male-dominated sport for a long time.”
Last year’s La Course by Le Tour de France, a first-ever circuit race for the world’s best female pro cyclists on the final day of the Tour de France, also commanded equal pay for equal work, with a payout for the women identical to Tour de France stage winners. Katie Stamp, a member of the board of directors for Summit Velo, said she was excited to see the addition of the new women’s race in Colorado and the continued promotion of equal prize money for men and women.
“I really believe that women can do some really great things, and it’s great to see that other people are starting to be open to that and bring them in to all these kinds of events,” she said.
“I love going to races and seeing races where the payout is equal for guys and girls. We’re all out there working just as hard, and it’s a step in the right direction, especially when you’re talking about that level and that support behind women’s cycling.”
Different racing style
The men and women might be competing for the same amount of cash, but for those who flock to Summit County to watch, the experience will be somewhat different for the two races. The pace of women’s cycling is a bit slower and the peloton a bit smaller than the men’s races, which, on the surface, could seem like negatives, said Sydney Fox, a professional mountain biker and co-owner of Breck Bike Guides, but the decreased speeds actually make it easier for those on the sidelines to watch the intricacies of racing strategy play out.
“It’s kind of the challenge that every women’s sport has,” Fox said. “It’s always slower and looks a little less impressive, and that’s what women have to overcome. I think it’s more to see the power that women can have, and it’s something that’s maybe discounted — that women can be really powerful — and there’ll be a lot of tactics that are obvious because the pack is smaller.
“With that big pack (in the men’s race), you get kind of lost, and then all of a sudden, you see someone sprinting to the front, and you wonder, where did they come from? But with a smaller pack, you can see that happening.”
Though the Tour of California, Tour of Utah and now the Pro Challenge have added women’s races, Ramsay said there are still much fewer opportunities for female cyclists to race at an elite level, especially in the United States. This means a higher probability of catching a live glimpse of some of the best female riders in the world at the Women’s Pro Challenge.
Having the Tour of Utah take place only a few weeks ahead of the Pro Challenge might further encourage an international field of riders to make the trip and participate in both races, Ramsay said.
“They would have a lot of the good women at these events because they are fewer and farther between, so you might get a higher percentage of the elite riders at an event like this,” Ramsay said.
Stamp said she hopes having the Women’s Pro Challenge affiliated with the men’s race will mean more exposure for the women via national and international media coverage and that it will serve as encouragement for young female cyclists to pursue their dreams.
“How big the men’s race is and the popularity of the cheering and going out and being involved in it, I think that will hopefully carry over into the women’s and people will realize, ‘oh, girls do this, too,’” she said. “I know that especially in Breckenridge, it’s a huge family thing to get out and watch the Pro Cycling Challenge when it comes through, and I love that little girls are going to look at it and say, that’s what I want to do when I get older and grow up.”
“I think that the excitement that it brings to town and the awareness of cycling is huge,” Fox said. “People look forward to the race for months beforehand. To add the women’s race and have it in Summit County is incredible, and it says a lot about how the town supports cycling, and I think we’re really lucky to have that.”
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