Breckenridge to host time trial for first-ever women’s USA Pro Challenge
2015 USA Pro Challenge schedule
Summit County plays host to the world’s best cyclists in August for the fifth-annual USA Pro Challenge. For the first time ever, professional female riders compete in three stages, beginning with the Breckenridge time trial.
Aug. 17 — Steamboat Springs circuit race (men only)
Aug. 18 — Steamboat Springs to Arapahoe Basin stage (men only)
Aug. 19 — Copper Mountain to Aspen stage (men only)
Aug. 20 — Aspen to Breckenridge stage (men only)
Aug. 21 — Breckenridge Individual Time Trial (men and women)
Aug. 22 — Loveland to Fort Collins (men and women)
Aug. 23 — Golden to Denver (men and women)
Come August, Colorado-born cyclist Mara Abbott will make history in her home state by simply starting a race.
Officials with the USA Pro Challenge yesterday announced the addition of a brand-new, three-stage female portion to the seven-stage event, which has fast become the largest annual sporting event in Colorado history and the most prestigious road-cycling race on U.S. soil.
“Colorado means the world to me,” Abbott said at the announcement, held in Breckenridge early yesterday morning a few hours after she returned from racing in Italy. “I might actually cry, which could be because I’m tired, but I love this.”
The fifth edition of the race spans seven stages spread between five mountain towns, including four stops in Summit County — the most since it was launched in 2011. Unlike the majority of European races, the Pro Challenge rarely dips below 5,000 feet in elevation, with several climbs up and over mountain passes higher than 10,000 feet.
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“Everyone watches these epic finishes on mountains in men’s races, and there is just one hilltop finish the whole year in the women’s calendar,” Abbott said. “To be able to bring three stages to the mountains in Colorado, it’s probably the biggest honor I can ask for as an athlete.”
The new female portion, dubbed the Women’s USA Pro Challenge, debuts on Aug. 21 with the Stage 5 individual time trial in Breckenridge. From there, women will compete in Stage 6 from Loveland to Fort Collins and Stage 7 from Golden to the official finish in downtown Denver.
Abbott won’t be the only female making history this summer. Pro Challenge chief executive officer Shawn Hunter expects all 16 Union Cycliste Internationale female teams to participate. It marks the first time since 1988 — the final running of the now-legendary Coors Classic — when male and female cyclists will race on the same Colorado course during an international stage race.
“I too am about to cry, because once I get Mara to come out of her shell, she told me if there weren’t certain climbs in there she’d break my legs,” Hunter said at the announcement. “And I believe it.”
As a Boulder native, Abbott is familiar with rough, lung-burning climbs. Hunter and local race organizers won’t finalize the courses for another three to five weeks, but the Breckenridge time trial promises to be a doozy: cyclists will never drop below 9,600 feet, with several hill climbs from start to finish.
Along with other first-time additions like the time trial course and a Steamboat Springs start, Abbott hopes the event will shed light on the burgeoning female cycling scene. She didn’t begin racing until college — it wasn’t even on her radar until then — but the inaugural female stages could reach an entirely new audience.
“I never looked at this sport as an outsider until I started racing seriously,” Abbott said when asked who her early cycling role models were. “I’ve had a lot of success in this sport. It’s become my life, become my career, and I didn’t even start until college. If you have a little girl watching this time trial in Breckenridge when she’s young, before she gets to college, that’s an even better way to plant the seed.”
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