USA Pro Challenge Stage 2 and 6 preview: Loveland to Fort Collins |

USA Pro Challenge Stage 2 and 6 preview: Loveland to Fort Collins

USA Pro Challenge Men’s Stage 6 | Women’s Stage 2 — Loveland to Fort Collins

Start: 11:30 a.m. women; 11:45 a.m. men

Finish: 2:45 a.m. women; 3:45 p.m. men

What to watch: Buckhorn Canyon, Rist Canyon, Sprint into Ft. Collins

Who to watch: Kiel Reijnen, Will Routley, Taylor Phinney

2014 Stage 6 winner: Tejay van Garderen

Fun fact: In the early 1900s, Ft. Collins was known as the “Lamb Feeding Capital of the World”

TV coverage: 2 p.m. on NBC Universal Sports (not provided by Comcast in Summit)

Although it begins nearly 4,000 feet lower than the mountain stages, the sixth chapter of the 2015 USA Pro Challenge will be far from tame.

After zig-zagging through the Loveland area, the men’s route heads east to the flat plains around Windsor, while the women’s route turns west to the foothills. Once looping around Windsor, the men then head back toward the foothills, kicking into high gear at the town of Masonville.

Lowlands to Rist Canyon

Here, riders will ascend Buckhorn Canyon on County Road 27, a 2,621-foot climb over 16 miles. The ascent concludes at the mouth of Rist Canyon, the only King of the Mountain challenge of the stage.

Dropping down the canyon, cyclists have just 22 miles remaining on a route littered with small climbs, gullies and high-speed flats. The road is tight — expect riders to bump tires in NASCAR fashion.

The FoCo finish

With a finish in downtown Fort Collins, Saturday’s race will likely be reminiscent of the exciting climax seen in Stage 6 of the 2013 Pro Challenge. That year, a jumble of 15 sprinters was vying for the front position until the very end. Peter Sagan managed to win this historic fight, but only by a slim margin of less than one second.

Where to watch

The Loveland to Fort Collins stage will be more residential than the first five, which should be easier on spectators. If looking to make a day out of the race, check out at the start in Loveland, where the Loveland Corn Roast Festival runs from Aug. 21-22.

However, if you’re more interested in strictly watching race action in the early parts of the stage, Windsor is the best bang for your buck. The small town will be less crowded than Loveland, but offers just as many opportunities to see the riders up close. First Street in Windsor is ideal, as cyclists zoom by on a 1.4-mile straightaway in the thick of the sprint challenge.

If looking for a scenic place to watch, set up at the intersection of Rist Canyon Road and County Road 41. This is the apex of the difficult Buckhorn Canyon climb, and provides a beautiful view of the Rist Canyon foothills. From here, spectators can watch riders struggle up the Buckhorn ascent, then catch their furious acceleration down into Rist Canyon.

Finally, if looking for a photo finish, line up on Mountain Avenue in downtown Fort Collins. The ambience of this finale should be unforgettable: thousands of people are expected to line the streets, cheering on riders as they sprint out the last few hundred meters of the race. Be sure to arrive early for this one — it will fill up quick.

Who to watch

Stage 6 will likely favor sprinters, as around 75 percent of the course is relatively flat. Kiel Reijnen of United Healthcare has been dominating the sprint portions of the Pro Challenge and should be considered a favorite for the win. And, never count out Boulder local Taylor Phinney. The BMC Racing rider won Stage 1 with an impressive sprint to the line and grew up riding similar routes along the Front Range. Expect him to make a strong push within a few miles of the finish.

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