Not your father’s stage race: Colorado Classic aims to reimagine cycling events

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COLORADO SPRINGS (CT) — Don’t call it the Pro Challenge. It’s not the Tour of Colorado. And it’s definitely not a reboot of the Coors Classic.

Professional stage racing has returned to Colorado with the inaugural Colorado Classic, a four-stage event kicking off Thursday in Colorado Springs, and ending Sunday in Denver. And the new event aims to take bike racing in a new direction, with fan-friendly courses and a music and craft culture festival held in conjunction at the start-finish area.

Rigoberto Uran is here, fresh off his second-place finish at the Tour de France. Team Rwanda is here, racing its first UCI event in North America. Wilco will be here, as will Death Cab for Cutie. And Lance Armstrong is here — well, kind of.

The best women’s teams in North America are here as well, competing in a two-day stage race, with additional criterium events featuring pro, amateur, and collegiate riders held in Denver over the weekend.

In addition to a focus on downtown circuits — there are no point-to-point routes — the Colorado Classic will feature six-man teams, making it difficult for any team to control the race, similar to this year’s other innovative new race format, Velon’s Hammer Series, which featured five-man squads selected from seven interchangeable riders. In total, there will be only 96 riders in the men’s peloton, and 84 in the women’s peloton.

Altogether, it’s an attempt at disrupting the traditional stage-race format that saw the event’s predecessor, the USA Pro Challenge, fold in 2016 after it was unable to break even after five years. While the new event is held in the same place and at the same time as the USA Pro Challenge, and also holds UCI 2.HC status, it’s owned and operated by RPM Events, a self-described “group of civic-minded investors committed to re-imagining cycling events to be financially sustainable while providing a positive social and economic impact.”

“I’m super happy we can race in Colorado again,” said Colorado native Taylor Phinney (Cannondale-Drapac). “I missed this race last year, and I’m grateful to everyone who put it together, I think format of race is new and fresh, I respect that, and I look forward to the way the racing is going to play out.”

The men’s field will cover 313 miles (503.5 km) and tackle more than 20,000 feet of high-altitude climbing over four stages that showcase the state’s terrain. Courses start and finish from the same location — as opposed to point-to-point races — and stages 1, 2 and 4 are circuits featuring multiple laps in downtown areas.

Thursday, August 10: Stage 1, Colorado Springs
Friday, August 11: Stage 2, Breckenridge
Saturday, August 12: Stage 3, Denver – Peak to Peak Hwy – Denver
Sunday, August 13: Stage 4, Denver city circuit

While Friday’s stage finish is in Breckenridge, the Velorama Festival kicks off that evening in Denver, with Wilco headlining. Death Cab for Cutie headlines Saturday’s festival, just hours after the stage finish. Other acts include the Old 97’s and the Jayhawks.

BMC Racing’s Brent Bookwalter said Wilco is one of his and his wife’s favorite bands, and that they’d been trying to see them perform live for several years.

“We have been chasing Wilco around the world, and we have never seen them,” he said. “We’ve bought tickets to see the in various cities, but for any of number of reasons we’ve never been able to be there to see them. Hopefully my race is going so well that I’m in bed on Friday night, saving it up for the next stage, but if not I’ll be out there to see them.”

Beyond the musical acts and downtown festival, the contrast in racing from the USA Pro Challenge is stark. There is no Vail time trial, no ascent of Independence Pass, and no stops in cycling hotbeds such as Aspen, Crested Butte, Steamboat Springs, Fort Collins, or Boulder.

Instead, organizers are hoping that shorter stages, finishing circuits, and smaller teams light up the race action.

There’s also no title sponsor, with organizers looking to revenues from the festival to cover costs. Tickets to the festival are going for $45 in advance, and $50 on race day. Three-day passes are available for $90, as well as other ticket packages and a VIP Experience.

“I’m excited to see the new format,” said Kiel Reijnen (Trek-Segafredo), who is targeting stage victory on Saturday’s route from Denver to Peak to Peak Highway and back. “I think it will be successful for fans. I think there’s a lot to be said of shorter circuits. They’ve got some A-list bands here, and I think there will be a lot of cross-pollination happening between cycling fans and music fans.”

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