Up to the Challenge

Mesa cycling coach hopes GJ will get a future stage in USA Pro Cycling Challenge

The popular Queen Stage of the USA Pro Cycling Challenge is back this year. Riders will again tackle two 12,000-foot passes, Cottonwood and Independence, during the third stage of the race, which begins Aug. 20 in Durango.

Colorado Mesa University cycling coach Rick Crawford was involved in helping Durango get a stage of the 2012 USA Pro Cycling Challenge.

Now, the former Fort Lewis College coach and Durango resident hopes to help bring a stage to Grand Junction in the future.

“It’s big for Durango,” said Crawford, who sat in on some meetings to determine a course.

“We were hoping for a big stage to Durango that characterizes what Colorado cycling is all about on a day-to-day basis,” Crawford said. “We would’ve liked to go over Coal Bank Pass, Molas Pass and Red Mountain Pass, but that would’ve blown the GC (general classification) all to death. Instead, it’s going over Lizard Head Pass, which is a challenging day, but not like the last day.”

Crawford said the USA Pro Cycling Challenge organizers want the general classification — overall ranking of riders in a stage race — to be competitive for the final stage.

The 2012 race begins Aug. 20 in Durango and concludes Aug. 26 in Denver.

Crawford coached several pro cyclists who competed in the Challenge last year, including the inaugural winner Levi Leipheimer, who recently injured his leg in a training ride in Spain.

“He’ll be back in time for a couple of spring races,” Crawford said. “He says he’ll be back for the Tour of California. He’s a tough kid.

“I’ve coached a bunch of guys doing that race. Tom Danielson has to be the favorite.”

Danielson was an integral part in getting a stage in Durango, Crawford said.

As he helped to get a stage in Durango, Crawford would like to help get a stage in Grand Junction.

“I would like to be involved in making that happen,” Crawford said. “If Tom can win the race, that will give him some clout with the organizers for 2013.”

Speculation is Grand Junction didn’t get a stage this year because a local committee couldn’t get approval to race over Colorado National Monument.

“I don’t think it’s contingent on going over the monument,” Crawford said. “It would have to fall just right for that to happen. It hasn’t been easy to (get a race over the monument). How they did with the Coors Classic, I have no idea.”

Crawford believes Grand Junction could get a stage without the monument.

“There are a lot of options for a stage (in Grand Junction),” Crawford said. “I’m still getting oriented with the area, but Scott (Mercier) is crazy about going up Lands End Road. I can tell just by looking at it from Reeder Mesa Road, it has potential. I’m looking for college road race courses.

“Little Park Road is a tough climb some 80 to 90 miles into a stage.

“I might do a big loop starting in Grand Junction and finish in Grand Junction. It would highlight Grand Junction and maybe downtown.”

Crawford is excited about this year’s course, which includes three climbs to 12,000 feet.

“As far as American races, it has potential,” Crawford said. “Colorado is infamous for inflicting punishment on cyclists.

“We’ve seen the energy with the Challenge last year. The Coors Classic had an energy that lives in the USA Pro Cycling Challenge.”

Here’s a look at each stage:

Aug. 20: Stage 1(Durango to Telluride)

After two neutral laps in downtown Durango and a 6.5-mile loop around town, the race will head west on U.S. 160 to Dolores. From there, the riders start a gradual canyon climb for more than 30 miles topping out over Lizard Head Pass (10,222 feet). It’s downhill from there to Telluride.

Aug. 21: Stage 2(Montrose to Crested Butte)

Beginning at Montrose Pavilion, riders will head north through town, then east to Gunnison. It includes short climbs over Cerro Summit and Blue Mesa Summit. The riders will sprint into Gunnison, then head north to Crested Butte.

Aug. 22: Stage 3(Gunnison to Aspen)

The popular ‘Queen Stage’ is back with two of the highest climbs in professional racing. After reaching Crested Butte for the second consecutive day, the course will ascend to 12,126 feet and the highest point of the week at Cottonwood Pass on a gravel road. A twisting descent will take the peloton into Buena Vista before heading north on U.S. 24 to Twin Lakes. From there, riders will climb Independence Pass (12,095), then conclude in Aspen.

Aug. 23: Stage 4(Aspen to Beaver Creek)

This stage is mostly above 9,000 feet in elevation and will pass through Leadville, the highest incorporated city in the United States (10,152). It includes a climb over the Continental Divide at Tennessee Pass (10,424) before descending into Minturn, then finishing with a final climb to Beaver Creek.

Aug. 24: Stage 5(Breckenridge to Colo. Springs)

Riders will begin this stage with yet more climbing, 10 miles up Hoosier Pass (11,500). The summit is followed with a fast descent into Fairplay. The stage continues through Woodland Park into downtown Colorado Springs, where the Challenge started in 2011.

Aug. 25: Stage 6(Golden to Boulder)

This stage will include several circuit laps around downtown in front of the largest crowds in the 2011 race, then will head north on Colorado Highway 93 to Boulder. Upon arrival, the sprinters will have an opportunity to earn valuable points with a sprint line to the Pearl Street Mall.

Aug. 26: Stage 7 (Denver Individual Time Trial)

With the team factor out of the race, this flat and fast course in downtown Denver will make taking over first place difficult, but organizers believe that will make it the most exciting finish possible. The course will pass by the State Capitol, along Speer Boulevard and Colfax Avenue, then through the entertainment district to City Park and back to the Civic Center Park.


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