For the first time in the history of the USA Pro Challenge, a mountaintop finish will be included in the 2014 route. Race organizers today unveiled eight of the host cities for the race’s fourth edition, including Monarch Mountain, at 11,960 feet, the finish site of stage 3. The race will run August 18 to 24, 2014, and include six road stages and one time trial stage, in Vail.
The overall start of the 2014 Pro Challenge will return to the familiar surroundings of Aspen, Colorado, with a circuit race in the mountain town. The 2014 edition will likely tackle a similar circuit race between Aspen and nearby Snowmass that saw Peter Sagan take victory in 2013.
On Tuesday, August 19, stage 2 will start in Aspen and work its way to Mt. Crested Butte, the site of two prior stage finishes in the race’s history. The route is expected to leave Aspen and head north, along state highway 82 toward Carbondale. Then, it would turn south along highway 133, over McClure Pass, toward Paonia. Adding a little spice to the route, organizers will likely take the race over the dirt roads leading to Kebler Pass, before a descent into the town of Crested Butte. From there, the race will most likely hit the slopes of the service road leading to the Mt. Crested Butte resort.
An alternative route could climb Independence Pass out of Aspen before an ascent of Cottonwood Pass outside of Buena Vista. A descent into Almont would be followed by a rush north toward Crested Butte on highway 135 before riders would tackle that same short, punchy climb to the ski resort just above Crested Butte.
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On Wednesday, August 20, stage 3 will see the race’s first mountaintop finish. Starting in Gunnison, the route will likely climb the west side of Cottonwood Pass, a dirt climb that has been used in the race previously on two occasions. The race would descend on pavement to Buena Vista before heading south on Route 285, then turn west to climb the slopes of Monarch Pass using Route 50. In 2011, stage 1 traveled this climb out of nearby Salida before finishing in Mt. Crested Butte.
An alternative route could see the peloton leave Gunnison and head south on highway 114 all the way to Saguache, before turning north on Route 285 to Poncha Springs. The race would then ascend the east side of Monarch Pass. In either case, the finish line will be found at one of Colorado’s oldest ski areas, Monarch Mountain, whose base elevation of 10,790 makes it the highest in North America.
On Thursday, August 21, the racers will face a circuit race in Colorado Springs. Could we see them cruise around the Garden of the Gods, in a flashback to the terrain they passed through during the prologue in 2011? Or will it be a downtown race following the route of the finishing circuits of stage 5 in 2012? A detailed route will be announced in the spring.
On Friday, August 22, a new city, Woodland Park, will host the start of stage 5. From town, the race will likely head west along Route 24, then north along highway 9, cresting Hoosier Pass. Fans should look for a similar, dynamic finishing route as in stage 2 of the 2013 race, which saw the inclusion of the steep pitches of Moonstone Road where BMC Racing’s Mathias Frank was able to hold on for the stage win.
Saturday’s time trial in Vail will likely follow the classic route from the Vail Village and climb toward Vail Pass. It is a route steeped in history and one that the spectators and racers love; it would come as a surprise if organizers decided to alter the route.
In another logistical first, organizers will look to fans to provide feedback on four options for the final stage on the Front Range on Sunday. They include a:
— Denver circuit race similar to that used on the final day of 2013
— Start in Golden with a finish in Denver
— Start in Boulder and finish in Denver
— Start in Boulder and finish in Golden
Fans can vote for their preferred option at prochallenge.com/PickStage7.
Known for its altitude and climbs through the Rockies, the Pro Challenge is a major objective for many pros that call Colorado home. The 2013 edition saw part-time Aspen resident Tejay van Garderen (BMC) take the overall win this August in Denver, after assuming the overall lead in Beaver Creek at the end of stage 4.
“The USA Pro Challenge is something that motivates me from the start of the year,” van Garderen said. “It takes place in one of the most beautiful places on Earth, and that happens to be in my backyard. I’m looking forward to defending my title on another challenging course.”
Additional details regarding the start and finish locations of the 2014 race, as well as the specific, detailed route will be announced in the spring.
Stage 1: Monday, August 18 – Aspen Circuit Race
Stage 2: Tuesday, August 19 – Aspen to Mt. Crested Butte
Stage 3: Wednesday, August 20 – Gunnison to Monarch Mountain (mountaintop finish)
Stage 4: Thursday, August 21 – Colorado Springs Circuit Race
Stage 5: Friday, August 22 – Woodland Park to Breckenridge
Stage 6: Saturday, August 23 – Vail Individual Time Trial
Stage 7: Sunday, August 24 – ???