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Race Design Thread

Page 345 - Get up to date with the latest news, scores & standings from the Cycling News Community.
Stage 5: Breckenridge - Pikes Peak, 178km

ghO428sB_o.png


Y8etezah_o.png


GPM:
Hoosier Pass (cat.2) 10,0km @ 4,5%
Wilkerson Pass (cat.3) 1,8km @ 5,5%
Crystal Creek Reservoir (cat.2) 9,3km @ 6,5%
Pikes Peak (HC) 17,0km @ 8,1%

OK, time for an absolute peak performance, as we start challenging the UCI’s acceptability limits, with a monster mountain stage that despite being more or less Unipuerto is one of the most brutal stages ever seen at this level, thanks to the combination of extreme altitude and just the sheer monster difficulty of the mountaintop finish.

We start at over 3000m of altitude already, in the ski town of Breckenridge. This town was settled by prospectors and named after one of their party back in 1859, and has a permanent population of around 5.000, although the town absolutely swells to many times this size every winter with the colossal population influx of tourists to the local ski resorts. It was founded to serve miners and speculators travelling across the Continental Divide after the discovery of Gold in Pikes Peak and Idaho Springs. While mining dried up in the early 20th Century, it was replaced in 1961 by the skiing community, as runs were pressed and cut into the hillside and the town swelled once more. It is now the adopted home to a number of America’s winter sports stars, again mostly in the showier and more modern disciplines like freestyle and moguls, but also including skeleton luge racer Katie Uhlaender. But also, somewhat unexpectedly, goth/industrial royalty in the form of Ministry frontman Al Jourgensen, whose family settled in Breckenridge after moving from Cuba in his childhood.

Breckenridge also has a cycling history, thanks largely to the ultra-endurance MTB race, the Breckenridge 100, that takes place every July and includes three large summits across the Continental Divide. Its close proximity to popular stage host Vail meant that it did not appear with any frequency in the Coors Classic, but since the reintroduction of pro racing to Colorado in the early 2010s it has been a common stage host. Stage 5 of the first edition of the USA Pro Cycling Challenge in 2011 finished in the town after a long and gradual uphill false flat from Steamboat Springs with the only major climb of the day right at the start; Elia Viviani won a bunch gallop ahead of Jaime Castañeda, a Colombian sprinter who the finish better suited but just doesn’t have the top end speed of Viviani. The following year it was a stage start only, but another finish came in 2013, in a stage which went from Aspen over Independence Pass and then Hoosier Pass south before finishing with a descent into Breckenridge, being won by Mathias Fränk ahead of Lachlan Morton, with the two opening up a small gap ahead of Peter Sagan and Tejay van Garderen with the remains of an escape group and then the bunch coming in at +44”. 2014 saw an easier stage from Woodland Park, though with the same run-in over Hoosier Pass and then a small hilly circuit around Breckenridge itself, which Laurent Didier won from the break ahead of Janier Acevedo and Rob Britton. 2015 saw a clone of the 2013 stage with Rohan Dennis winning solo, before the Australian doubled up winning a 13,5km ITT around Breckenridge the following day. After the demise of the USAPCC, the Colorado Cycling Classic in 2017 featured a stage which was a circuit race finishing that loop around the town from the 2013-15 USAPCC stages, seeing Alex Howes win the stage ahead of Taylor Eisenhart, in a finish which enabled the latter to take the race lead.

Beaver-Run-summer-exterior_new-exterior-paint-color_June-2023.jpg


My stage actually starts directly with a climb, the Hoosier Pass ascent which was the main attraction of that 2014 stage. It’s actually not a bad cat.2 climb - the total ascent is 15,4km at 3,6% though the start of this is through the town itself, so we actually depart a couple of kilometres into it and have a neutral zone in the false flat area shown at under 2% on this profile. The last 5km average 6% and the 10,5km that we have average 4,5%, so this is mostly tempo grinding but at least it’s long enough to be noteworthy. It just looks tiny on the profile because of what comes later.

Descending Hoosier Pass takes us into a large altiplano area, a long grassland flat which will be the backdrop for most of our stage and all of the rest of the first half of it at least. This sparsely populated area - the largest urban centre is the town of Fairplay, population of 724 - is nevertheless one of the most famous - sort of - places in all of Colorado. That is because of a fictional small town which has been placed in this basin to recall the childhood of a couple of friends from the foothills west of Denver, which has gone on to worldwide renown and acclaim - this is the South Park Basin, and the eponymous small town was created as a title to one of the most ubiquitous animated series of the last 30 years. Initially a (deliberately) crudely-animated vehicle for sophomoric toilet humour and foul-mouthed arguing that earned the series a counter-cultural popularity, over time the series has developed into an on-the-nose and irreverent satirical show that no culture, self-identity, creed or belief system is above being lampooned by.

JiiZwyvJvXGujKEsu4xcna-1200-80.jpg


This long plateau is broken up only by a cat.3 climb to Wilkerson Pass. And even then probably giving points is generous. A false flat uphill and then downhill follow all the way through Woodland Park - which hosted that stage start in 2014 - to the town of Cascade. Established as a tourist destination in the 1880s, being the best point from which to access Pikes Peak, it was used as a spa town and popular for the beauty of the train ride into the town as much as the fresh air and facilities on arrival, with Cascade Cañon and Falls being particularly popular. Often passengers on said train would be collected at the station and then taken on wagons up to Pikes Peak’s hill station and onward to the summit. However this was rendered obsolete by the establishment of a cog railway from Manitou Springs, and many of the large hotels in Cascade closed in the 1920s. However, one thing that has really helped Cascade stay relevant is the road up to Pikes Peak and its popularity due to the historic significance of the summit. And due to, of course, the most famous thing about the mountain to modern generations: the International Hillclimb.

1465929244-gettyimages-170244368.jpg


The highest peak in the Front Range, Pikes Peak takes its name from the explorer Zebulon Pike who was one of the first American settlers to explore it (although he did not reach the summit and the first successful conquering of the peak was 14 years later in 1820). Before Pike’s expedition it was known by the Spanish as ‘El Capitán’ for its position of prominence in the initial range of the Rockies; Pike himself called it “Highest Peak” for rather self-explanatory reasons, but it became known as “Pike’s” in colloquial speech and the name has stuck. The summit also gives its name to the Colorado Gold Rush of the late 1850s and early 1860s, so named because potential speculators travelling west knew they had arrived when the mountains appeared in view, and Pikes Peak would be the first sighting of the Rockies that they would have. The peak has long since been tamed, with cog railways to the summit and, in 1939, a ski resort being built on its slopes, though this would fall into disrepair and close in 1984. Most importantly, though, there was a road.

Pikes-Peak-Highway-road.jpg


The Pikes Peak International Hillclimb (or PPIHC for short) is the second longest-running motor race in the US, after the Indianapolis 500 (the Mount Washington Hillclimb predates both, but has not run continuously). It has the same sort of unique position on the motor racing calendar as the Isle of Man TT does in motorcycle racing; it is self-sanctioned and not part of any series, but attracts a wildly diverse field running from rank amateurs through to elite rally and sportscar drivers. It was the brainchild of the entrepreneur Spencer Penrose, who had funded the expanding of the narrow carriage road used to bring tourists from Cascade to the upper reaches of the mountain into what is now the Pikes Peak Highway, and first ran in 1916. Many classes were added over time, with stock cars, motorcycles and also some wild competition in the open class, where entrants were free to make all manner of unregulated modifications to their vehicles specifically targeting the race, in much the same way as no matter what the sportscar calendar consists of, vehicles are designed with Le Mans in mind. The combination of the need for extreme cornering stability along with the oxygen demands on the vehicles at the ever-increasing altitude meant specialised vehicles were created for the PPIHC in a way unique on the American calendar.

Until 1984, the event was largely a provincial affair, but as the decade wore on, Europeans progressively showed more interest in the event, with Michèle Mouton winning the event outright and then an award-winning short film being made about Ari Vatanen’s pursuit of the course record in 1988. Since 2002, the previously all-gravel route had started to be paved following a lawsuit by the Sierra Club against the city of Colorado Springs, under whose jurisdiction the road fell. This was due to the significant damage through erosion that was created by the event as the loose-packed dirt and gravel was spewed down the mountainside by the hundreds upon hundreds of entrants in the hillclimb. The asphalt was laid down on the final section in 2011, which was seen by many as the death of the true spirit of the Peak; the ten minute barrier was broken by Nobuhiro Tajima that same year, and the nine minute barrier soon followed in 2013 at the hands of Sébastien Loeb, who was even closer to the eight minute mark than the nine. In recent years electric vehicles have dominated, due to not suffering in the altitude, and Volkswagen broke the eight minute barrier in the hands of Romain Dumas in 2018. Despite the tarmac being safer to handle on than the loose gravel, the increased speed that has resulted has increased the risk considerably too, and motorcycle racing has been discontinued as of 2021, the same year the new summit complex was opened.

Of course, however, while it was never accessible to the Coors Classic and the Mount Evans hillclimb is the most famous similar type event for cyclists in the region, the enforced paving of the Pikes Peak Highway road has meant that since 2011, it is now available for cycling as well. And this creates a monster. An absolute monster.

PikesPeak.gif


Yes - 31km at 6,6%. This is what they call brutal, and it stands up strong against any European climb that I can come up with. In fact, I’ve even gone the Télégraphe+Galibier route and categorised that first first 9km independently, then starting the final climb at the end of the false flat, close to the start of the PPIHC motor race, and even then it’s still quite demonstrably an hors catégorie ascent - being 17km at 8%, and that with a short amount of flat in it. There’s 11km at 9% in the middle (the first part of the section I’ve classified as Pikes Peak) from the first steep ramps after the hillclimb start up to the Devil’s Playground, so that in and of itself would probably merit HC status.

Just for the part that I have categorised, this puts it in the same kind of ballpark as Col de la Madeleine south, Chamrousse via Col Luitel, Blockhaus from Scafa (the steeper route) and the Col de Portet. Except this is at 2000m higher altitude, cresting at over 4200m and providing a challenge even to those well versed in the Latin American péloton and climbing those Colombian and Venezuelan monstrosities like La Línea and Letras. There are very few comparables for the whole climb that are known to racing unless we think of doublets like Télégraphe-Galibier or Sierra Nevada via Monachil. They are like Fuji-San via the Fujinomiya Trail, Doi Inthanon (38km at 6%), Ovit Pass in northern Turkey, Roque de los Muchachos and other such monsters known only to traceurs and cyclotourists. Perhaps Cerro de la Muerte in the Vuelta a Costa Rica is the most likely comparable but even then, it is far more consistent than Pikes Peak.

This one is really going to create some huge gaps. With a climb like this, a Unipuerto stage is sufficient, just like a Mont Ventoux or a Genting Highlands, especially in the field that will be racing this. The climb is so hard it’s going to guarantee time gaps regardless of the lack of previous climbing. And if they ever raced this in real life, we’d be looking at some major gaps. Major gaps.

Pikes-Peak-Visitor-Center-Exterior_Credit-DHM-Design.jpg
 
Just for the part that I have categorised, this puts it in the same kind of ballpark as Col de la Madeleine south, Chamrousse via Col Luitel, Blockhaus from Scafa (the steeper route) and the Col de Portet. Except this is at 2000m higher altitude, cresting at over 4200m and providing a challenge even to those well versed in the Latin American péloton and climbing those Colombian and Venezuelan monstrosities like La Línea and Letras. There are very few comparables for the whole climb that are known to racing unless we think of doublets like Télégraphe-Galibier or Sierra Nevada via Monachil. They are like Fuji-San via the Fujinomiya Trail, Doi Inthanon (38km at 6%), Ovit Pass in northern Turkey, Roque de los Muchachos and other such monsters known only to traceurs and cyclotourists. Perhaps Cerro de la Muerte in the Vuelta a Costa Rica is the most likely comparable but even then, it is far more consistent than Pikes Peak.
Lutsenko conquered a comparable beast last year, albeit at far lower altitude: https://mycols.app/col/babadag-oludeniz
 
Lutsenko conquered a comparable beast last year, albeit at far lower altitude: https://mycols.app/col/babadag-oludeniz
Babadağ is, just for the climbing in a vacuum, significantly harder according to PRC, with a Coeficiente APM of 688 to Pikes Peak's 536 making it the hardest climb seen in racing by their system, being as tough as the likes of Mortirolo, Rettenbachferner or the old Mount Fuji hillclimb, but 50% longer in duration. As I've discussed before though, the coefficient does exaggerate for steepness and has no means by which to take altitude or surface into account. IIRC there was brick paving in the last km or 2 of that climb, but Pikes Peak has the 4000m altitude to factor in. Großglockner north was probably a good comparative I neglected to mention.
 
Stage 5: Breckenridge - Pikes Peak, 178km

ghO428sB_o.png


Y8etezah_o.png


GPM:
Hoosier Pass (cat.2) 10,0km @ 4,5%
Wilkerson Pass (cat.3) 1,8km @ 5,5%
Crystal Creek Reservoir (cat.2) 9,3km @ 6,5%
Pikes Peak (HC) 17,0km @ 8,1%

OK, time for an absolute peak performance, as we start challenging the UCI’s acceptability limits, with a monster mountain stage that despite being more or less Unipuerto is one of the most brutal stages ever seen at this level, thanks to the combination of extreme altitude and just the sheer monster difficulty of the mountaintop finish.

We start at over 3000m of altitude already, in the ski town of Breckenridge. This town was settled by prospectors and named after one of their party back in 1859, and has a permanent population of around 5.000, although the town absolutely swells to many times this size every winter with the colossal population influx of tourists to the local ski resorts. It was founded to serve miners and speculators travelling across the Continental Divide after the discovery of Gold in Pikes Peak and Idaho Springs. While mining dried up in the early 20th Century, it was replaced in 1961 by the skiing community, as runs were pressed and cut into the hillside and the town swelled once more. It is now the adopted home to a number of America’s winter sports stars, again mostly in the showier and more modern disciplines like freestyle and moguls, but also including skeleton luge racer Katie Uhlaender. But also, somewhat unexpectedly, goth/industrial royalty in the form of Ministry frontman Al Jourgensen, whose family settled in Breckenridge after moving from Cuba in his childhood.

Breckenridge also has a cycling history, thanks largely to the ultra-endurance MTB race, the Breckenridge 100, that takes place every July and includes three large summits across the Continental Divide. Its close proximity to popular stage host Vail meant that it did not appear with any frequency in the Coors Classic, but since the reintroduction of pro racing to Colorado in the early 2010s it has been a common stage host. Stage 5 of the first edition of the USA Pro Cycling Challenge in 2011 finished in the town after a long and gradual uphill false flat from Steamboat Springs with the only major climb of the day right at the start; Elia Viviani won a bunch gallop ahead of Jaime Castañeda, a Colombian sprinter who the finish better suited but just doesn’t have the top end speed of Viviani. The following year it was a stage start only, but another finish came in 2013, in a stage which went from Aspen over Independence Pass and then Hoosier Pass south before finishing with a descent into Breckenridge, being won by Mathias Fränk ahead of Lachlan Morton, with the two opening up a small gap ahead of Peter Sagan and Tejay van Garderen with the remains of an escape group and then the bunch coming in at +44”. 2014 saw an easier stage from Woodland Park, though with the same run-in over Hoosier Pass and then a small hilly circuit around Breckenridge itself, which Laurent Didier won from the break ahead of Janier Acevedo and Rob Britton. 2015 saw a clone of the 2013 stage with Rohan Dennis winning solo, before the Australian doubled up winning a 13,5km ITT around Breckenridge the following day. After the demise of the USAPCC, the Colorado Cycling Classic in 2017 featured a stage which was a circuit race finishing that loop around the town from the 2013-15 USAPCC stages, seeing Alex Howes win the stage ahead of Taylor Eisenhart, in a finish which enabled the latter to take the race lead.

Beaver-Run-summer-exterior_new-exterior-paint-color_June-2023.jpg


My stage actually starts directly with a climb, the Hoosier Pass ascent which was the main attraction of that 2014 stage. It’s actually not a bad cat.2 climb - the total ascent is 15,4km at 3,6% though the start of this is through the town itself, so we actually depart a couple of kilometres into it and have a neutral zone in the false flat area shown at under 2% on this profile. The last 5km average 6% and the 10,5km that we have average 4,5%, so this is mostly tempo grinding but at least it’s long enough to be noteworthy. It just looks tiny on the profile because of what comes later.

Descending Hoosier Pass takes us into a large altiplano area, a long grassland flat which will be the backdrop for most of our stage and all of the rest of the first half of it at least. This sparsely populated area - the largest urban centre is the town of Fairplay, population of 724 - is nevertheless one of the most famous - sort of - places in all of Colorado. That is because of a fictional small town which has been placed in this basin to recall the childhood of a couple of friends from the foothills west of Denver, which has gone on to worldwide renown and acclaim - this is the South Park Basin, and the eponymous small town was created as a title to one of the most ubiquitous animated series of the last 30 years. Initially a (deliberately) crudely-animated vehicle for sophomoric toilet humour and foul-mouthed arguing that earned the series a counter-cultural popularity, over time the series has developed into an on-the-nose and irreverent satirical show that no culture, self-identity, creed or belief system is above being lampooned by.

JiiZwyvJvXGujKEsu4xcna-1200-80.jpg


This long plateau is broken up only by a cat.3 climb to Wilkerson Pass. And even then probably giving points is generous. A false flat uphill and then downhill follow all the way through Woodland Park - which hosted that stage start in 2014 - to the town of Cascade. Established as a tourist destination in the 1880s, being the best point from which to access Pikes Peak, it was used as a spa town and popular for the beauty of the train ride into the town as much as the fresh air and facilities on arrival, with Cascade Cañon and Falls being particularly popular. Often passengers on said train would be collected at the station and then taken on wagons up to Pikes Peak’s hill station and onward to the summit. However this was rendered obsolete by the establishment of a cog railway from Manitou Springs, and many of the large hotels in Cascade closed in the 1920s. However, one thing that has really helped Cascade stay relevant is the road up to Pikes Peak and its popularity due to the historic significance of the summit. And due to, of course, the most famous thing about the mountain to modern generations: the International Hillclimb.

1465929244-gettyimages-170244368.jpg


The highest peak in the Front Range, Pikes Peak takes its name from the explorer Zebulon Pike who was one of the first American settlers to explore it (although he did not reach the summit and the first successful conquering of the peak was 14 years later in 1820). Before Pike’s expedition it was known by the Spanish as ‘El Capitán’ for its position of prominence in the initial range of the Rockies; Pike himself called it “Highest Peak” for rather self-explanatory reasons, but it became known as “Pike’s” in colloquial speech and the name has stuck. The summit also gives its name to the Colorado Gold Rush of the late 1850s and early 1860s, so named because potential speculators travelling west knew they had arrived when the mountains appeared in view, and Pikes Peak would be the first sighting of the Rockies that they would have. The peak has long since been tamed, with cog railways to the summit and, in 1939, a ski resort being built on its slopes, though this would fall into disrepair and close in 1984. Most importantly, though, there was a road.

Pikes-Peak-Highway-road.jpg


The Pikes Peak International Hillclimb (or PPIHC for short) is the second longest-running motor race in the US, after the Indianapolis 500 (the Mount Washington Hillclimb predates both, but has not run continuously). It has the same sort of unique position on the motor racing calendar as the Isle of Man TT does in motorcycle racing; it is self-sanctioned and not part of any series, but attracts a wildly diverse field running from rank amateurs through to elite rally and sportscar drivers. It was the brainchild of the entrepreneur Spencer Penrose, who had funded the expanding of the narrow carriage road used to bring tourists from Cascade to the upper reaches of the mountain into what is now the Pikes Peak Highway, and first ran in 1916. Many classes were added over time, with stock cars, motorcycles and also some wild competition in the open class, where entrants were free to make all manner of unregulated modifications to their vehicles specifically targeting the race, in much the same way as no matter what the sportscar calendar consists of, vehicles are designed with Le Mans in mind. The combination of the need for extreme cornering stability along with the oxygen demands on the vehicles at the ever-increasing altitude meant specialised vehicles were created for the PPIHC in a way unique on the American calendar.

Until 1984, the event was largely a provincial affair, but as the decade wore on, Europeans progressively showed more interest in the event, with Michèle Mouton winning the event outright and then an award-winning short film being made about Ari Vatanen’s pursuit of the course record in 1988. Since 2002, the previously all-gravel route had started to be paved following a lawsuit by the Sierra Club against the city of Colorado Springs, under whose jurisdiction the road fell. This was due to the significant damage through erosion that was created by the event as the loose-packed dirt and gravel was spewed down the mountainside by the hundreds upon hundreds of entrants in the hillclimb. The asphalt was laid down on the final section in 2011, which was seen by many as the death of the true spirit of the Peak; the ten minute barrier was broken by Nobuhiro Tajima that same year, and the nine minute barrier soon followed in 2013 at the hands of Sébastien Loeb, who was even closer to the eight minute mark than the nine. In recent years electric vehicles have dominated, due to not suffering in the altitude, and Volkswagen broke the eight minute barrier in the hands of Romain Dumas in 2018. Despite the tarmac being safer to handle on than the loose gravel, the increased speed that has resulted has increased the risk considerably too, and motorcycle racing has been discontinued as of 2021, the same year the new summit complex was opened.

Of course, however, while it was never accessible to the Coors Classic and the Mount Evans hillclimb is the most famous similar type event for cyclists in the region, the enforced paving of the Pikes Peak Highway road has meant that since 2011, it is now available for cycling as well. And this creates a monster. An absolute monster.

PikesPeak.gif


Yes - 31km at 6,6%. This is what they call brutal, and it stands up strong against any European climb that I can come up with. In fact, I’ve even gone the Télégraphe+Galibier route and categorised that first first 9km independently, then starting the final climb at the end of the false flat, close to the start of the PPIHC motor race, and even then it’s still quite demonstrably an hors catégorie ascent - being 17km at 8%, and that with a short amount of flat in it. There’s 11km at 9% in the middle (the first part of the section I’ve classified as Pikes Peak) from the first steep ramps after the hillclimb start up to the Devil’s Playground, so that in and of itself would probably merit HC status.

Just for the part that I have categorised, this puts it in the same kind of ballpark as Col de la Madeleine south, Chamrousse via Col Luitel, Blockhaus from Scafa (the steeper route) and the Col de Portet. Except this is at 2000m higher altitude, cresting at over 4200m and providing a challenge even to those well versed in the Latin American péloton and climbing those Colombian and Venezuelan monstrosities like La Línea and Letras. There are very few comparables for the whole climb that are known to racing unless we think of doublets like Télégraphe-Galibier or Sierra Nevada via Monachil. They are like Fuji-San via the Fujinomiya Trail, Doi Inthanon (38km at 6%), Ovit Pass in northern Turkey, Roque de los Muchachos and other such monsters known only to traceurs and cyclotourists. Perhaps Cerro de la Muerte in the Vuelta a Costa Rica is the most likely comparable but even then, it is far more consistent than Pikes Peak.

This one is really going to create some huge gaps. With a climb like this, a Unipuerto stage is sufficient, just like a Mont Ventoux or a Genting Highlands, especially in the field that will be racing this. The climb is so hard it’s going to guarantee time gaps regardless of the lack of previous climbing. And if they ever raced this in real life, we’d be looking at some major gaps. Major gaps.

Pikes-Peak-Visitor-Center-Exterior_Credit-DHM-Design.jpg
FYI. We're not allowed to say Mt Evans anymore. It's Mt Blue Sky now.
 
Stage 6: Colorado Springs - Air Force Academy, 30,2km (ITT)

tA1jU82u_o.png


AhW5LpUb_o.png


The last day before the rest day is the race’s only test against the clock. And yes, this placement might hamper aggression in the preceding mountain stage, but I do feel that the severity of the climb and the altitude will be enough to ensure we do still get some hard racing that day.

The course connects two important development academies within the Colorado Springs area, the US Olympic and Paralympic Training Center in the middle of the city, and the US Air Force Academy in the outlying foothills of the Front Range. These are two of the prime drivers for placing the stage here, although the short transfer distance and the significance of Colorado Springs as a stage town was fairly obvious. With a population of a little under half a million, this is the second largest city in Colorado and was its original capital, while the state was still officially only a Territory. This only stood from the city’s founding as Colorado City in 1859 to cater to Pikes Peak Gold Rush speculators and travellers until 1861 when the capital was moved to Golden, but its position at the base of the most recognisable mountain when approaching the Rockies in this part of the world made it a popular settling point for those travelling west. The altitude making the climate more hospitable than in much of the desert territories, the city was especially popular with English immigrants, lending it the nickname of ‘Little London’. The merging of Colorado City with Fountain Springs and other outlying colonies in 1872 created the new municipality of Colorado Springs, and it soon became a place for aviation, with a number of airfields opened up in the 1910s and 1920s, and this as well as the access to high mountains for satellite and RADAR stations monitoring during the Cold War meant it was chosen as the home of the USAF training academy in the 1940s and 50s. The original site of the central command for Air Defence Command was Ent Air Force Base, but with this moving into the hillside complex, this former base was repurposed in 1977 as the US Olympic and Paralympic Training Center. The new Air Force Academy celebrated its first graduates in 1959, and has since expanded to also commission new officers for the Space Force in 2021 - the city is also home to numerous Space Force facilities and has the largest number of military installations for the space services in the world. Across the army, air force and space force, almost 50.000 active servicemen and women are stationed within the Colorado Springs municipality.

colorado-springs-downtown-3_orig.jpg

Downtown Colorado Springs

Although this central history of the city seems to be tied to defence, it is also a very popular city with tourists. The access to Pikes Peak is a primary factor in that - the city even reopened the old cog railway in 2021 - but perhaps the most immediate attraction is the Garden of the Gods, a National Natural Landmark originally known by settlers as Red Rock Corral, a spectacular formation of red rocks with dramatic overhangs and vertical faces which were travelled through and used as both holy sites and navigational aids by multiple Native American groups. It looks like a living Roadrunner and Wile E. Coyote cartoon.

GardenoftheGods3WEB-a6011427cb1b43b2a6afd4ca4a63b6ac.jpg


With the high altitude being beneficial to endurance sportspeople - the city is at over 1800m altitude and has access to mountains exceeding double that, of course - it made for a logical centre for the US Olympic authority to establish a central training base, and as a result, countless sportspeople have made Colorado Springs their home, at least for part of their careers. Strangely, though, the sport most commonly associated with the city is an indoor sport, and a technical one at that - the city is renowned for its figure skating, holding the sport’s World Championships five times and being home to its Hall of Fame. Despite this, however, it strangely hosts no high level ice hockey, despite the Colorado Avalanche up the road in Denver being multiple-time Stanley Cup champions, and Colorado Springs sharing the role of host of the IIHF World Championships in 1962. It does however have the Colorado College Tigers, who are the heated rivals of the Denver Pioneers across all sports in which they compete.

The number of sporting sons and daughters of Colorado Springs are numerous. A few notable examples are Hall of Fame baseball pitcher Goose Gossage, who was an early adopter of the ‘closer’ role in the 1970s and early 80s; Vincent Jackson, a star wide receiver for the San Diego Chargers and Tampa Bay Buccaneers whose premature death in 2021 is one of the most prominent linked to CTE from head injuries suffered during his playing career; two time Super Bowl winner (with the Pittsburgh Steelers teams of the 2000s) Aaron Smith; former NFL player turned MMA icon Bob “The Beast” Sapp, whose impressive size and (suspiciously enhanced) physique turned him into a star especially in Japan in the sport’s formative years and before developments in the sport exposed many of his technical weaknesses; and much of the motor racing Unser dynasty; the family is closely associated with the Pikes Peak International Hillclimb, but it seems much of the side of the family from which Al Unser, Al Unser Jr. and Robby come was based out of Albuquerque, while Jerry Unser, Bobby Unser and their side of the family were settled in Colorado Springs. The US training facilities in the city mean many others have settled in the area, such as UFC Hall of Famer Donald Cerrone, who attended Air Force Academy; NBA Hall of Famer Rick Barry; Olympic bronze medalist figure skaters the Knierims, Chris and his wife Alexa; they separated on-ice in 2020 due to Chris’ retirement, with Alexa going on to win a further gold and silver medal at the world championships in 2022 and 2023 with new sporting partner Brendan Frazier; former world champion skeet shooter Bill Roy; former amateur wrestling standout turned pro wrestler Bobby Lashley and former Four Continents silver medallist figure skater John Coughlin, who dramatically committed suicide in 2019 a day after receiving a suspension for unspecified allegations, which later turned out to have been related to grooming underage skaters.

Surprisingly, then, given its position of prominence in US sport, when I was researching this race, I found that while the Red Zinger Race/Coors Classic was running, Colorado Springs has little to no involvement. This was especially surprising to me given that US cycling at the time liked to reuse routes and repeat stages almost exactly year on year, looking to establish some kind of mythos and tradition to certain routes and sites on the route and give it its own identity. Therefore when the USA won the rights to host the Road World Championships for the first time in 1986, and Colorado Springs was chosen as the host, given the fact that Colorado was very much the epicentre of American cycling, I assumed this route would have been ‘known’, but it seems this was not the case. Instead, the course was an undulating series of digs on a route around the Air Force Academy, with a lot of false flat interspersed with occasional shorter, more sustained climbing. Back in those days, the only TT was the 100km four-rider Team Time Trial (the only format which should be accepted) with a mostly amateur field which was won by the Netherlands, and there were only three road races, the men’s elite, the women’s elite, and the men’s amateur. Jeannie Longo won the women’s race from a small group, Uwe Ampler the men’s amateur in similar fashion, while Moreno Argentin would beat Charly Mottet in a close finish in the elite road race; the two would drop Spaniard Juan Fernández, the third member of their trio in the break, in the run to the line, and to add insult to injury he would be swallowed by the remains of the péloton on the line and relegated to 4th by Giuseppe Saronni.

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Profile of the Colorado Springs World Championship circuit, from the awesome historic resource that is Lasterketa Burua’s history of World Championship courses - check it out

1986 World Championships Road Race highlights

Colorado Springs has shown up on the routes of the rebirthed Colorado Tour, though, the USA Pro Cycling Challenge. In fact, the race saw its inaugural Grand Départ in the city, or more accurately just outside it, with a prologue starting in the Garden of the Gods and ending downtown. Actually it was 8,3km so should have been a full TT stage, but they called it a prologue. Germans and locals dominated, with the top 8 being entirely from those two nations; Patrick Gretsch won racing for HTC-High Road, while Jens Voigt was the only one of the 8 not to be on a US-based team. The city would return a year later as a stage finish, for stage 5 from Breckenridge - a stage which essentially followed the same route as my stage 5 but with a long plateau to finish rather than a monstrous HC mountain. This ended with a bunch sprint won by Tyler Farrar. There was also a circuit race in Colorado Springs in 2014, but rather than using the Air Force Academy circuit from 1986 they preferred to use another circuit around the Garden of the Gods. The profile makes it look a lot harder than it was, however, with one of those misleading exaggerated profiles that make small ascents look like monsters; the preference for feet and miles in US races over metres and kilometres possibly also exacerbated the issue in making climbs look more significant than they were. Despite some hope for interesting racing, we got a fairly nondescript sprint stage won by Elia Viviani. This same circuit was used in the 2017 Colorado Cycling Classic, a non-sequel sequel to the USAPCC, itself a non-sequel sequel to the Coors Classic, and was won by John Murphy, also in a bunch gallop.

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2011 Grand Départ at the Garden of the Gods

I’ve looked to create a TT that links the US Olympic centre in the downtown area and heads out to the Air Force Academy, to link the modern day racing in the city with those 1986 Worlds. Originally when I had an east-west route, I was heading into Colorado Springs from the north and put a race finishing on the circuit from those championships, with the following stage being loops of the Garden of the Gods circuit from 2014 and 2017 before Pikes Peak, but that was dissatisfactory and the race ended up expanding to over two weeks to include everything I needed - just not really necessary and overlong for a single state given my proposed plans for some “Great American Road Race” parcours ideas. The revised route is this, a challenging ITT which ends at 200m higher altitude than it starts, but for the majority of its duration is a pure power test; the first 7km or so are gradually uphill, but only at about 1-1,5%, and are absolutely ramrod straight after the first corner coming off the ramp. At the halfway stage we loop around Davis Airfield and enter the USAFA complex, with a drag of a climb - 4km at 3,5% so not steep and certainly not enough for the recent fad of bike changes for climbing TT sections to come into effect, but enough that it might balance things off a bit more between the pure power guys and the all-rounders, especially given we’re at 2000m above sea level here. No, it’s not quite the madness of those Vuelta a Bolivia TTs, and it’s not traditional like the Vail Pass TT. But this should be a good challenge.

I was tempted to put the finish at the same spot as the 1986 Worlds, but instead I felt this made things a bit overlong and added extra hills; the race has hills enough, plus the characteristics of US GC candidates have historically been about heavy TT bias and grinding mountains due to the nature of races in the USA that they’ve grown up with - not just the likes of Lance, but the likes of Leipheimer, van Garderen, Vande Velde, Julich, Landis, Danielson and Talansky. Even today, the likes of Jorgenson show versatility and ATV potential. Exceptions (perhaps like Chris Horner or some other guy) are rare. So this will be a bit of a sop to the US riders, and so instead of climbing up Academy Drive, we finish at Falcon Stadium, home of the Air Force college football team and also hosting the 2020 NHL Stadium Series game between the Colorado Avalanche and the Los Angeles Kings. The Falcons (the nickname of the Air Force college sports teams) have announced athletics-based developments suggesting a running track may become part of the facilities in future, these are currently undertaken at a much smaller facility near the 1986 Worlds finish. If they do indeed install a running track, I’ll put the finish on the track itself. If not, we’ll have to settle for the roads outside the stadium.

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Babadağ is, just for the climbing in a vacuum, significantly harder according to PRC, with a Coeficiente APM of 688 to Pikes Peak's 536 making it the hardest climb seen in racing by their system, being as tough as the likes of Mortirolo, Rettenbachferner or the old Mount Fuji hillclimb, but 50% longer in duration. As I've discussed before though, the coefficient does exaggerate for steepness and has no means by which to take altitude or surface into account. IIRC there was brick paving in the last km or 2 of that climb, but Pikes Peak has the 4000m altitude to factor in. Großglockner north was probably a good comparative I neglected to mention.
Tbh I find it a bit hard to quantify difficulty past a certain point because when you're alone, it should be a full gas effort no matter how steep or high or how bad the surface is. I think you can sort of trade out altitude for gradient just based on likely W/kg and therefor adjusted speed and then the drag, but then you ignore athletes being not very used to these altitudes and therefor much more likely to explode.

What I do disagree with is the overall difficulty of the stage, ie I don't think altitude is gonna do a huge number of these guys on a pretty easy day before the final climb because and they won't do any full gas effort that they also need to recover from before the final climb starts. It does make the flat slighly harder because they should go faster with more rolling resistance and less drag, but it will also reduce the total kJs expended before the final climb.
 
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I mean, after the Ponferrada TT they turned down I can't see the UCI ever allowing it and we'd probably end up going back to the circuits version of the Worlds ITT from back in the Madrid-Stuttgart-Varese-Mendrisio days, but I can't say it wouldn't be really cool, and Envalira is hardly a monster climb, the power guys can definitely grind it out.

The altitude would be really interesting too.
 
Yeah, a circuit with the same side of Comella and down to the border (so in opposite side of the road as I have them) done twice is more realistic. Very much a traditional format to have the TT use most of the road race circuit.

EDIT: Or did you have a flat route only in mind?

 
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Yeah, a circuit with the same side of Comella and down to the border (so in opposite side of the road as I have them) done twice is more realistic. Very much a traditional format to have the TT use most of the road race circuit.

EDIT: Or did you have a flat route only in mind?

I was thinking more like your first suggestion, so there is some uphill in there but it's not like an MTT. Including a climb the size of La Comella in the TT wouldn't be that dissimilar from something like, say, Mount Fløyen in 2017.
 
Stage 7: Denver - Denver, 64km

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Ah yes, it’s an American stage race, so what would it be without a criterium? And what would be a better setting for it than the state’s capital and largest city?

With a city the size and stature of Denver I don’t think it’s really particularly productive to go through the full history of the city like I often do with these routes, since I’m going to go out on a limb and say that the majority of you will be well aware of the Mile High City, but I will add a bit of colour here and there. The official population of Denver is around 700.000, but because of the surrounding urban areas that its growth has absorbed, almost 3.000.000 can be considered natives of the Denver metropolitan area; it is the 19th largest city in the US and sits at the confluence of two rivers just to the east of the Rocky Mountains. The land here was originally designated as territory belonging to the Cheyenne and Arapaho native tribes as part of what was then the western outposts of Kansas, but as was so often the case during US expansion, the discovery of gold in the nearby mountains in 1858 (often characterised specifically as the Pikes Peak Gold Rush, although Pikes Peak itself is some way south) meant that this was swiftly reversed and speculators descended upon the region; Montana City was established on the site of present-day Denver as a mining town, though it was short-lived and soon replaced by neighbouring Auraria. Land speculators from Kansas established an outpost at the river confluence in order to try to undermine the upstart town and named it Denver after the then-governor of Kansas in an attempt to curry favour (unaware that he had resigned in the intervening period since they set out to establish the city), and set it up as a frontier town offering drink and gambling to miners and speculators and integrating it into wagon and eventually rail routes.

When the land that would eventually become Colorado was definitively won by defeating the natives in the Colorado War and subsequently was defined as a territory of the union, Denver was chosen as its capital owing to its terminus status for overland travel. The city continued to grow rapidly and attract migrants until the price of silver crashed in 1893, but by then it was the second largest city east of Nebraska and in what we would now know as the Mountain and Pacific time zones.

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Being one of the major metropoles of the region and one of the few examples in America of a largest city also being the state capitol, unsurprisingly Denver is the centre for sport in Colorado, and one of 13 cities that have at least one team in all four major sports leagues of the US - although it is the smallest such city. The oldest is the Denver Broncos, the NFL team which started out in the AFL in the 1960s and has won four of its eight Superbowl appearances, with its heyday being in the late 90s with John Elway as the figurehead. The next oldest is the Denver Nuggets from the NBA, originally founded in the ABA in 1967 as the Larks, but renamed to the present name in 1974, winning their first title in franchise history as recently as 2023. The other sports followed in the 1990s, with the Colorado Rockies being added as an expansion franchise in 1993, and then the struggling Quebec Nordiques being relocated to the city in 1995. Initially the team was to be called the Rocky Mountain Extreme but thankfully this was nixed and replaced by the more reasonable Colorado Avalanche, known as the ‘Avs’ colloquially. The refusal of Eric Lindros to play for Quebec meant they got away with an absolute haul of talents and prospects in a trade that meant that they had essentially a fully-fledged championship team sent to them from the word go, winning their first Stanley Cup in their first season in Denver, and winning two more since. The city also hosts the MLS team the Colorado Rapids, one of the founding members of the league.

In addition to this there are a host of college sports teams, most notably the Denver Pioneers, and also for many years there was a CART (and subsequently CCWS) race held in the city, initially a downtown street circuit in the early 1990s, then a temporary circuit laid out in the car park of the Pepsi Center (now Ball Arena). It was also the host city for the first two UFC events back in 1993-4; it was also originally awarded the 1976 Winter Olympics but eventually this award was rescinded after voters rejected a public-funding ballot. The list of people from Denver is too long to get into, but we should probably mention a few of the cyclists, right?

Ron Kiefel was the first rider of major note to come out of the city, as a few 80s riders originated from here as the Coors Classic/Red Zinger Race gave them a route to prominence; Kiefel won a bronze medal in the TTT at the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics, then turned pro with 7-Eleven in 1985 and in fact became the first American Grand Tour stage winner at the Giro that year, winning a transitional medium-mountain stage to Perugia. That would be his career best, although he won several stages of the Coors Classic and the Tour de Trump. Greg “H-Bomb” Herbold, a hall of fame mountain biker, is also from Denver, as is former national champion Gregory Daniel, who took a couple of years at the World Tour with Trek-Segafredo. But - sadly - the best known Denverite to world cycling is a former Dauphiné stage victor and winner of the Route du Sud who also won a number of smaller races in the US but is now best known as the sport’s most prominent snake oil salesman, Jonathan Vaughters.

569d51b3e6183e9d408b9ee2

Self-serving ***

As the capital and metropole of the USA’s most cycling-supportive state, Denver has played host to a slew of races over the years, often hosting the Coors Classic and its successors. Stages in the city tended to be circuit races, usually flat ones, as the city’s position is such that this is more or less inevitable; although the urban sprawl extends out to the foothills of the Rockies, the fact of the matter is that downtown Denver is some way removed so you would have to do an out-and-back in the manner of the 2012 London Olympics course to make a Denver stage too topographically interesting, and even then it would be a long and flat run-in. 1983 saw an interesting development on this format with a split stage, an ITT and a criterium, and similar formats were used in future years before the race spluttered out in the late 80s, having potentially grown a bit too big with its detours to California and Hawaii and no longer being able to afford to shut down a major metropolitan centre for the race.

When the USA Pro Cycling Challenge was introduced, however, part of the promotion was taking the race to the people, rather than vice versa, and the final stage ended with circuits of downtown Denver. Elia Viviani gifted the sprint win to teammate Daniel Oss who had been leading him out, as the Liquigas train was so dominant in the race. The following year a 15km ITT took place in the city as the final stage of the race, which was dominated by the US riders; Taylor Phinney won the stage, but Christian Vande Velde crucially overhauled his 9-second deficit to Levi Leipheimer to snare the GC on the final day, with Tejay van Garderen also vaulting ahead of his elder compatriot on the day as well. A near identical course was used as a sprint circuit the following year, linking up to 15,1km for eight laps, which with a neutral zone made for a 117km final stage. Peter Sagan won the sprint and though the circuit idea would be dropped, sprints in Denver were reinstated as the way to end the race until it ran out of steam, as almost every short stage race seems to think that it deserves a Champs Elysées parade stage for reasons I don’t really get. Alex Howes - another Denver native - won a short Boulder to Denver stage in 2014, and John Murphy won a Golden to Denver stage in 2015.

When the Colorado Cycling Classic was inaugurated in 2017 as a smaller version of its predecessor, they experimented with the out-and-back Denver idea to make a tougher stage, with this being the result. As you can see, the mountains are a long way from the finish, but nevertheless it did prove eventful for the GC, with a two man breakaway of Sergei Țvetcov and Manuel Senni staying away by almost a minute, with the Romanian taking the stage and his Italian fellow fugitive the GC. This would be followed by a second Denver to Denver stage on the final day, a similar circuit to that used in 2013, with Mihkel Räim winning a sprint. A somewhat more convincing Denver medium mountain stage was used in 2018, but it was less effective from a GC point of view as the group pulled back the break and Pascal Eenkhoorn won a sprint of a reduced bunch, before again a circuit race on the final day which was won by Travis McCabe. In the women’s version of the race, commenced in 2018, Jennifer Valente won a crit stage and Kendall Ryan the road stage (though this was only 55km in length); after the men’s race was cancelled the women’s race lasted one more year, with Chloe Dygert winning comprehensively in 2019.

st4_W_CoClassic2018.jpg

Kendall Ryan wins in Denver in 2018

Although these kinds of short circuit stages aren’t seen commonly in UCI accredited stage races, we did used to see them a lot in the Open days - the Peace Race would include them and the Coors Classic did, and in races like the HTV Cup we see them to this day, frequently padding race length with crits and short circuits. And there can be no denying that that type of racing is highly characteristic and traditional in the American domestic calendar so it is not out of character to include. The stage that I have placed here is simply a pure criterium as mentioned - as this is the first day after the rest day it should be high speed antics, and I might even suggest having it take place in the evening for effect, although with the 2023 Vuelta TTT chaos in mind, that may be a bad idea. The stage consists of 30 laps of a 2,1km circuit (well, slightly over, hence the total being 64km rather than 63km) which is at the heart of Denver’s administrative district and surrounded by buildings of historical importance. It’s also little more than a classic American four-corner crit, of the kind that use wide roads and 90º square corners and come with blistering pace and slipstreaming start to finish. It’s not quite a pure four-corner crit, though, thanks to the curves on West Colfax Avenue to navigate around the Voorhies Memorial.

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The final sequence of curves

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State Capitol Building

The start and finish is outside the State Capitol, and we could have just circled Civic Center Park, but instead we go an extra block to the south, as this enables us to take 13th Avenue, passing between the Denver Art Museum and the Clyfford Still Museum opposite it, as well as passing the Center for Colorado Women’s History, which is at the opposite end of the architectural spectrum, being a classic colonial-style building as opposed to the striking, pointy modern architecture of the Art sector. We then return to Colfax Avenue to loop around the Voorhies Memorial, the Sadie Likens memorial (my confusing brain mixed Civil War philanthropist Sadie Likens with teenage torture and murder victim Sylvia Likens and thought this was a rather unusual memorial to house in a position among buildings of civic significance!) and the Pioneer Monument Fountain.

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Civic Center Park. Finish at bottom right, direction approaching camera

This will be a sprint stage - obviously - which will bring riders back into the race after the rest day somewhat gently. I can have mercy sometimes. After all, they just had a long TT and a 4200m MTF. American racing features a lot of criterium racing, these stages were part of the old Coors Classic, featuring for example in Grand Junction in 1982, Denver and North Boulder Park in 1983, Sacramento in 1988, and Reno in 1987 and 1988 - so I felt that while they mightn’t be the most televisually exciting spectacle, they are very much part of making this feel like a ‘true’ American road race, something that gives the spirit of American racing to give the race something of its own character rather than being, as too many attempts at reviving American racing have been since the original Coors Classic went under, a facsimile of European races on American roads.
 
Stage 7: Denver - Denver, 64km

4HDU0Nqk_o.png


E8YdyXRz_o.png


Ah yes, it’s an American stage race, so what would it be without a criterium? And what would be a better setting for it than the state’s capital and largest city?

With a city the size and stature of Denver I don’t think it’s really particularly productive to go through the full history of the city like I often do with these routes, since I’m going to go out on a limb and say that the majority of you will be well aware of the Mile High City, but I will add a bit of colour here and there. The official population of Denver is around 700.000, but because of the surrounding urban areas that its growth has absorbed, almost 3.000.000 can be considered natives of the Denver metropolitan area; it is the 19th largest city in the US and sits at the confluence of two rivers just to the east of the Rocky Mountains. The land here was originally designated as territory belonging to the Cheyenne and Arapaho native tribes as part of what was then the western outposts of Kansas, but as was so often the case during US expansion, the discovery of gold in the nearby mountains in 1858 (often characterised specifically as the Pikes Peak Gold Rush, although Pikes Peak itself is some way south) meant that this was swiftly reversed and speculators descended upon the region; Montana City was established on the site of present-day Denver as a mining town, though it was short-lived and soon replaced by neighbouring Auraria. Land speculators from Kansas established an outpost at the river confluence in order to try to undermine the upstart town and named it Denver after the then-governor of Kansas in an attempt to curry favour (unaware that he had resigned in the intervening period since they set out to establish the city), and set it up as a frontier town offering drink and gambling to miners and speculators and integrating it into wagon and eventually rail routes.

When the land that would eventually become Colorado was definitively won by defeating the natives in the Colorado War and subsequently was defined as a territory of the union, Denver was chosen as its capital owing to its terminus status for overland travel. The city continued to grow rapidly and attract migrants until the price of silver crashed in 1893, but by then it was the second largest city east of Nebraska and in what we would now know as the Mountain and Pacific time zones.

1200px-Full_Denver_skyline.jpg


Being one of the major metropoles of the region and one of the few examples in America of a largest city also being the state capitol, unsurprisingly Denver is the centre for sport in Colorado, and one of 13 cities that have at least one team in all four major sports leagues of the US - although it is the smallest such city. The oldest is the Denver Broncos, the NFL team which started out in the AFL in the 1960s and has won four of its eight Superbowl appearances, with its heyday being in the late 90s with John Elway as the figurehead. The next oldest is the Denver Nuggets from the NBA, originally founded in the ABA in 1967 as the Larks, but renamed to the present name in 1974, winning their first title in franchise history as recently as 2023. The other sports followed in the 1990s, with the Colorado Rockies being added as an expansion franchise in 1993, and then the struggling Quebec Nordiques being relocated to the city in 1995. Initially the team was to be called the Rocky Mountain Extreme but thankfully this was nixed and replaced by the more reasonable Colorado Avalanche, known as the ‘Avs’ colloquially. The refusal of Eric Lindros to play for Quebec meant they got away with an absolute haul of talents and prospects in a trade that meant that they had essentially a fully-fledged championship team sent to them from the word go, winning their first Stanley Cup in their first season in Denver, and winning two more since. The city also hosts the MLS team the Colorado Rapids, one of the founding members of the league.

In addition to this there are a host of college sports teams, most notably the Denver Pioneers, and also for many years there was a CART (and subsequently CCWS) race held in the city, initially a downtown street circuit in the early 1990s, then a temporary circuit laid out in the car park of the Pepsi Center (now Ball Arena). It was also the host city for the first two UFC events back in 1993-4; it was also originally awarded the 1976 Winter Olympics but eventually this award was rescinded after voters rejected a public-funding ballot. The list of people from Denver is too long to get into, but we should probably mention a few of the cyclists, right?

Ron Kiefel was the first rider of major note to come out of the city, as a few 80s riders originated from here as the Coors Classic/Red Zinger Race gave them a route to prominence; Kiefel won a bronze medal in the TTT at the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics, then turned pro with 7-Eleven in 1985 and in fact became the first American Grand Tour stage winner at the Giro that year, winning a transitional medium-mountain stage to Perugia. That would be his career best, although he won several stages of the Coors Classic and the Tour de Trump. Greg “H-Bomb” Herbold, a hall of fame mountain biker, is also from Denver, as is former national champion Gregory Daniel, who took a couple of years at the World Tour with Trek-Segafredo. But - sadly - the best known Denverite to world cycling is a former Dauphiné stage victor and winner of the Route du Sud who also won a number of smaller races in the US but is now best known as the sport’s most prominent snake oil salesman, Jonathan Vaughters.

569d51b3e6183e9d408b9ee2

Self-serving ***

As the capital and metropole of the USA’s most cycling-supportive state, Denver has played host to a slew of races over the years, often hosting the Coors Classic and its successors. Stages in the city tended to be circuit races, usually flat ones, as the city’s position is such that this is more or less inevitable; although the urban sprawl extends out to the foothills of the Rockies, the fact of the matter is that downtown Denver is some way removed so you would have to do an out-and-back in the manner of the 2012 London Olympics course to make a Denver stage too topographically interesting, and even then it would be a long and flat run-in. 1983 saw an interesting development on this format with a split stage, an ITT and a criterium, and similar formats were used in future years before the race spluttered out in the late 80s, having potentially grown a bit too big with its detours to California and Hawaii and no longer being able to afford to shut down a major metropolitan centre for the race.

When the USA Pro Cycling Challenge was introduced, however, part of the promotion was taking the race to the people, rather than vice versa, and the final stage ended with circuits of downtown Denver. Elia Viviani gifted the sprint win to teammate Daniel Oss who had been leading him out, as the Liquigas train was so dominant in the race. The following year a 15km ITT took place in the city as the final stage of the race, which was dominated by the US riders; Taylor Phinney won the stage, but Christian Vande Velde crucially overhauled his 9-second deficit to Levi Leipheimer to snare the GC on the final day, with Tejay van Garderen also vaulting ahead of his elder compatriot on the day as well. A near identical course was used as a sprint circuit the following year, linking up to 15,1km for eight laps, which with a neutral zone made for a 117km final stage. Peter Sagan won the sprint and though the circuit idea would be dropped, sprints in Denver were reinstated as the way to end the race until it ran out of steam, as almost every short stage race seems to think that it deserves a Champs Elysées parade stage for reasons I don’t really get. Alex Howes - another Denver native - won a short Boulder to Denver stage in 2014, and John Murphy won a Golden to Denver stage in 2015.

When the Colorado Cycling Classic was inaugurated in 2017 as a smaller version of its predecessor, they experimented with the out-and-back Denver idea to make a tougher stage, with this being the result. As you can see, the mountains are a long way from the finish, but nevertheless it did prove eventful for the GC, with a two man breakaway of Sergei Țvetcov and Manuel Senni staying away by almost a minute, with the Romanian taking the stage and his Italian fellow fugitive the GC. This would be followed by a second Denver to Denver stage on the final day, a similar circuit to that used in 2013, with Mihkel Räim winning a sprint. A somewhat more convincing Denver medium mountain stage was used in 2018, but it was less effective from a GC point of view as the group pulled back the break and Pascal Eenkhoorn won a sprint of a reduced bunch, before again a circuit race on the final day which was won by Travis McCabe. In the women’s version of the race, commenced in 2018, Jennifer Valente won a crit stage and Kendall Ryan the road stage (though this was only 55km in length); after the men’s race was cancelled the women’s race lasted one more year, with Chloe Dygert winning comprehensively in 2019.

st4_W_CoClassic2018.jpg

Kendall Ryan wins in Denver in 2018

Although these kinds of short circuit stages aren’t seen commonly in UCI accredited stage races, we did used to see them a lot in the Open days - the Peace Race would include them and the Coors Classic did, and in races like the HTV Cup we see them to this day, frequently padding race length with crits and short circuits. And there can be no denying that that type of racing is highly characteristic and traditional in the American domestic calendar so it is not out of character to include. The stage that I have placed here is simply a pure criterium as mentioned - as this is the first day after the rest day it should be high speed antics, and I might even suggest having it take place in the evening for effect, although with the 2023 Vuelta TTT chaos in mind, that may be a bad idea. The stage consists of 30 laps of a 2,1km circuit (well, slightly over, hence the total being 64km rather than 63km) which is at the heart of Denver’s administrative district and surrounded by buildings of historical importance. It’s also little more than a classic American four-corner crit, of the kind that use wide roads and 90º square corners and come with blistering pace and slipstreaming start to finish. It’s not quite a pure four-corner crit, though, thanks to the curves on West Colfax Avenue to navigate around the Voorhies Memorial.

190430-COLFAX-BROADWAY-CIVIC-CENTER-CITYSCAPE-KEVINJBEATY-01-1024x576.jpg

The final sequence of curves

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State Capitol Building

The start and finish is outside the State Capitol, and we could have just circled Civic Center Park, but instead we go an extra block to the south, as this enables us to take 13th Avenue, passing between the Denver Art Museum and the Clyfford Still Museum opposite it, as well as passing the Center for Colorado Women’s History, which is at the opposite end of the architectural spectrum, being a classic colonial-style building as opposed to the striking, pointy modern architecture of the Art sector. We then return to Colfax Avenue to loop around the Voorhies Memorial, the Sadie Likens memorial (my confusing brain mixed Civil War philanthropist Sadie Likens with teenage torture and murder victim Sylvia Likens and thought this was a rather unusual memorial to house in a position among buildings of civic significance!) and the Pioneer Monument Fountain.

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Civic Center Park. Finish at bottom right, direction approaching camera

This will be a sprint stage - obviously - which will bring riders back into the race after the rest day somewhat gently. I can have mercy sometimes. After all, they just had a long TT and a 4200m MTF. American racing features a lot of criterium racing, these stages were part of the old Coors Classic, featuring for example in Grand Junction in 1982, Denver and North Boulder Park in 1983, Sacramento in 1988, and Reno in 1987 and 1988 - so I felt that while they mightn’t be the most televisually exciting spectacle, they are very much part of making this feel like a ‘true’ American road race, something that gives the spirit of American racing to give the race something of its own character rather than being, as too many attempts at reviving American racing have been since the original Coors Classic went under, a facsimile of European races on American roads.
Richard Plugge approves.
 
I mean, after the Ponferrada TT they turned down I can't see the UCI ever allowing it and we'd probably end up going back to the circuits version of the Worlds ITT from back in the Madrid-Stuttgart-Varese-Mendrisio days, but I can't say it wouldn't be really cool, and Envalira is hardly a monster climb, the power guys can definitely grind it out.

The altitude would be really interesting too.
Reminds me a bit of an itt in the Giro 93.

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Envalira has 15k over 5%, 5k at 6,8% and 1k at 9,3%.
For Sestriere it's 12,1k over 5%, 5k at 6,3% and 1k at 7,9%.

Sestriere was 96 minutes for the winner Indurain. With 19 stages in his legs.

Nice one.
 
Stage 8: Superior - Superior, 170km

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GPM:
The Wall (cat.3)

When I decided I was going to do a Tour of Colorado, this instantly became the most important inclusion. In fact, I think this was the biggest omission and the main thing that hurt the USA Pro Cycling Challenge from ever truly adopting the support and attention that the Coors Classic once had had. Because this was the most obvious and perfect link to the past that they could possibly have incorporated into the race. It’s so simple, so effective and so easy to implement that it was a great disappointment not to see. This is something which is more or less ingrained into American cycling as part of their history, the nearest thing American cycling has to the icons of the Classics (as opposed to the big mountaintops), those sites that are part of cycling 101 - you know the ones, the Carrefour de l’Arbre, the Koppenberg, the Muur van Geraardsbergen, the Poggio di Sanremo, the Mur de Huy, the Cauberg and so on. Yes, this was part of a much smaller scene back in the day, but it’s part of the iconography of that scene in the same way as the Steiler Wand von Meerane was in the Eastern Bloc or Kiddevej is in Denmark. This is the legendary, renowned Morgul-Bismarck Loop.


The Morgul-Bismarck Loop is located so close to major urban centres in the likes of Denver and Boulder that it is very easily accessible, but it’s also away from major thoroughfares enough to be able to stay part of US cycling culture over 30 years after the fall of the original Coors Classic, as one of the most popular routes to ride for casual cyclists and as a training ride for many. This 21 kilometre loop is a hilly, undulating route which, in all reality, probably isn’t that likely to be anything like as decisive in modern cycling as it was back in the original run of the race, but it is nevertheless such an icon that it was always going to be an essential inclusion for me. The course likely looks somewhat different to the unspoiled battleground of the 80s, with this article bewailing how that landscape has given way to “scraped, naked hills” as the land has becoming increasingly close to the urban sprawl as Denver’s urban area continues to expand.

Historically the course has been a little shorter than the route that I have used, because back in the day the péloton was a mixed pro/am bunch and frequently it would be 7 laps with a hilltop finish at The Wall. I have elected not to have the HTF this time, and have an extra lap to reflect the stronger péloton. Winners on the Morgul-Bismarck Loop have included Viktor Demidenko, back in the days when the Soviets would come and send strong teams, as depicted so iconically in American Flyers, Alexei Grewal, Chris Carmichael and 12-time Giro d’Italia stage winner Paolo Rosola. The circuit was the original choice for the 1986 World Championships when Colorado bid to host, and Coors Classic race director Mike Aisner pushed hard for the circuit to be selected for the Championships, but politics prevented this and the bid was amended to the Colorado Springs circuit eventually chosen. From 1987 onward, the stage was revised to more closely reflect what I have here, with an extra lap, so these stages might offer a better reflection of what we can expect, but I would suggest that the most likely outcome for this one, being so deep into the race, is either a baroudeur’s stage for the breakaway, or a reduced sprint or final lap shoot-out.

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The top of The Wall, finish of the Morgul-Bismark one-day race on the US national calendar. Here we see Flavia Oliveira win the women’s race in 2014

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The Wall as it appeared in 1986

The main reason I think this is the most likely outcome is that the changes in tech in the last 30 years as well as the increased professionalism of the péloton has meant that races stay together much longer nowadays; The Wall is not actually that difficult an obstacle if you just look at its raw stats; according to VeloViewer it amounts to 2,2km at 4,1% - although as you can see from the profile there, it’s a pretty inconsistent ascent, and the second half is much steeper; the last 800m is at something approaching 8% and includes the toughest ramp, with 80m exceeding 14% and a maximum of 18%. This ought to be enough to allow for some separation but the fact remains that the summit is 15,3km from the end of the lap so allowing for some tactical racing on the remainder of the circuit. The Wall is not the only obstacle on the course, it’s just the most famous. There is also The Hump, a short ramp on McCaslin right at the start of the circuit which gets up to 8%, but is overall around a kilometre at 4-5%, and was the first part of the loop to become infiltrated by modern development. It was tougher before, but reprofiling of the roads to account for the larger amount of road traffic has resulted in it becoming shallower and wider.

However, part of the joy of the Morgul-Bismark Loop was that, as attested by former Giro stage winner and Coors Classic ever-present Ron Kiefel, it was a circuit that nearly any type of rider could look to have hopes on. Strong one-day riders and classics men still had a chance; the only type that was precluded was sprinters, owing to the finish being at the top of The Wall. With the finish back in Superior, even they are added to the list of options. It is much missed by many of the adherents of US cycling’s golden age; people like Kiefel and Davis Phinney musing on the lost beauty of the course and the way that the massive increase in population and urban sprawl has encroached onto the circuit, meaning that although it is far from off-limits to recreational cyclists (and indeed wide shoulders and cycle paths have been included in the part that runs through the now larger urban part of the course to accommodate them), the massive uptick in vehicular traffic through these roads has robbed the loop of much of its tranquility and appeal to the Colorado cycling population, and that’s a real shame. It remains a popular ride for nostalgia and tradition, but the Morgul-Bismark of the 1980s is almost as lost as the symbolism of having US home hero Greg Lemond chasing a four-man Soviet attack and sprinting against Yuri Barinov at the top of The Wall.

The nearest thing we can give the world to the Morgul-Bismark Loop of old is a closed circuit race among the pros of the world and domestic péloton. That will see us closing the roads to regular traffic, and given today’s Continental Pros are the equivalent of yesteryear’s elite Amateurs (especially in the Eastern Bloc where the “amateurs” were pro in all but name), we would likely have an equivalent péloton with some top teams and some domestic Contis. It won’t be quite the icon of American cycling that the race was in the 1980s… but it’s as close as we can get it, and that’s worth something at least.
 
It's been a while since I last posted a race in this thread. I've had some ideas for a second TdFF avec Samu and a third Deutschland Tour, but I never came around to finish them. Maybe I will complete them one day, but for now I've moved on to a different project.

It wasn't long ago that the Austrian racing scene was in "shambles". The Österreich-Rundfahrt/Tour of Austria has fortunately returned, and both the GP Vorarlberg and the Kirschblütenrennen in Wels now have UCI level status. The Oberösterreich-Rundfahrt and parts of the Tour of the Alps obviously also takes place in Austria.

But if we look at the women's side of the sport, there are no UCI races at all. There are of course multiple Austrian amateur/sportive/Gran Fondo events as well as a yearly Rad-Bundesliga, but I think the country and its riders and fans deserve a bit more.

The Österreich-Rundfahrt has never had a women's equivalent, and it seem the closest it's got may have been two time WC ITT medalist Christiane Soeder riding the final ITT of the 2009 race out of competition. However there has been at least one recent attempt to organise a stage race with an international field.

The Sportland Niederösterreich Womens|Kids Tour, with a combined elite/junior race and a U17 girls/U15 boys race, was originally supposed to be held for the first time in 2020, but it got cancelled due to the pandemic. It then ran in both 2021 and 22 before it was cancelled again last year. It is on the calendar for June 2024, but I don't know how likely it is to actually take place.

The race has so far been dominated by Polish riders. Aurela Nerlo was the inaugural champion and Daria Pikulik was victorious the following year. UAE's Karolina Kumięga also won a stage in 2021, while Katharina Fox is the only rider who won stages in both editions.

The '21 race also holds the honour of having been Antonia Niedermaier's first ever stage race. She led the youth classification during it, but one bad day meant she finished well behind in the end. Some of the other current young/up-and-coming Austrian, Czech, German, Luxembourgish, Polish and Swiss riders have also ridden the race.

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Photo from the podium ceremony after the opening ITT in 2021 with Karolina Karasiewicz in blue, Kumięga in yellow, Niedermaier in white and Nerlo in red


The format of my race is loosely inspired by the NÖ Womens Tour. It will also have 5 stages over 4 days, and none of them will be overly long. It will visit more of the country though, and the Niederösterreich region won't actually feature at all (or at least not in the first edition). It's intended to be a 2.1 race and will be run by a different organiser than the men's Tour of Austria.

Stay tuned for more info.
 
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Fraustro Tour
(Horrible name, really, but it's more catchy and unique than Austria Ladies Tour, Österreich Rundfahrt der Frauen or Tour of Austria Women - Battle of Central Europe)

Stage 1a: Schwaighofen - Salzburgring, 15.5 km ITT

Day 1 will start with a time trial. I originally wanted to have it in the city of Salzburg, but then I discovered the nearby Salzburgring race track, which I found to be a much more interesting setting.

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The Salzburgring track is 4.241 km long and has been used for various car and motorcycle races since it opened in 1969. It also hosts the annual Rad am Salzburgring with time trials and road races for people of most ages. This year you can even be crowned European champion on vintage bikes at the event, if you should fancy your chances. If roller skiing is more your cup of tea, there's also a Ski Classics Challengers race being held on the track in August.

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Anna Kiesenhofer won the ITT at the 2022 RaS in the colours of Team Cookina Graz. Among her then teammates were Hungarian talent Petra Zsankó (the tall one) and middle-distance runner turned national RR champion Carina Schrempf (furthest to the right from our POV)

At the Rad am Salzburgring they do 3 laps around the track, but I didn't want to have too many riders out on it at the same time, so here they will only be doing one lap. The first 10 km takes place outside the track and includes a bit of climbing and descending. The full course allegedly has more than 200m of elevation gain, so it's not entirely flat.

I wanted to have an ITT with a bit of length to it, both because there are too few of them in general, but also since Austria currently has two very capable time trialists in Anna Kiesenhofer and Christina Schweinberger, who you'd hope to see on the start line. It is a half-stage, so it obviously couldn't be too long either, but 15.5 km is in the same ballpark as the ones they have in the Baloise Ladies Tour. For the Tour de France Femmes they believe a 6 km flat course is acceptable, but that's simply not good enough for me.

Since the field might be a bit unbalanced, this stage could create some healthy gaps between the riders, but I will try to make it possible for a weaker time trialist to gain time back, if she's a capable climber that is.

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Fraustro Tour

Stage 1b: Salzburg - Schwarzensee, 64 km


The first road stage starts in Salzburg, home of Mozart (and his chocolate balls, which I enjoyed as a child), music and Maria von Trapp. It was of course also the venue for the 2006 World Championships which, among other results, saw Marianne Vos win her first title, Gerald Ciolek triumph in the U23 race, and Alejandro Valverde failing to take advantage of Samu's perfect lead out ;)

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Vos doing Vos things. But can she do it on a windy day in Belgium 17 years and 5 months later? Yes, she can!

As promised, the climbers will get opportunities to showcase themselves in this race. For this stage, early positioning will be key, especially if your name is Petra Stiasny for instance, cause the worst challenge comes after just 8 km of racing. The Daxluegstraße from Mayrwies to the top of Heuberg is around 3 km at over 9% avg., so it's sort of a steeper, less scenic version of Lacets de Montvernier or a slightly easier copy of Xorret de Catí.

This climb will separate the wheat from the chaff no matter how hard it's raced, and since it is a rather short stage, I expect there to be gaps at the top. The descent is on a narrow road, but for most of it it's only half as steep as the ascent, so I don't think it will cause too many problems.

The next 7 km are false flat which are followed by another 7 km of mostly descending, before the riders arrive in Thalgau. Here begins the next climb, Alpenblick (3 km, 6.5%). The top is at around the half way mark of the stage.

The riders will then make their way to Fuschl am See and ride over the top of the St. Gilgener Berg, before they reach St. Gilgen at the Wolfgangsee. Where Salzburg is famous for The Sound of Music, this area is known for being the setting of the operetta Im weißen Rößl/The White Horse Inn, which had runs in both the London West End and on Broadway in the 1930s and is still being performed in various versions today. The eponymous hotel is located in St. Wolfgang, which we won't visit.

In the Danish film adaption, which was filmed in the area at the same time as The Sound of Music, the story was moved to Tyrol, since they didn't think the average Dane would be aware of Salzkammergut. The hotel scenes were filmed on Gaisberg, which creates a paradox where the lake is both on a mountain and at the same time also in a valley. However the audience didn't mind, and the film, starring Denmark's most famous comedic actor Dirch Passer as the lovesick waiter Leopold Brandmeyer, remains one of the most popular Danish movies from the 1960s and is still being broadcast on national television at least once a year.

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The Kaiser Franz Joseph 1. has sailed tourists across the lake since 1873. Originally a steamboat, it was fitted with a diesel engine in 1954

Back to the race. After a bonus sprint in Strobl, it's time for the grand finale. While holidaying with my parents at the Wolfgangsee in 2007, I saw the nearby Schwarzensee on a map and decided to check out. This little climb thus became my first memorable climbing experience outside of Denmark and it'll therefore always have a special place in my heart.

It's around 2 km at over 8% average (I think quäldich is overstating it slightly), but it has a few respites along the way, which means it isn't harder than the worst Danish climbs, but it felt more like a proper mountain than anything I've ridden at home. There isn't a lot of space at the top, but since this isn't the biggest race in the world, I hope it will make do.

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Stage 9: Denver - St. Mary’s Glacier, 136km

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GPM:
Lookout Mountain (cat.2) 10,7km @ 5,1%
Juniper Pass (cat.1) 20,8km @ 5,5%
St. Mary’s Glacier (Fall River Road)(cat.1) 14,8km @ 5,5%

Our last high mountain stage comes just before the final weekend (don’t worry, I have plans), and it’s a much shorter one with lower distance and lower gradients than the Pikes Peak MTF, to try to encourage a different fashion of racing; and also to a large extent because, you know, this is what you typically tend to get from mountain stages in Colorado; the gradients aren’t usually super tough, but the altitude and the length is what tends to get you. We’re going up above 3000m twice in the stage and 3/4 of its duration - albeit short - will be above 2000m, so Alejandro Valverde is not likely to be entering, shall we say.

We’re back in Denver for the start, so I shan’t repeat myself talking about the city, after all I did that for stage 7 so no need to go through it again so soon. Instead, let’s get straight to the first checkpoint on the stage, the city of Golden, which hosts an early intermediate sprint after less than 20km which has been flat to slightly-tending-uphill through the increasingly extensive urban sprawl on the western edges of the Denver metropolitan area.

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Branding itself, as you can see, as “where the West lives”, this city of 20.000 was established during the Pikes Peak Gold Rush, and although it may seem that this was the inspiration for the nomenclature, it was in fact named after the early prospector Thomas L. Golden. From 1862 to 1867 it served as the capital of Colorado Territory, although after losing the railroad battle to Denver when the Denver-Pacific line grew far faster than the Central Colorado Railroad, this role became increasingly ceremonial and it lost economic primacy to its neighbour swiftly. Realising they would lose the race to establish connections to Cheyenne and bypass the Rocky Mountains, they switched their resources into connecting the prospecting towns, and as time wore on it became more famous as the home of the Coors Brewery, the famous beer brand going on, a century later, to lend its name to the most famous bike race the North American continent has ever seen, and remaining one of the town’s primary employers to this very day.

Golden has also seen a resurgence in recent years at the other end of the beer market, as far removed from the huge-scale corporate megalith that is the Coors company, Colorado has become the epicentre of the USA’s microbrewery culture, as the craft beer craze gathered pace. It is home to the baseball pitcher - a renowned ‘closer’ often tasked with finishing out late innings in tight games - Mark Melancon, the soccer player Lindsey Horan - currently captain of the US Women’s National Team and a midfielder with almost 150 caps to her name - and the cyclist Alex Howes, an established helper whose entire 15 year pro career was with the Slipstream Sports marque, first turning pro with them as a 19-year-old in 2007, before returning to the French amateur scene and then re-emerging at the end of espoirs to carve out a niche on the team for many years before retreating to live back at home in the US and focus on gravel racing, which he had increasingly been doing in lieu of road racing anyway in latter years, in his mid 30s. Usually deployed as a domestique or lead-out, his best results were largely in the home races in North America where he was granted more freedom to race for himself and his most successful year was 2017, when he finished 3rd in both the Colorado Cycling Classic and the Tour of Alberta, also winning a stage of the former. In recent times the city has hit a bit of internet notoriety via the controversial Daniel Larson, a TikTok “celebrity” of sorts who…Daniel is an aspiring musician but also extremely unstable, violent and abusive, and with an extremely uncomfortable obsession with an underage fellow musician and an absurd sense of entitlement who films his every waking moment to broadcast online to what he believes to be an army of fans who are in reality rubbernecking the car crash that his life has become like some kind of freak show. He is also both very manipulative and very gullible simultaneously, which has led to him becoming the target for online trolls who manipulate him into situations where his more negative traits will be triggered, creating “content” at the expense of the sanity and physical wellbeing of all around him. Just reading about him cost me a number of brain cells. Avoid at all costs.

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Alex Howes

Golden has far more commonly been used as a stage départ than a finish in cycling, appearing a few times in this role in the Coors Classic. In 1982, for example, after a couple of stages east of the Rockies to start, the first real mountain stage was from Golden to Vail Pass, which Patrocinio Jiménez won, with Lucho Herrera winning an identical stage a year later; in 1984 Alexei Grewal won a stage from Golden to Copper Mountain, and in 1987 Raúl Alcalá won a stage from Golden to Estes Park shortly before the end of the race. In the rebooted USA Pro Cycling Challenge, it featured as a stage start in both the 2011 and 2012 editions - the former in a flat stage into Denver won by Daniel Oss, and the latter a mountain stage to Flagstaff Mountain, overlooking Boulder, which was won by Rory Sutherland. 2015 saw another stage into Denver, won by John Murphy, while the last visit of pro racing to Golden was in 2019, when Chloe Dygert won a circuit race as part of the women’s version of the Colorado Cycling Classic.

The Hausberg of Golden is Lookout Mountain, which featured prominently in that 2015 stage and as the opening of those Vail Pass stages that the Colombians won in the early 1980s. This is our first climb of the day and it is not super long but with a fairly tempo-grinding kind of difficulty at a little over 5%. It is mostly for its primary 7km averaging around 6% consistently, and then it reduces down in gradient to false flat until the high point of the road. PJamm has the profile of the main part of the climb but not the full ascent.

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There is then a long gradual descent - only around 2-3% - for around 15km via Mount Vernon back to the southeast to Morrison rather than westward like in the 80s. We then have a long uphill false flat through Bear Creek; the first 2km or so average just under 6% but on a stage like this I don’t think it needs noting as a cat.3 climb. After this it gets more gradual and overall we are only seeing around 500m altitude gain in 25km which is hardly the most threatening in the world. We pass through Evergreen at the end of this uphill false flat, a popular recreation area with a population of just under 10.000, which offers prominent ice skating possibilities in winter; as a result of this it was chosen as the winter home of 1984 Olympic gold medallist figure skater Scott Hamilton. It is also the home of former Olympic cross-country skier Noah Hoffman, while Willie Nelson, South Park co-creator Trey Parker and wannabe-assassin John Hinckley Jr. have all lived in the municipality. But for us, more crucially, it is at the base of the hardest, southeast face of Juniper Pass - via Squaw Pass - the centrepiece of today’s stage’s climbing, being a 21km climb ascending over a kilometre of altitude up to a summit of 3400m, and cresting 45km from the finish. Mycols' profile also includes the preceding false flat giving us 28km at 4,5%, but the most detailed that I could see for the part that I’ve categorised is this one from PJamm giving us 20,8km at 5,5% - but look at the first 8km or so there with that 5km at over 8% and realise that this one wears its hardest gradients at the bottom. This is a good chance to attack from distance, and also a good chance to really put on the hurt by setting a hard tempo early, before the gradients ease off. There’s a further 6km or so at a little over 5% before we reach Squaw Pass, where we could descend northwards but instead we continue on skyward; there’s a brief false flat respite before three kilometres of around 5% and then it’s false flat to the summit.

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Climbing Juniper Pass from the south

This now gives way to a long, long descent into Idaho Springs, descending some 1100m in 27km so averaging only around 4%. But much of this descent will be familiar to at least some of the péloton simply because it features as part of the Mount Evans (i.e. Mount Blue Sky) Hill Climb, more recently known as the Bob Cook Memorial Mount Evans Hill Climb in honour of the five-time winner of the race (in 1975-1980, save for 1979 when the race was not run), improving his own record time four times in the course of this run. This was a record number of victories, surpassing the four by inaugural winner Stuart Baillie, and since equalled by Mike Engleman (1991-1995 inclusive) and then surpassed by Scott Moninger, a former Navigators, Mercury, Health Net and BMC rider who won a colossal number of domestic races in the US in the 90s and early 2000s but seldom raced outside North America. Since the 80s, however, the increased attention on North American cycling following the success of the Coors Classic brought international attention and more professionals to try their hand at the hillclimb (albeit mostly still US-American or US-based riders), so winners include Alexi Grewal (3 times from 1981 to 1990), Jonathan Vaughters (1997, 1999 and 2003), Tom Danielson (2004, 2007 and 2009), Peter Stetina (2010), Lachlan Morton (2015) and Chad Haga (2017). The race has struggled to get back to operation after the pandemic cancellations and has run but with much reduced entry lists since. A women’s version was introduced in 1976 with a winners’ list including the likes of Linda Jackson (1995), Jeannie Longo (1998, 2008), Flavia Oliveira (2018) and record winner Mara Abbott (5 wins from 2005 to 2015) for whom it was practically a local race, owing to her tendency to struggle psychologically with adapting to racing in Europe, so she would parachute in for specific stage races and spend the rest of her time beating up on the US domestic péloton in her playgrounds of the mountains. The current records are held by Tom Danielson on the men’s side (1h 41’20” in 2004) and Jeannie Longo on the women’s side (1h 59’19” in 1998), both of which are extremely suspect, but hey, it’s cycling in the 90s and early 00s, and even more so in the US scene of that era and from riders who have both been busted multiple times, so what are we to expect?

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The descent is basically the first 20km of this profile - mostly consistent and at 5-6% for the most important part between Echo Lake and Chicago Creek, bookended by false flat. I’ve then put the second intermediate sprint in Idaho Springs, a bedroom community for the Loveland ski areas and the site of the first gold discoveries in Colorado when the speculator George A. Jackson located placer gold at hot springs in the area which eventually became known as Idaho Springs. When the mountains were dug clean of gold, mining continued for other hard rocks and the city was also the epicentre of miners’ strikes and revolts in the early 20th Century campaigning for better working conditions.

It’s also the base of today’s final climb, the mountaintop finish at St. Mary’s Glacier. This semi-permanent snowfield sits above the unincorporated community of Alice, which is a pseudo-ghost-town which includes a car park used for access to the glacier. This high-altitude mining community has rather died off but has been repurposed with alpine-style refuges and chalets for hiking and accessing the mountainous wilderness, so there is enough infrastructure to accommodate a stage finish.

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Glacial lake at St. Mary’s

The climb to St. Mary’s Glacier is not all that difficult; its overall stats are 14,8km at 5,5% and this follows a short uphill false flat from Idaho Springs to the junction out of Turkey Gulch. The profile on PJamm shows that the climb starts off benign before jumping up to its steepest stretch, from km6 to 10, at about 7,7%. Then it eases off slightly before jumping up to over 8% for kilometre 12, before more false flat and then 2km at 6% to finish. The steepest continuous kilometre is apparently over 10,5% so this will definitely give a platform to attack from - and as it’s a mountaintop finish I’ve given it the cat.1 status - but it’s also not so hard a climb that nobody will be able to attack earlier either. And at 3200m altitude, there’s also that factor to take into account. My hope is that this one should be a tough one from Juniper Pass onward, but you never know.

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Stage finish at the bottom