The 2014 USA Pro Challenge professional cycling stage race, taking place Aug. 18-24 in Colorado, will feature a testing new 550-mile route that will include the race's first-ever mountaintop finish on Monarch Mountain.
Total elevation gain for the week will be a shade under 40,000 feet with a high point of 11,542 feet on top of Hosier Pass near Breckenridge. Other prominent mountain crossings include McClure Pass south of Carbondale, and Kebler Pass west of Crested Butte.
"It looks to be the most challenging route yet," said BMC's Tejay van Garderen. "I don't know the Monarch Pass ski resort, but it will be cool to have a tough summit finish. This route suits me well. I'm anxious to add another title to my resume."
All told the race will visit 10 cities, ranging from small towns to Denver. The final stage could break the event's previous attendance records with a start in Boulder, one of the most bike-friendly cities in the U.S., two passes through Golden, which has brought out huge crowds in past years, and a finish in Denver, the state's capitol.
"Every year we strive to create a route that will challenge the riders in new ways, give spectators more opportunities to see some of the toughest athletes in the world and highlight new parts of Colorado," said Shawn Hunter, CEO of the USA Pro Challenge. "The mountains are such a big part of the USA Pro Challenge and we always have incredibly enthusiastic fans packing the summits, so we're adding a new test for the riders this year, and a new viewing opportunity for our dedicated fans, with the Stage 3 mountaintop finish on Monarch Mountain."
Highlights of the route include:
Stage 1: Aspen Circuit Race - Monday, Aug. 18
Stage 1 of the 2013 race was such a success, so it's back for 2014. The Aspen/Snowmass Circuit may be short on distance, but it packs a punch. At 65 miles (3 laps of nearly 22 miles each), and 2,300 ft. of climbing per lap with minimal recovery, this circuit puts the "challenge" in USA Pro Challenge. Each lap will see the riders grind up to Snowmass Village, then a quick descent leads to two short but steep climbs, and a quick loop through downtown before doing it all again. Pair that with a starting elevation of 7,900 ft. and you have one tough opening day.
Stage 2: Aspen to Crested Butte - Tuesday, Aug. 19
Each year the USA Pro Challenge searches for ways to include more of Colorado's deep cycling history. Last year it was the climb up Bachelor Gulch and this time around it will be Kebler Pass. Stage 2 opens fast by ripping down the Aspen Valley through the sprint cities of Basalt and Carbondale before tackling the 8,700 ft. McClure Pass. A short descent brings the race to Gunnison County Road 12, which is a 20-mile rollercoaster that constantly changes from pavement to dirt and back again, while topping out at 9,900 ft. over Kebler Pass. A technical descent into Crested Butte brings the race back to familiar terrain. As in 2011 and 2012, the race will finish up with a sprint through downtown Crested Butte and the steep finish climb up to Mt. Crested Butte.
Stage 3: Gunnison to Monarch Mountain - Wednesday, Aug. 20
During Stage 3 of the 2014 race, riders will not only have to contend with a mountaintop finish, they also will have to pass over it first, giving spectators a chance to see the race multiple times from the same vantage point. Stage 3 starts in Gunnison and heads east for 35 miles before tackling the 11,300 ft. monster that is Monarch Pass. The riders will then descend the eastern slope of the pass and do two 9-mile loops through Salida and the surrounding countryside. Then it's game time as they tackle nearly 20 miles of climbing to a finish at 10,800 ft.-Monarch Mountain Ski Area.
Stage 4: Colorado Springs Circuit Race - Thursday, Aug. 21
Colorado Springs keeps reinventing itself as a host city. In 2011 it hosted a prologue, in 2012 it was a fast road stage finish for sprinters and for 2014 it will be a challenging circuit that could contain a surprise general classification shake up. After a ceremonial start at the famous Broadmoor, the race will head into town and join up with a 16-mile circuit that will be raced four times. With climbs through Garden of the Gods, Mesa Rd. and the infamous Ridge Rd., which hits grades of nearly 17 percent, the route will present some challenges for the riders.
Stage 5: Woodland Park to Breckenridge - Friday, Aug. 22
The 2014 USA Pro Challenge does not let up with Stage 5. This stage's serene first 80 miles hide a vicious finish and a last chance for climbing specialists to really make a move. Starting in the new host community of Woodland Park, Stage 5 heads west then north through some of the most picturesque terrain in Colorado. The route takes the riders on a quiet run through the Pike National Forest on Tarryall Rd., which was unpaved until just last year and the riders will christen it properly with high speeds and lots of breakaway attempts. The action really starts when the race hits Fairplay and begins the long grind up 11,500 ft. Hoosier Pass, the highest point in the race. Then it is on to Breckenridge, where last year's challenging finish up Moonstone Rd. will be repeated again. This nasty little climb can kill a break or launch a winner.
Stage 6: Vail Individual Time Trial - Saturday, Aug. 23
Last year the USA Pro Challenge visited Vail, and the time trial was decided by four seconds. In three visits to the Vail individual time trial course, this was the largest margin of victory. Competition will be equally fierce this time around, but the names may change a bit. The course's roots are in Colorado racing lore and trace back to the Coors Classic. Starting in Vail and climbing most of the way up Vail Pass the route is no easy proposition, even for the best riders on earth. The gentle grades of the first half of the course give way to a steady climb for the last three miles.
Stage 7: Boulder to Denver - Sunday, Aug. 24
Leaving Boulder on CO 93 the riders will have several hilly and windswept miles for breakaways to set up before reaching Golden for the first of two passes. Through Golden, the riders will tackle the 4-mile climb of Lookout Mountain, which they haven't seen since 2011. Another quick pass of Golden and the race is screaming through suburbs en route to downtown Denver. An abbreviated version of last year's circuit awaits the riders for three and a half fast laps through downtown, 17th Ave. and City Park.