BRECKENRIDGE, Colorado (VN) – There was a rocking party near the summit of Moonstone Road for Friday’s second stage of the Colorado Classic, as fans cranked music, donned costumes, and danced in the middle of the street. The real entertainment, however, was watching the riders grind their way to the top of the brutal climb, which topped out above 10,000 feet of elevation.
Riders and team directors pegged Moonstone Road to be the defining feature of the inaugural Colorado Classic. The climb did not disappoint. The men’s peloton faced 10 trips up the short, steep climb, while the women climbed it five times. In both races the action occurred on the steepest pitches.
“It felt like a 100-kilometer criterium,” UnitedHealthcare’s Jonny Clarke said. “It was all or nothing. Some guys weren’t scared at all and other guys held back. It can almost create a negative dynamic because everyone was scared of the course.”
Nerves about the stage’s extreme elevation circled the peloton. Starting at an elevation of 9,550 feet, Moonstone ascends 600 feet at an average 8.3 percent gradient, kicking up to 10 percent toward its crest. While it’s not long enough or steep enough to compare to climbs in the grand tours, the extreme altitude of the climb increases its difficulty exponentially.
“Anytime you’re racing at 10,000 feet there is no chance of recovery, especially after a climb like that,” said Lawson Craddock (Cannondale-Drapac). “Even if you’re off the back it’s a big effort just to get up there. The next 1.5 kilometers after the KOM might have been the toughest point of the race. There is no recovery.”
Moonstone’s steep slopes are not new to Colorado stage racing. The Pro Challenge featured it several times throughout its history, though in none of those editions was the climb included in quick, consecutive laps.
“It’s always been a hard finish here,” Kiel Reijnen of Trek-Segafredo said. “Doing 10 laps of it was another level, for sure.”
Cyclocross superstar Katie Compton, who was testing her legs against the roadies during the women’s Colorado Classic, noted how quickly the laps started to add up. “It’s funny because you know it’s hard, but five times up, it really wears on you,” she said. “It’s like the gift that keeps on giving. You keep thinking the top is almost there and then, ‘Oh my god, it keeps going’ and you have to do it again.”
The Colorado Classic’s short circuit-style courses add a new element to big-league American racing. It also dramatically changes tactics, particularly for those who come from a European racing background. Reijnen, who has raced both domestically and abroad, says the courses don’t compare to anything he’s raced in Europe. “It’s completely different. Even in the classics, there’s so much race that happens before [the climbs] to soften everyone up. This is so much more explosive in the end.”
Stringing in across the finish line, most riders were shattered, exhausted from the day’s challenging course. However, they were quick to mention the crowds up on Moonstone. Hundreds of people lined the narrow alpine road, cheering racers on as they tackled the steepest sections. Music blared from stereos, costumed fans ran alongside the riders, and the party atmosphere bolstered riders’ spirits as the day wore on.
“The crowds really made it,” said Emma White (Rally Pro Cycling). “I was trying to keep myself within my limits, but the crowds make me go so much harder. I was like, ‘Wait a minute, I need to ease off a bit.’ But the party was just bumping; they were going crazy.”
The crowds may have encouraged riders to tackle the climb slightly faster but it didn’t detract from the pain made acute by the altitude and steep gradients. Most riders were happy to have stage 2 behind them.
“Well, I never want to ride up that climb again,” joked Taylor Sheldon (Jelly Belly) after the race. Unfortunately for him, he happens to live on Moonstone Road. “I guess I’ll be riding the bottom half of it at least.”