COLORADO SPRINGS, Colorado (VN) — A one-mile stretch of pavement lined by pine trees and high-end condominiums will likely decide the inaugural Colorado Classic bicycle race.
Moonstone Road, a short but steep climb just east of downtown Breckenridge, is the major obstacle that riders face during the four-day race, which kicks off Thursday in Colorado Springs. The race includes stages in Colorado Springs and Breckenridge, before finishing with a road race and a circuit race in Denver.
On Wednesday afternoon, a select group of riders spoke at the race’s kickoff press conference, and the consensus was clear: the GC battle should be decided on Moonstone, which the race climbs as part of a 6.4-mile circuit.
“It’s going to be really tough. I remember it’s super steep and we do it 10 times,” said Jelly Belly’s Serghei Tvetcov. “That is brutal.”
The Moonstone Road climb lacks the vertical gain and length of an Alpine col. The full ascent, which includes Moonstone Road, CO road 503, and Boreas Pass road, climbs just over 600 feet at a fairly tame 8.3 percent, with the upper ramps approaching 10 percent. But the climb itself tops out at 10,200 feet above sea level — the thin air can sap the strength of even the peloton’s fittest riders. On Friday, the men’s peloton faces 10 ascents of the climb while the women climb it five times on the same circuit.
Riders predicted that the multiple trips up and down Moonstone will likely take its toll on the peloton. The finish line is in downtown Breckenridge following a fast and winding descent from the top of the climb.
“It’s just going to hurt,” said Allie Dragoo of Cervelo-Bigla. “It’s going to be about who can suffer the best.”
Moonstone’s importance at the Colorado Classic is also due to the lack of decisive features on the course. In an effort to maximize crowd size and sell tickets for its end-of-race Velorama rock concert, organizers have steered the start and finishes toward downtown urban areas. Thursday’s circuit race features six laps around Colorado’s famed Garden of the Gods Park, with each lap including 600 or so feet of vertical gain. Yet the stage starts and finishes in downtown Colorado Springs, with the run-in to the finish likely too long for a decisive move.
Saturday’s stage starts in Denver and climbs more than 4,000 vertical feet up Coal Creek Canyon and Gap Road into Colorado’s front range. That stage finishes with nearly 40km of descending and flats back to the finish line in Denver, making an escape nearly impossible. The four-day race has no summit finishes and no individual time trial, so time gaps are expected to be tight.
Moonstone Road was included multiple times in the USA Pro Cycling Challenge, most recently in 2015 when it served as both an end-of-stage springboard on the fourth stage and the mid-course climb for the individual time trial on stage 5. Australian rider Rohan Dennis of BMC Racing won both stages. In previous editions of the race, which ceased operation after 2015, European riders Laurent Didier and Mathias Frank both won stages into Breckenridge with attacks on Moonstone Road.
In 2015, American Brent Bookwalter saw his slim overall lead snatched away by Dennis when the pack hit Moonstone road. On Wednesday, Bookwalter said he will be paying extra attention to the climb this year. The overall, he said, could be decided simply by who reaches the summit first on the final lap.
“It’s not my favorite road in Colorado,” the BMC Racing rider said “I feel like I have some unfinished business on that road. It’s different — we’re approaching it 10 times and not after 200km of racing this time. It’s a worthy climb. It should be exciting.”