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Four stories to follow at the Colorado Classic

The Colorado Classic kicks off today in Steamboat Springs. There are four storylines that we're following at this year's race.

The Colorado Classic will send the professional women’s peloton on a four-day journey around the state’s mountainous and flat terrain. The race begins Thursday with a hilly road stage in Steamboat Springs, Colorado, and concludes Sunday with a flat circuit race in Denver.

The event is now the only stand-alone women’s UCI race in North America, and the new format comes a year after race ownership decided to jettison the men’s professional race after two editions to focus entirely on the women. Ownership again is boasting live streaming broadcast for the event and a $75,000 prize purse. And fans can watch the action here on VeloNews.com.

The 2019 edition of the race boasts several storylines to follow:

Will a climber or all-rounder prevail?

Organizers revamped the Colorado Classic route in 2019 to create a course that caters to sprinters, climbers, and all-around riders. The sprinters will target stages 3 and 4, held in Golden and Denver, respectively, while the GC riders should target the opening two stages in Steamboat Springs and Avon.

The opening stage in Steamboat Springs boasts a hilly profile, with the final Queen of the Mountains climb—a gravel climb at Big Valley Ranch—coming just 15 kilometers from the finish. The run-in to the finish contains enough bumps and flats for a dedicated chase to pull back a solo rider, meaning the stage is unlikely to decide the overall winner.

Friday’s stage in Avon, however, is more likely to crown the overall champion. Riders complete seven laps on a hilly circuit around Avon before heading out onto the mountainous loop up to the Beaver Creek ski resort. The climb up Daybreak Ridge hits gradients of 14 percent and includes nearly 2,000 total feel of elevation gain, and tops out at nearly 9,500 feet above sea level. From the top of the climb it’s a mostly downhill 15-kilometer drop to the finish.

Will the climb’s length and high altitude cater to a pure climber, or will an all-rounder be able to chase back on and contend for the stage win? And if time gaps are big enough, the winner could very well hold on for the overall victory.

Can Katie Hall repeat?

The women’s GC podium of Katie Hall, teammate Leah Thomas, and Abigail Mickey of Rally. Photo: Casey B. Gibson | www.cbgphoto.com

American Katie Hall captured the overall in 2018 amid her dominant season in the North American scene. Hall, the best pure climber of her generation, won the overall after taking the uphill individual time trial in Vail in her last race for the UnitedHealthcare Team.

Hall made the jump to Boels-Dolmans in the offseason, and has returned to the Colorado race to defend her title. At this year’s race, however, Hall will be racing with USA Cycling’s national team, comprised of riders from other squads. The federation supported a similar team at the Amgen Tour of California to back Travis McCabe’s run at the sprint competition.

If Hall is able to take an early lead, a question will be whether the composite team has the strength and coordination to defend Hall’s lead. If the squad is able to pull off the win, it would be a boon to both Hall and USA Cycling’s national team model.

International vs. Local teams

Tiffany Cromwell leads German team Canyon-SRAM at the event. Photo: Luc Claessen/Getty Images

The Colorado Classic faces an unfortunate scheduling conflict with the Ladies Tour of Norway, a stop on the UCI Women’s WorldTour. Some of the biggest international teams—think Boels Dolmans and Trek-Segafredo, among others—chose Norway over Colorado.

Instead, the race boasts a lineup of strong squads from the U.S., Mexico, and Europe. From Mexico are Swapit Agolico and Durango-Specialized-IED, which join European squads BePink, Canyon-SRAM, and Cogeas Mettler-Look. The American squads include both regional and national-level pro teams: Sho-Air Twenty20, Tibco-SVB, and the U.S. national team, are racing alongside ALP Cycles Racing, Amy D Foundation, DNA Pro Cycling, Fearless Femme, Hagens Berman-Supermint, Point S Auto-Nokain Tyres, and even the development squad Lux-Flexential.

A storyline going forward will be whether the Colorado Classic chooses to maintain its lineup of squads, or whether it targets the international heavy hitters from the Women’s WorldTour.

Long-term sustainability

Colorado Classic
Jennifer Valente won stage 3 of the Colorado Classic. Photo: Mark Leffingwell

A year ago the Colorado Classic sagged under low attendance, particularly at the Denver stage where the enormous finish-line fan engagement area was largely empty. Ownerships complete revamping in the off-season to a women’s-only race has breathed new life into the race, and even attracted a title sponsor in VF Corporation, owners of such familiar brands as The North Face and SmartWool.

The race has also transformed itself into a platform to advance women’s cycling and to address challenges facing the sport. On Wednesday the race held a luncheon in Vail to discuss inequalities in sport, and throughout the week there are other events planned.

Will the influx of new energy and women’s-centric enthusiasm attract more spectators and online viewers to actually consume the race? That’s the big question—one that race ownership, sponsors, and even media will be watching closely.