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Preview: Can a climber win Colorado Classic?

If you hold a race in one of America's most mountainous states, will a climber win it? Not necessarily.

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If you hold a race in one of America’s most mountainous states, will a climber win it? Not necessarily.

The second edition of the Colorado Classic begins Thursday in Vail, running through Sunday where it will conclude in Denver. Although the men’s and women’s races both have plenty of climbing on tap, the dynamics and routes of the four-day races might not clearly favor pure climbers.

Here’s a preview of the final big race on the U.S. calendar.

Women’s race may be decided in Vail

Katie Hall
Katie Hall won the Amgen Tour of California Women’s Race in 2018. Photo: Ezra Shaw | Getty Images

The pro women’s race is frontloaded with two decisive stages in Vail.

The race begins with a hilly stage 1 around a 14.2km circuit, racing four laps for a total of 56.7km. Given the stage’s short distance, expect aggressive racing from the gun, especially since the circuit begins with a short, steep climb. Plus, the winner will earn a 10-second time bonus.

On Friday, stage 2 will take the racers up the Vail Pass bike path on the famous time trial route that was included in the USA Pro Challenge as well as the Coors Classic. This 15.8km race is a tricky one to pace. The first half is in a valley, on a gradual rise before reaching the base of the pass where the climb pitches up. Go too hard too soon and you’ll be out of matches to burn on the decisive steeps later on. Plus, the high altitude (near 2,895 meters/9,500 feet) will leave the riders with no margin for error.

It is likely that the first stage will whittle down the slate of contenders to a limited group, and then the stage 2 time trial will open up time gaps enough to give the race a clear leader.

After that, the race moves to Denver for a 50-minute criterium Saturday and a 34.8km circuit race Sunday in stage 4.

Stage 3 is essentially flat and not technical. Stage 4 includes a 200-foot climb on each lap and a few more twists and turns. However, in both cases, it seems unlikely that opportunists or sprinters will make up for time lost in the time trial. On both stages, time bonuses are on offer at intermediate sprints and at the finish. Even if a rider were to scoop up all of those bonuses, however, she would only earn 38 bonus seconds.

With all of that in mind, Katie Hall stands out as the top favorite in the women’s field. She won the top three U.S. stage races this season — Amgen Tour of California, Joe Martin Stage Race, and the Tour of the Gila. Plus, her UnitedHealthcare team is well-equipped to control the race in stages 3 and 4. That win at Tour of the Gila also indicates that Hall has no trouble performing at high altitude, which will be key in Vail.

Defending Colorado Classic champion Sara Poidevin might be able to challenge Hall. The 22-year-old Canadian also has a strong team at her disposal, Rally Cycling. Poidevin was second to Hall at Gila, where she was also second in the stage 3 time trial — five seconds faster than Hall.

Once the race rolls into Denver, expect speedsters such as Emma White (Rally), Lauren Hall (UnitedHealthcare), and criterium national champion Leigh Ann Ganzar (Affinity) to vie for stage wins.

Will queen stage decide the men’s race again?

Caja Rural led the chase up Coal Creek Canyon in stage 3 of the 2017 Colorado Classic. Photo: Casey B. Gibson |

Before the 2017 Colorado Classic, the mountainous queen stage out of Denver was underestimated. Many thought the punchy Breckenridge stage would actually decide the overall. But then Manuel Senni escaped with Serghei Tvetcov and stole the show.

For the second edition, organizers have made stage 3 even longer and more mountainous than last year. However, it may not decide the overall this time, given the first two Vail stages.

Like the women’s race, the men begin with a stage 1 circuit and a stage 2 time trial in Vail. The circuit race is longer for the men — eight laps, 103.2km — but the Vail pass time trial is the same at 15.9km. There may be slight time gaps after stage 1, but the time trial will really sort out the pecking order.

Then comes the 161.6km ride from Denver up Lookout Mountain, with two other KOMs along the way. The race will climb 2,479 (8,133 feet) before dropping into Denver to finish. It will be a long, gradual run into the city on Alameda Parkway, 32nd, and 29th street. Opportunistic riders are bound to escape on the tough climbs. The question is whether they’ll survive the final 20km to the finish.

Regardless of what happens Saturday, it seems certain that Sunday’s stage 4 will be strictly a day for stage-hunters, held on the same circuit as the women’s race over eight laps for a total of 114.8km.

So the ideal contender to win this race overall would be a capable time trial rider who can handle high altitude but is also handy on the climbs with a strong enough team to control unruly rivals that might plan an ambush on stage 3.

American Neilson Powless (LottoNL-Jumbo) has those three advantages, coming off a Larry H. Miller Tour of Utah where he was fourth in the prologue and supported his teammate Sepp Kuss to victory while ending up 13th overall himself. Powless’s Dutch squad is one of four WorldTour teams in the race, meaning its riders should be able to defend a lead confidently.

Also hailing from a WorldTour outfit, Daniel Martinez (EF Education First-Drapac) is a strong contender. The Colombian burst onto the scene with a third-place overall finish at the Amgen Tour of California, where he was a promising 10th in the time trial. However, it remains to be seen how he’ll ride after finishing his debut Tour de France.

Fortunately, Martinez does have strong backup on the EF team in the form of Joe Dombrowski. The American climber is coming off of a sixth-place result at Tour of Utah and may also be a factor in the overall.

Among the Pro Continental teams, Rob Britton (Rally) is also an overall favorite. He has proven himself at high-altitude stage races, winning Tour of the Gila twice and Tour of Utah in 2017. Last year’s runner-up Tvetcov might also be one to upset the top favorites, riding for the UnitedHealthcare team, which is still seeking a sponsor for 2019.