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“Colorado is in the right place to change the game”: Colorado Classic drops men, sets up women-only pro racing event for 2019

“I think this is a Billie Jean King kind of moment," said race organizer Ken Gart

Pro women cyclists race through Colorado Springs in the inaugural year of the Colorado Classic in August 2017. The third year of the Colorado Classic in August 2019 will feature only women racers. (Jason Blevins, The Colorado Sun)
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Step aside fellas, it’s time for the women to shine as the Colorado Classic becomes a women-only bike race in 2019.

The Colorado Classic bike race was forged in 2017, offered as a sustainable way to preserve professional cycling in Colorado as the seven-stage USA Pro Challenge dissolved after five years of racing across the state. The Colorado Classic model included a shorter race, with only four stages, ending in a music festival in downtown Denver.

The evolution continues without men for the third run of the race, set for Aug. 22-25.

Colorado Classic 2019 promo. Via YouTube.

“Our ability to impact men’s cycling was really very minimal, but our potential to impact to  women’s cycling round the globe is really significant,” said Ken Gart, the Denver businessman who serves as chairman of the RPM Events Group that created the Colorado Classic.

Women have raced for two years at the Colorado Classic as well as the final year of the USA Pro Challenge in 2015. The race was one of the first in the world to enlist Colorado bike racing legends, rather than hostesses, to award jerseys on the podium. Organizers used an all-female team to announce the race. They offered four stages of women’s racing.

With free live streaming of the 2019 four-stage race — which is part of USA Cycling’s Pro Road Tour and sanctioned by the International Cycling Union, or UCI — will elevate female athletes in the weeks before the UCI Road World Championships in Great Britain and the 2020 Tokyo Summer Olympics. The Colorado Classic will be the only stand-alone women’s race in the Western Hemisphere on the 2019 UCI calendar.

The race will feature longer, more challenging stages than previous Colorado Classic or Pro Challenge women’s routes, with live video available through Facebook and the Tour Tracker mobile app.

Race director Sean Petty said featuring women “flips the script” on pro cycling.

“The live stream is such a huge piece,” Petty said at an announcement in the state Capitol on Tuesday that included both Gov. John Hickenlooper and Gov.-elect Jared Polis. “The women’s teams, the women’s sponsors and the UCI are all working toward more exposure. Some of the biggest women’s events in the world don’t have live TV, so this is huge.”

The Colorado Classic will become one of the best supported women’s cycling races in the world with 20 top-ranked teams. The prize purse will be four-times larger than the 2018 women’s race and larger than the men’s race that year. That — plus travel stipends — should lure top European teams to Colorado.

Visit Denver, the city’s tourism bureau, has supported pro cycling in Colorado since the debut of the Pro Challenge in 2011. Focusing on female athletes, longtime bureau chief Richard Scharf said, is “a trailblazer move.”

“This is zigging when everyone else is zagging and that really is the future of Colorado,” Scharf said.

While the race route has not been revealed — although organizers are talking with perennial hosts Aspen and Vail — organizers are planning women’s clinics and group rides surrounding the race. The eight months leading up to the race will include videos and stories profiling cycling’s top women athletes, available through the Colorado Classic’s social and online channels.

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Organizers are still working on plans for Velorama, the three-day music festival that accompanied the Colorado Classic bike race.

“We are looking at Velorama and what it does for our great cause,” Gart said. “I don’t think it will go away, but it’s going to be different.”

More specific plans will be announced early next year. Gart and his team had to announce the dates and women-only format early to secure a spot on the UCI calendar. Gart is pretty sure the Colorado Classic is the first major bike race in history to jettison men.

“These women are so cool. They all have such great stories. They all have jobs and they work hard and race hard and they get paid bupkis,” he said. “With this prize money, I think this is a Billie Jean King kind of moment. And it’s happening here in Colorado. Colorado is in the right place to change the game.”


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