Ageless Vail Pass time trial offers cyclists a sneak peak at Colorado Classic course
Photo: Rick Lohre

Ageless Vail Pass time trial offers cyclists a sneak peak at Colorado Classic course

By Scott Willoughby

The GoPro Mountain Games are anything but old school. In the immortal words of Ron Burgundy, even their vintage events are “kind of a big deal.”

Nothing says road bike racing in Colorado quite like the legendary time trial climb up Vail Pass first made famous at the Red Zinger Bicycle Classic in 1975 and the Coors Classic later in the ’70s and ’80s. While those events eventually ran their course, road cycling was firmly embedded into Vail’s DNA and is now resurrected annually at the Volvo Road Bike Time Trial on the final day of competition at the Mountain Games (June 10).

This year that closing day push up the pass doubles as what could be considered opening day for Colorado’s road racing comeback tour. The Volvo Road Bike Time Trial race won in 2017 by Vail Valley endurance guru Josiah Middaugh and Olympian Mara Abbott of Boulder is sure to pull in some of cycling’s heaviest hitters this June as pro racers are offered their only opportunity to test out the same course they’ll be competing on at the 2018 Colorado Classic pro bike race in August. The two-day Vail leg of the four-stage Colorado Classic is on the pro cycling calendar through 2020, produced locally through a partnership with the Vail Valley Foundation.

While the GoPro Mountain Games have served as stewards of the Vail Pass time trial in recent years, the larger-than-life racecourse is a natural attraction for the return of UCI-sanctioned pro racing that kicks off with a spectator-friendly circuit stage through Vail Village on Aug. 16. Always a fan favorite during its early incarnation, the circuit offers the audience multiple opportunities to get close to the high-speed race action as the sport’s top men and women riders loop the course through the heart of Vail Village and pass between a series of prime spectating areas.

The 2018 GoPro Mountain Games Road Bike Time Trial has a first-place payout of $2,000 each (for both men’s and women’s), drawing a competitive field for the pro division. Amatuer riders can compete as well and preview the upcoming Colorado Classic pro tour race scheduled for Aug. 17.

But it’s the high-stakes time trial up the paved recreation path from East Vail to the 10,404-foot Vail Pass finish area that serves as the favorite among competitors and fans, both old and new. The lung-busting 13-mile track is traditionally lined with rowdy supporters as racers ride the storied mountain course made famous by the likes of three-time Tour de France champion Greg LeMond, five-time Tour winner Bernard Hinault of France and Colorado’s own Davis Phinney, the Coors Classic’s final champion in 1987.

American Andy Hampsten, winner of the Giro d’Italia in 1988, established the long-standing course record of 26:33.43 during the 1987 Coors Classic, which went unchallenged until Levi Leipheimer set the bar at 25:47.08 during the inaugural USA Pro Cycling Challenge in 2011. Hampsten’s record was unofficially toppled by Benjamin Day (25:48) and Chris Baldwin (26:29) at the 2008 Mountain Games, however the races had different starting points.

The chance to join such legends of the sport and race for the official record for the first time since 2014 (at the last Pro Challenge) has already begun to attract pro cycling’s top international competitors to the Colorado Classic event that serves as part of USA Cycling’s Pro Road Tour, which showcases the premier domestic road events in the United States. A total field of 16 men’s and 15 women’s teams ushered in the return of pro cycling to the Rocky Mountains in 2017, setting the stage for a high-energy encore at the 2018 Colorado Classic that concludes with two days of racing in and around Denver.

Just how that translates to the field at the Volvo Road Bike Time Trial in this year’s Mountain Games remains to be seen, but pro competitors are certain to recognize the benefit of a race-day training run. And everyone else should recognize that they’ll be riding on the shoulders of giants.

Stay classic, Colorado.

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