Top cycling racers to come ripping out of Ute Pass Aug. 24

       The last time a view up Ute Pass offered a particularly impressive sight, it was the rising smoke from the Waldo Canyon Fire in June and July.

During the Stage 1 Prologue, the USA Pro Challenge's inaugural event last August, eventual race winner Levi Leipheimer leans into the turn at 30th and Colorado Avenue. This year's 117.9-mile Stage 5 to Colorado Springs is more of an endurance race, but should benefit teams with sprinters because of the downhill route, race officials say.
Westside Pioneer file photo

       Around 2:30 p.m. Friday, Aug. 24, Ute Pass is expected to offer another impressive but much more appealing view - a motorcade leading the first pack of cyclists down Highway 24 as they near the end of the 117.9-mile Stage 5 of the second annual USA Pro Challenge cycling race.
       The riders, who will have started in Breckenridge at 10:50 that morning, could reach speeds of 50 mph before taking the hairpin exit at Manitou's Highway 24 interchange and heading into the Garden of the Gods. Coming out at 30th Street, they'll turn right, then left at Colorado Avenue and straight on to downtown, where a three-loop circuit will decide the stage winner.
       Estimates call for the first rider to cross the finish line at 3:50 p.m., with the rest of the field coming in over the next 40 minutes.
       The Challenge, featuring 126 world-class riders from 16 teams, has seven stages in all, and will conclude Sunday, Aug. 26 in Denver.
       The local stage is free to spectators - with thousands expected along the route - but motorists will need to anticipate a rolling blockade that will close major streets at times until the last riders have passed.
       Colorado Avenue between Walnut Street and Cascade Avenue will be closed at 9 a.m. Aug. 24 for race-related activities.
       Motorized traffic on Highway 24 through Ute Pass will be constrained to one lane each way, on the westbound side, race officials said. Riders will be coming down in the eastbound lanes.
       The Garden of the Gods will be closed to motor vehicles starting at 6 a.m. on the day of the race. The idea is to be sure that no cars are on the course, said MacKenzie McGrath, a race spokesperson. People are welcome to walk or bike to vantage points in the Garden, however.
       From 1 to 4:30 p.m., no parking will be allowed on 30th Street from Gateway Road to Colorado Avenue and along the avenue from 30th to Cascade.
       Manitou Avenue will be blocked at the interchange for a time because after riders exit Highway 24 at the eastbound off-ramp, they must cross the avenue to get to El Paso Boulevard.
       The event will include six of the top 13 finishers from this year's Tour de France and 10 of the top 12 finishers from last year's Challenge, including defending champion Levi Leipheimer and the four who finished behind him.
       Other stages will be: Aug. 20, Stage 1 - Durango to Telluride; Aug. 21, Stage 2 - Montrose to Crested Butte; Aug. 22, Stage 3 - Gunnison to Aspen; Aug. 23, Stage 4 - Aspen to Beaver Creek; Aug. 25, Stage 6 - Golden to Boulder; Aug. 26, Stage 7 - Denver.

A table shows the elevation loss, as well as a few uphills the cyclists must tackle, in Stage 5 between Breckenridge and Colorado Springs.
Courtesy of USA Pro Challenge; edited for publication

       The entire event is being shown on NBC TV, according to race officials.
       In the first Challenge last August, Colorado Springs hosted the first stage, the 5.2-mile Prologue time trial, in which racers sped from the Garden of the Gods to downtown, using a few of the same streets as this year.
       Cycle racing followers are predicting that Stage 5 overall will be especially fast because, despite a few climbs, most of the course from Breckenridge is downhill. “Stage 5 will be a good day for two kinds of riders - sprinters and opportunists,” the website states. “A daunting 10-mile climb up Hoosier Pass to 11,500 feet makes for a rude awakening, but if the sprinters and breakaway specialists can make it over that, they have a good chance to go for a stage win.
       “After the single summit of the day and a fast descent into Fairplay, the high mountains are left behind. Descending into Woodland Park, the racers may hit their fastest speeds of the week at the downhill Sprint Line, then continue downhill to Colorado Springs through the shadow of Pikes Peak.

Defending USA Pro Challenge champion Levi Leipheimer enjoys one of the rewards of victory at a past race in Europe.
Courtesy of Telesport

       “A technical uphill run through Garden of the Gods Park lets the cyclists revisit the roads of last year's Prologue before finishing with high-speed circuits through downtown Colorado Springs.”
       Here are the turns the riders will take between Highway 24 and the downtown:
       Right - At the Manitou interchange's eastbound off-ramp from the highway. This will take riders down to Manitou Avenue and then across it..
       Right - El Paso Boulevard.
       Left - Garden Drive.
       Right - Garden Lane.
       Right - Garden Drive.
       Right - Juniper Way Loop.
       Left - (to stay on Juniper Way Loop at Ridge Road).
       Right - Gateway Road.
       Right - 30th Street.
       Left - Colorado Avenue.

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