Women ride into the USA Pro Challenge
The 2015 USA Pro Challenge was another fantastic week of professional bike racing in Colorado, bringing out huge crowds and showcasing the love of bicycling in our state.
This year’s race brought about a new and exciting addition—the first women’s version of the Pro Challenge. Although only three days long, the women’s race was welcomed by professional female cyclists and heavily supported by fans along the route.
The first stage was an individual time trial in Breckenridge, contested on the same course as the men—and with results that weren’t far off the men’s times. The race continued Saturday on a 58-mile course from Loveland to Fort Collins before ending Sunday with a criterium around downtown Golden.
The inaugural Women’s USA Pro Challenge featured 12 teams. Long-time Boulder resident Connie Carpenter-Phinney has been an advocate for including a women’s race since its inception five years ago. Part of the original steering committee of the race, Connie is a decorated American cyclist, with an Olympic gold medal and 12 national championships to her name. She and husband Davis Phinney (also a former racer) have a son, Taylor Phinney, who won Stage 1 of the men’s race. Connie also served as a race announcer for all three days of women’s racing.
Two-time Olympic gold medalist Kristin Armstrong came out of retirement to participate in the Pro Challenge and was feted as the overall winner by a winning margin of 29 seconds. She is also training to qualify for participation at the games in Rio in 2016.
Boulder native Mara Abbott was overjoyed to have the women included in the Pro Challenge after years of frustration of being left out. Abbott was the first American to win the Giro Rosa, the women’s version of the Tour of Italy, in 2010 and again in 2013. Abbott finished third overall in the Colorado race and took the Queen of the Mountains jersey home with her. She’d like to see additional stages included in future versions of the race.
The crowds were out in full force for all three days of women’s racing. When the field was coming in after the road stage in Fort Collins, it was obvious by the big smiles on many of the racers’ faces that they were not used to such an impressive number of fans watching and cheering. And many guessed that the crowds in Golden to watch the women’s crit race were as big as any seen all week.
It seems that we can’t get enough of bicycling in Colorado!
Finally, it’s exciting to note that the women’s prize money was equal to the men—more the exception than the rule in women’s sports. Now if we could only do something about incorporating podium boys…