The Colorado Classic made headlines at the end of last year when it was announced that the event would exist as a standalone women’s race in 2019. The decision by organizers to forego the men’s event in favour of focusing on women meant a quadrupled prize purse, international calendar status, increased team support, live streaming, and longer, more challenging routes. Kicking off on August 22nd, the Colorado Classic is also the only standalone UCI women’s stage race in North America with the sought-after 2.1 category designation.
As we discussed earlier this summer, this is not the first time the Colorado Classic has thrown light on the issue of gender equality in cycling. In 2017, the event was the first major USA cycling men’s and women’s race to drop the controversial practice of podium hostesses. They opted instead for cycling legends as presenters and in their second year, the women’s race expanded from two to four stages with routes similar in difficulty to the men’s.
Now, in their third year, the Colorado Classic is boldly setting out to do what has never been done before. They’ve created a women-only event with unmatched financial support, live streaming and an international exposure package, and a unique opportunity for collegiate racers to compete with the world’s best riders.
Speaking of top riders, it was announced earlier this month that, in addition to defending champ Katie Hall, the roster includes the likes of—U.S. time trial champion Amber Neben (Cogeas-Mettler), the German Canyon-SRAM squad, U.S. criterium champ Emma White (Rally-UHC), and Olympic medalists Chloe Dygert Owen and Jennifer Valente (both Sho Air-Twenty 20).
As race director Sean Petty explained to We Love Cycling: “We’ve been able to recruit an all-star lineup for this year’s event thanks to longer stages, better start times, live streaming, and definitely the possibility to gain those valuable UCI points.” With the 2020 Olympics on the horizon, the ability to rack up points has definitely played a decision-making role for many teams and riders.
In addition to great support and the chance to earn points, these riders will also have unprecedented access to airtime. More live coverage means the ability to share the stories of the women riding and get fans interested in them as individuals. The organizers recognize this opportunity and plan to capitalize on it. As Petty stated, “we have a panel of commentators who are very knowledgeable about the riders, the teams, and their stories. We’ve been working hard to get the backstories and are excited to share some of the fascinating history of the women riding.”
This is certainly an untapped potential in the promotion of women’s cycling. Due to several factors, including that the path into women’s racing is less established and that many professional female cyclists find success later than the men, they tend to have more diverse and compelling personal histories. Many women have to work a second job simply to compete in the sport they love and this ruthless dedication shines brightly on the racetrack.
Another exciting aspect of this year’s Colorado Classic is that the course was designed specifically for women riders and the organizers were able to concentrate all their energy on creating a race that would highlight the women’s strengths.
The four-stage event will cover 220 miles and feature nearly 14,000 feet of climbing as it races through Steamboat Springs, Avon, Golden, and Denver. As Petty explained: “This will be, by far, the most challenging course we’ve had for the women’s Colorado Classic. The courses offer two incredible days in the mountains, starting with over 4,000 feet of climbing in Steamboat Springs and a brutal climb will be featured before the finale on stage 2 in Avon. And we’ll have opportunities for the sprinters in stages 3 and 4 in Golden and Denver.”
Partnering with the women’s cycling advocacy group, The Cyclists’ Alliance, the Colorado Classic is asking fans and supporters to sign the pledge to support the work being done to bring gender equality to cycling. This is part of their bigger mission to create fair opportunity and contribute to women’s empowerment.
When asked whether there have been any doubts about switching to an all-women event, Petty was unequivocal: “Ratings for women’s racing are going way up and I see that trend continuing and accelerating. Sponsors are onboard, fans are onboard, and we are thrilled to be part of the action.”
Undoubtedly, the organization’s focus on women in 2019 and their ability to achieve 2.1 status is a testament to the growth and interest in women’s cycling. Acting not only as a race but a movement to challenge and redefine female professional cycling, and ultimately, inspire women of all ages to fight for their goals, we can’t wait to watch it all unfold next weekend in Colorado! Check out the streaming and TV schedule here to be part of this exciting event.