Women pros to race in Aspen

Criterium finish on USA Pro Cycling course

Pro women racers will return to downtown Aspen on Aug. 22. Enlarge photo

DALE STRODE/Durango Herald file photo

Pro women racers will return to downtown Aspen on Aug. 22.

ASPEN Ė The best professional female cyclists in the United States will return to Aspen for a downtown criterium race that will finish just before Stage 3 of the menís USA Pro Cycling Challenge.

The womenís race has been renamed the Blue Ribbon Alpine Challenge after title sponsor Bromberg Bros. Blue Ribbon Restaurants. Originally scheduled with three stages including a prologue time trial to Maroon Bells and a 35-mile circuit race around Snowmass Village, organizers had to cut back to the single race, the downtown Aspen criterium on Wednesday, Aug. 22.

Race organizer Jessica Phillips said she is hopeful that Kristin Armstrong, the U.S. Olympic gold medalist in the time trial, will be among the racers. Armstrong is a mom and two-time Olympic gold medalist.

Armstrong was focused on the Olympics, so she hasnít committed yet to any races after the games. Her presence would provide a big boost to the Blue Ribbon Alpine Challenge at a time when Phillips needs one.

A number of Durango-area pro racers, including Carmen Small and Kristin McGrath, are scheduled to race in Aspen. Lauren Hall of Dolores also is a likely racer in Aspen.

Phillips, an accomplished pro cyclist herself, is taking this season off to concentrate on organizing the Aspen-Snowmass Village races.

The required effort is equivalent to any climb or sprint she endured during her racing days. And the frustration of being a race organizer exceeds what she experienced as a racer.

Phillips said she tried to get other Colorado towns and resorts hosting menís races interested in hosting womenís races so more stages are possible.

Most towns seem so overwhelmed hosting the menís races that they are unwilling to take on extra effort, she said. In some cases, they donít understand why the womenís races are being presented at the same time as the menís.

The organizers of the USA Pro Cycling Challenge also have been somewhat reluctant to embrace womenís racing, Phillips said. She doesnít understand the reasoning.

ďIt doesnít compete against the menís race,Ē she said.

Phillips knows firsthand that many of the men racing in the international field of the USA Pro Cycling Challenge enjoy it when the womenís races coincide with their stages.

Phillips is married to Tejay van Garderen, a top U.S. racer and the highest American finisher in the recent Tour de France.

Phillips said many of the male riders she has met have expressed support for womenís racing.

The Blue Ribbon Alpine Challenge attracts the top teams and many of the top riders in the nation. Phillips expects about 40 riders. There were 38 last year.

ďTo get top teams and top riders from Europe, you need more than three stages,Ē Phillips said. They cannot justify the travel expenses for short races.

The womenís races also have a tougher time than the menís races to attract spectators and sponsors. Despite the hurdles, Phillips is convinced her team has put together a good event. ďEverythingís put together better this year,Ē she said.

Thatís why it is frustrating to her that more towns and people arenít embracing the womenís races.

ďIf we could somehow break in,Ē she said.

The criterium was very popular last year and once again will take advantage of the crowds gathering Wednesday for the menís race.