The Denver Post - - FRONT PAGE - He­len H. Richard­son, The Den­ver Post

Par­tic­i­pants in the men’s pele­ton of the first stage of the in­au­gu­ral Colorado Clas­sic cy­cle through a damp Gar­den of the Gods in Colorado Springs on Thurs­day. The 93.5-mile course, which in­cluded six laps through the scenic city park, fin­ished at Te­jon Street down­town. »

COLORADO SPRINGS» Every­thing is dif­fer­ent at the in­au­gu­ral Colorado Clas­sic.

The cour­ses are short and stout. The roads are wide and smooth. The six-rider teams are smaller than other races. And with only four stages, the win­ner of the gen­eral clas­si­fi­ca­tion ti­tle prob­a­bly will be de­cided dur­ing Friday’s bru­tal laps up Breck­en­ridge’s Moonstone Road, a 64-mile beat­down with more than 7,000 ver­ti­cal feet of climb­ing.

“The guy who wins in Breck­en­ridge will be in the driver’s seat,” said Steve Bauer, the BMC Rac­ing boss who is call­ing shots from the team car chas­ing the pelo­ton, keep­ing his team on tar­get with per­pet­u­ally shift­ing strate­gies and re­ac­tions.

Thurs­day’s Stage 1 in Colorado Springs was pretty straight­for­ward. Rac­ers dropped the ham­mer from the gun and kept it pinned. The women stayed tight un­til the fi­nal stretch, where a wild sprint de­liv­ered the win to Sho-Air Twenty 20’s Jenn Va­lente. The men’s race saw sprint­ers break­ing away early, only to reel in as the pelo­ton wound six 15½-mile laps be­tween the city’s down­town and Gar­den of the

Gods. Friday’s race in Breck­en­ridge will see the men grind­ing 10 laps up Moonstone Road and the women ped­al­ing up and down the steep hill five times. Moonstone, which played a piv­otal role in the USA Pro Chal­lenge, is a 1-mile stretch of pave­ment above Breck­en­ridge that climbs nearly 600 feet and tops out at 10,200 feet.

It’s highly likely that the pelo­ton will break apart on the climbs and high-speed, wind­ing de­scents in Breck­en­ridge. Some rid­ers — from a group that is con­sid­ered the most elite in the world — prob­a­bly will get yanked from the stage for not mak­ing time splits.

With only six team mem­bers, reel­ing in break-away groups is a chal­lenge be­cause rid­ers need to ride in a group to save en­ergy. Send­ing two rid­ers to catch a break-away means there are only four to push with the pelo­ton.

“The team has to be ready from the gun. We have to have rid­ers be­ing at­ten­tive to cover breaks. Once the race evolves, the six rid­ers limit your re­sources to con­trol the race but ev­ery­one here is in the same po­si­tion,” said Bauer, who wore the yel­low jersey in the Tour de France in 1988 and 1990.

Cir­cuit rac­ing al­lows rid­ers to test their en­durance as well as sprint­ing and tech­ni­cal bike­han­dling skills. There aren’t long climbs for day­dream­ing. With grow­ing fa­mil­iar­ity for up­com­ing twists and turns on each lap, the cy­clists can keep their en­gines hum­ming near red line for nearly the en­tire race.

“It was tough from the start, be­cause it was so short,” said Rally Cy­cling’s Emma White, who took third in the women’s race, which saw the pelo­ton fly­ing at more than 32 mph up the course’s steep­est hills. “It wasn’t long enough for peo­ple to need to re­cover af­ter the climbs.”

In tra­di­tional stage races, rid­ers in­tu­itively suss out the com­pe­ti­tion over long hours in the sad­dle, watch­ing for tell­tale signs of fa­tigue or weak­ness. But with only four rel­a­tively short stages, the Colorado Clas­sic ath­letes don’t have the abil­ity to set­tle in and ad­just. And with only six team mem­bers — most big races have teams of eight — spar­ing rid­ers to catch break-away groups can be a chal­lenge. Watch for small groups of jostling cy­clists dur­ing the sprint­ing sec­tions.

“It just makes the race that much harder to con­trol,” said Kiel Rei­j­nen, a former Boul­der pro with Trek-Se­gafredo and a renowned sprinter who earned two sprint jer­seys at the USA Pro Chal­lenge. “I think it will be a lot more dy­namic than it has been in the past and a lot less pre­dictable.”

The gen­eral clas­si­fi­ca­tion ti­tle will be de­cided by mere sec­onds, and the win­ner will likely come down to time bonuses. Win­ners of sprint sec­tions can shave one, two or three sec­onds from their over­all time, while the top-three fin­ish­ers of each stage get 10, six and four sec­onds re­moved from their cu­mu­la­tive time.

“I think the GC is go­ing to be re­ally, re­ally tight and time-bonus de­pen­dent,” Rei­j­nen said.

He­len H. Richard­son, The Den­ver Post

Cy­clists com­pete dur­ing Stage 1 of the Colorado Clas­sic women’s race Thurs­day in Colorado Springs.

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