ASPEN 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 mens USA Pro Cycling Challenge.
The womens 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 hasnt 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 mens races interested in hosting womens races so more stages are possible.
Most towns seem so overwhelmed hosting the mens races that they are unwilling to take on extra effort, she said. In some cases, they dont understand why the womens races are being presented at the same time as the mens.
The organizers of the USA Pro Cycling Challenge also have been somewhat reluctant to embrace womens racing, Phillips said. She doesnt understand the reasoning.
It doesnt compete against the mens race, 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 womens 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 womens 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.
To get top teams and top riders from Europe, you need more than three stages, Phillips said. They cannot justify the travel expenses for short races.
The womens races also have a tougher time than the mens races to attract spectators and sponsors. Despite the hurdles, Phillips is convinced her team has put together a good event. Everythings put together better this year, she said.
Thats why it is frustrating to her that more towns and people arent embracing the womens races.
If we could somehow break in, she said.
The criterium was very popular last year and once again will take advantage of the crowds gathering Wednesday for the mens race.