A Plea to the 2012 Tour of Colorado

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Yesterday, the USA Pro Cycling Challenge, a.k.a. the tour of Colorado, announced the 12 host cities for the second edition of the race, scheduled for August 20 to 26, 2012. Last year’s inaugural run was largely a success, attracting eight ProTour teams and a star-studded field (Levi Leipheimer, George Hincapie, Ivan Basso, and the Schleck brothers amongst others) as well as huge crowds, but you might remember that I still had a few niggles. With the announcement of the new host cities, the organizers have set themselves up to address many (but not all) of the shortcomings of the maiden journey.

Here’s a peek:
Stage 1: Durango – Telluride
Stage 2: Montrose – Crested Butte/Mt. Crested Butte
Stage 3: Gunnison – Aspen
Stage 4: Aspen – Beaver Creek
Stage 5: Breckenridge – Colorado Springs
Stage 6: Golden – Boulder
Stage 7: Denver Individual Time Trial

The best news is the expansion of the race from six stages to seven. It’s no three-week grand tour yet (and perhaps never will be), but the fact that the race is getting bigger surely signals that the first year was a success. And from a fan’s perspective, who doesn’t want more racing?

As far as the course goes, it looks like it could be good. After all, the organizers have pushed off the individual time trial until the final day in Denver, meaning there may be no clear winner until the very end. That’s good drama.

But for the rest of the week, only the start and end points have been decided so there’s still a lot up in the air. For instance, on the run from Durango to Telluride, will the racers head west through Dolores and Rico and go over Lizard Head Pass or will they go straight north and climb Molas, Coal Bank, and Red Mountain passes and then make a bigger loop back through Ridgway? Neither course is likely to be decisive in the grand scheme of the tour, but for my money the latter over three iconic passes would be more aesthetic and help the tour gain some of the beauty and grandeur it will need to be come a lasting icon.

The biggest question, though, is whether or not the 2012 race will include an uphill finish. As I said in August, the lack of a proper mountaintop stage last year meant there was no real room for the big guns to attack one another and open up time margins. The race organizers have said a mountaintop finish is definitely on the table for 2012, and judging by the host cities there seem to be two options: Stage 3 from Gunnison to Aspen could finish atop Independence Pass, and Stage 6, which ends in Boulder, presents all sorts of possibilities. The biggest bang would be a charge up Flagstaff Mountain, a winding, sinuous climb straight west of Boulder that every avid cyclist in Front Range Colorado knows and either secretly loves or hates. I would kill to see Levi, Christian, Tom Danielson, Ivan Basso, the Schlecks, Chris Horner, and a host of other top-notch climbers beating each other up on this climb, especially knowing that they’d have to go head-to-head again the next day in the time trial. It would help add spectacle and uncertainty that was missing this year.

So here’s my petition to the organizers: It’s clear from the monumental crowds last year that we cyclists love the idea of the tour of Colorado. And we’ll be out again this year, for sure. In exchange, why not give us not one, but two mountaintop finishes. I know that stage ends in towns mean better revenues for host cities, and sponsorship dollars are important. But drama and a hard-fought race are also critical to keeping spectators’ interest—and thus the race’s long-term viability. Everyone loves to see the dog fights up steep climbs, and Colorado has the terrain for it. So give it up and not only will you have a more exciting race, but you’ll also have bigger crowds coming back for more.

Oh yeah, and the other thing: Can you PLEASE work on that name?

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