Cycling Challenge’s finalized route includes Garden spin

       A roll through the Garden of the Gods and three laps of the downtown before a Tejon-Kiowa finish line have been added to the final version of the course through Colorado Springs Aug. 24 in the second USA Pro Cycling Challenge.
       The course will also take in (for the second year in a row) Colorado Avenue east from 30th Street, leading up to a downtown finish.

On a state map, the red/white-checked line shows the route that USA Pro Cycling Challenge racers will take from Breckenride to Colorado Springs Aug. 24. It is not yet known when the lead riders are likely to arrive in this area on Highway 24 after coming down Ute Pass.
Courtesy of USA Pro Cycling Challenge

       In its inaugural race last year, the seven-stage Challenge attracted about 130 world-class riders, including the three top placers from the 2011 Tour de France, 15 national champions and two Olympic medalists. This year's Challenge will be Aug. 20-26, passing through scenic parts of the state and using several high mountain passes before concluding with a time trial through downtown Denver Aug. 26.
       The local mileage will climax the 117.9- mile Stage 5, starting that morning in Breckenridge. After a climb of 11,500-foot Hoosier Pass, the route will be mostly downhill as riders pass through Fairplay, Hartsel, Woodland Park and Ute Pass.
       The race leaders are expected to emerge from the Pass a few hours after the start (estimated times are not yet calculated, nor has the stage's exact start time been decided). Accom-panied by a rolling street blockade, the competitors will take Highway 24 to the easternmost Manitou Avenue exit, swinging back around to El Paso Boulevard, under the highway and on into the Garden of the Gods via Garden Drive.
       Evidently the possibility of directing the race through downtown Manitou did not gain serious consideration. Matt Carpenter, a Manitou City Councilmember, said it would have been a good idea but it was never brought before the body.
       From Garden Drive, racers will pump past Balanced Rock, turn onto Garden Lane, and then onto Juniper Way Loop. Following Juniper down to Gateway Road may produce a déjà vu for returning Challenge riders, as that segment - ridden the opposite direction en route to Ridge Road - was used for the Prologue start last August.
       The opening event in the 2011 Challenge, the Prologue was a time trial, with a route that continued from Ridge to Pikes Peak Avenue to 30th Street to Colorado Avenue to the downtown.
       Unlike the Prologue - a 5-mile time-trial sprint - the riders won't be as fresh this year, battling fatigue near the end of the long stage from Breckenridge. Typically, in such a competition, there will be a lead pack or packs of 10 to 30 riders, with other racers strung out behind them for a mile or more.
       From Gateway, the course will turn south on 30th Street (in front of the Garden of the Gods Visitor & Nature Center) and down to the avenue.
       A Challenge press release says of this last stretch, “From there the route takes a quick downhill run to downtown for the 2012 race's only finishing circuits. With the peloton passing through the finish line three times as they blast around downtown Colorado Springs, spectators will be treated to a thrilling elbow-to- elbow competition that can reach up to 35 mph.”
       Race organizers have estimated that people lining the Prologue course last year (particularly at the start and finish) numbered close to 100,000 people, and they expect the number of total area spectators to double this year.
       The Challenge winner last year was American Levi Leipheimer. A list of cyclists/teams for this year's event has not yet been finalized.
       In addition, other race details will be released as organizers work them out in the months ahead, said Nicole Okoneski, a Challenge spokesperson.

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