You don’t need to follow pro cycling (though who doesn’t love some Tour de France drama?) to appreciate the significance in the Colorado Classic’s recent decision to return for its third year this August 22–25 as a women-only race.
Kicking out the men — who, generally, have experienced a lot more support from sponsors, media and spectators in this sport — is about giving under-served female riders a chance to shine and win one of the biggest prize purses yet. Removing the boys has allowed the gals to nearly quadruple potential earnings. With a total of $135,000 at their disposal, the race has an opportunity to pay female winners more than what their male counterparts got in 2018, and even get some stipend support (i.e., room and board).
SHIFTING GEARS FROM THE START
When the Colorado Classic debuted in 2017, it began with an even playing field, offering a four-day men’s race and a two-day women’s race. But even then, it showed early signs of being different and progressive. For one, podium girls (the scantily clad babes arbitrarily standing next to podium finishers on stage) were replaced with “legends of cycling,” says Lucy Diaz, SVP of Partnerships for RPM Events Group, the organizers of the pro bike race.
“We have lots of ex-professional and prolific cyclists, like Taylor Phinney and Connie Carpenter-Phinney, who live in and around Boulder/Denver,” Diaz explains, adding that the race also had an all-women announcer team. “So we always had a little bit of an eye toward the elevation and celebration of women,” she says. By year two, men and women were both racing four stages, with female riders expressing deep gratitude for the opportunity.
“The humility from the female riders was really outstanding. That’s when we decided to give the market something they hadn’t really seen before. We flipped the typical model on its head and went with all women, dropping the men. Nothing wrong with the men — we love them! But we wanted to figure out ways to make women’s experiences better, such as paying for their food and hotel and giving them better start times. We felt it was our responsibility for getting these women the support that they deserve,” Diaz says.
NOT REPEATING HISTORY, BUT MAKING IT
The Colorado Classic isn’t the first pro cycling race garnering global attention in the Western Hemisphere, but it is the only one currently dedicated solely to female riders. Nor is it the first high-profile road cycling event to hit Colorado. Its predecessor, the USA Pro Challenge, a men’s only race that also took place in the Centennial State, drew top cyclists from all over, but after fives editions, it dissolved in 2015 — the first year it invited women to join. Rumor has it, the owners and investors just weren’t seeing the payoff, especially compared to more successful U.S. pro cycling races, like the Amgen Tour of California.
“We looked at the model of the USA Pro Challenge — and typically these races go city-to-city within the state — and had a thought to contain the excitement and spectators by having the same start and finish line. Basically, big loops or circuits that start and finish in the same area, so you can go to several locations throughout the course, and then come back to the same spot for the finish. From the athlete perspective, they could keep their travel in between races to a minimum and sleep in the same bed every night,” Diaz says. While the course is still being sorted out, organizers can confirm the final stage will take place in Denver.
NEXT STOP, TOKYO!
What makes this new race an even bigger deal is it may be a stepping stone for the Summer Olympics in 2020. Already sanctioned by the prestigious 119-year-old governing body for cycling, Union Cycliste Internationale (UCI), the Colorado Classic is gearing up to be a qualifier for Tokyo, which makes it extra appealing for pro riders to participate.
“We got a 2.1 classification from UCI in our inaugural year for the women’s only. That’s a step below the world tour rating, which the Amgen Tour of California has. We’re one of only 13 events around the world that have this rating, and the only one in North America. It’s a great recognition to have and that enables the riders — WorldTour race winners, Olympians, collegiate champions and up-and-coming stars — to start earning points toward the 2020 Olympics,” Diaz confirms. “USA Cycling recognizes us as a pro-cycling race, too.”
There’s room for 16 teams to not only chase their Olympic dreams, but also fight for social change by redefining female pro cycling, and ultimately, empowering women of all ages to go after their goals.
>>All photos courtesy of the Colorado Classic. The Colorado Classic will be held from August 22–25, 2019, and consist of a four-stage race across challenging Colorado terrain. Follow the race live on ColoradoClassic.com.