The Aspen Snowmass Pro Challenge will return for a second year this August with a new title sponsor and a new name but with dates that will once again have the women sharing Colorado's roads with the men's USA Pro Cycling Challenge.
The newly renamed Blue Ribbon Alpine Challenge will run Aug. 20-22, with the final downtown criterium taking place just before the pro men arrive in Aspen for the USA Pro Cycling Challenge stage 4 finish. Other changes for the 2012 event include a considerably larger prize purse, a switch from a points-based omnium to a traditional stage race based on overall time and a move up to National Race Calendar status.
Race organizer and two-time U.S. elite national road champion Jessica van Garderen said the move to NRC status should help bring in more teams and get the word out about the race.
"There are only three of us putting on this race," she said. "So being an NRC race really helped us with advertising, just being on the calendar."
Van Garderen joined fellow Aspen residents Jan Koorn and Justin Todd last year in putting together an event that would showcase women's cycling while the world's attention was turned toward Colorado and the UCI 2.HC men's race that runs Aug. 20-26. Exergy-Twenty12's Kristin Armstrong won the three-stage event last year as part of her comeback aimed at this year's London Olympics, which will take place just weeks before the Blue Ribbon Alpine Challenge.
"She won the race last year and I know she really enjoyed it," van Garderen said of Armstrong's possible participation this year. "We would just be thrilled to have her back."
Although rosters haven't been finalized, Armstrong's Exergy-Twenty12 team has committed to sending a full squad of eight riders to Aspen this year, van Garderen said, along with TIBCO-to the Top and the Now & Novartis for MS team of Anne Samplonius, winner of last year's final stage.
"We're still hoping for [Specialized]-lululemon," van Garderen said. "We're working really closely with them to get them over, but it's hard with all the travel from Europe. A lot of teams are still waiting to see how London goes, so that's really their focus right now."
The stages for this year's race will remain mostly the same, with a nine-mile opening time trial to Maroon Bells on Monday, followed the next day by a hilly 35-mile circuit race in Snowmass. The final stage 3 criterium in downtown Aspen on Wednesday will take place on a circuit around the finish line for stage 4 of the USA Pro Cycling Challenge.
"The stages are the same except for the criterium on the last day because the men finish in a different spot in town this year," van Garderen said. "Last year there were 11 corners per lap or something. This year's course is a more basic four-corner, really fast crit."
Although disappointed that they weren't able to add a fourth stage to the race this year, van Garderen said the organizers are very excited about getting title sponsor on board. Not only did the new partnership enable them to raise the prize purse from $9,000 last year to $25,000 for this year's race, it also provides another opportunity to further the race's basic goal of raising awareness of women's racing.
"It's fun because Blue Ribbon is based out of New York City," van Garderen said. "So it's great to have the whole country involved and not just have everything be local. They're sending some people out during the race to enjoy Aspen and have a good time, and they're really into the men's race as well."
In fact, van Garderen first met one of Blue Ribbon Restaurants' owners at the men's race last year and developed a friendship that led to support for the race.
"My dad actually met him, and he was talking about food and cycling," van Garderen said. "Tejay and I are such big foodies, so my dad said 'Oh my God, you have to meet my daughter.' So Tejay and I met him, and we have stayed in touch since that day. From the beginning I told him about the women's race and how difficult it is to pull together."
Blue Ribbon is joined by Exergy Group, Ajax Tavern at The Little Nell and clothing sponsor Primal Wear in helping push the race to the next level. Another new new initiative for the second-year race is the creation of a non-profit organization that will help support young women's athletic programs in Colorado. There will also be an open house on July 12 from 7-8:30 p.m. at the Boulder Cycling Lounge to get people excited about both the men's and women's races in Colorado.
There are a lot more moving pieces as the race grows in size and scope, and it means an increased workload for the event's trio of founders, but van Garderen, who considers herself a promoter of women's cycling more than a race organizer, said it was worth the effort if it puts women's racing in front of just a few more people.
"I know that women's racing is exciting, and I just want people to have the opportunity to see it, too," she said. "So now girls who are in middle school or high school or even college, if they see a women's bike race like this, maybe they'll decide that they'd like to try it. Without ever seeing a women's race, they wouldn't even know that it was possible for them."
2012 Blue Ribbon Alpine Challenge:
Monday, Aug. 20 – Maroon Bells Time Trial
Tuesday, Aug. 21 – Snowmass Circuit Race
Wednesday, Aug. 22 – Downtown Aspen Criterium