Video: Kristin Armstrong previews the 2015 Women's USA Pro Challenge

Twenty16 p/b Sho-Air looking for opportunities in Colorado

The Women’s USA Pro Challenge gets underway on Friday with a 13.5km time trail in Breckenridge, Colorado. The women will ride the same route and distance as the men for stage 1, creating an interesting benchmark on the initial day of racing. Cyclingnews caught up with several of the professional women prior to Friday’s start.

“It’s really cool to ride the same course as the guys,” said Joanne Kiesanowski, who rides with Team TIBCO-SVB. “I’m sure there will be some girls who will beat some of the guys.”

The race has drawn several of the biggest American names in women’s racing, including Coryn Rivera (UnitedHealthcare), Allie Dragoo (Twenty16), Meredith Miller (Pepper Palace), Mara Abbott (Amy D Foundation) and Kristin Armstrong (Twenty16). Armstrong is using the race to prepare for the World Time Trial Championships in Richmond this September.

The opening time trial climbs up to 3,000 metres, a rude-awakening for those riders having just arrived at altitude. The high mountains may favour Colorado natives like Miller and Abbott, but Armstrong, the current US National Time Trial Champion, will be the one to beat.

“I don’t know at 10,000 feet if we have that much of an advantage over anyone else,” Miller said. “In a way it neutralizes the people who live in altitude.”

Next for the women is a 93km road race on stage 2, starting and finishing in the same locations as the men’s race from Loveland to Fort Collins. The parcours include a category 2 climb 32km up Buckhorn Canyon before the long descent to the finish. Abbott is the heavy favourite as a multiple Giro Rosa winner and may have extra motivation racing so close to her Boulder home.

“This is the biggest deal cycling-wise that has ever happened to me,” Abbott said. “Anyone can say it’s special to have a race in your hometown, but for me, Colorado is more than the place I grew up. It’s everything of who I am; I make more sense here. To be able to show that to the cycling world and to be able to be a part of it, I couldn’t be prouder.”

The finale on stage 3 in Golden just outside of Denver is billed as a circuit race at 2.25km per lap, bringing out the sprinters and criterium specialists. The six-corner course will ensure that the final day of racing is fast and furious, while the leader on GC will need to remain attentive with so many time bonuses up for grabs. Look to UnitedHealthcare to fight for the win after the team's success with both Coryn Rivera and Hannah Barnes at the Tour of Utah earlier this month.

The focus of the 2015 inaugural three-day event is on creating a strong companion to the men’s event. At Thursday’s pre-race press conference, Race Director Sean Petty said the prize money for the women will be $11,000 per day for a total of $33,000.

“We wanted to have, at a minimum, the same prize money as the men,” Petty said. “And thanks to Lexus, their support of both men and women’s races, they will win a two-year lease on a Lexus NX200t.”

Armstrong praised organisers' efforts. “If you are going to make it three days, I think they have done a great job trying to pack in technicality, difficulty and altitude, so we are really excited,” she said. "The women are extremely excited to be part of the US Pro Challenge with the men, and the spectators are amazing.”

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