When the USA Pro Challenge comes down from the mountains, where it has been the previous two days, for Thursday's stage 4 circuit race in Colorado Springs, the riders will no doubt enjoy the relatively low level elevation of 1,950 meters. But for first-year Team SmartStop director Michael Creed, the stage will be a homecoming and a chance to show off his squad.
Creed grew up in Colorado Springs and graduated from Cheyenne Mountain High School in 1999. An accomplished pro during his own career, Creed trained regularly on many of the roads that will be featured during Thursday's stage.
"The Colorado Springs stage is going to be the day where I really start to peacock a little bit," Creed said. "I'll have my friends out and stuff like that. I've raced on it with Tour of Colorado, and now I'm going to be able to be a director on it with the best UCI America Tour team, so that's pretty cool. It's pretty cool, and I'm happy about it."
But this year won't be the first time Creed has been able to "peacock" during a USA Pro Challenge stage in Colorado Springs. In 2012, while riding for the Optum Pro Cycling team, Creed was honored by the city after a stage finish there for raising $35,000 that went to victims of a local wildfire. This year he'll be trying to raise his team's performance to get a special result. But don't count on the local boy's local knowledge of the route to provide an advantage for his riders.
"If this was like an NRC race or something, then maybe having a little local knowledge would help," he said. "But all these guys are so professional and so good that really it's not an advantage. And especially with a circuit race, everyone is going to get a feel for it pretty quick. So there's no real insight I can give that would be an advantage over teams like Garmin and Cannondale."
After a ceremonial start at the Broadmoor Hotel, the race will head into town and begin four laps of a 25.6km circuit. With climbs through Garden of the Gods, Mesa Road and the infamous Ridge Road, which hits grades of nearly 17 percent, the route will not be a day off for the riders. Overall race leader Tejay van Garderen (BMC) said he expects a tough day of defending for his team.
"When I look at it on paper, I see Garden of the Gods and a 17 percent grade four times," van Garderen said. "So it's not easy."
Creed said he believes the circuit could lend itself to a breakaway that sticks, but he knows a lot of teams will be playing for the win, and the sprinters are yet to have their day in the stage race.
"There should be some pretty big time gaps," Creed said. "So a breakaway going is not out of the question. I think we'll definitely play for hopefully a little bit of a sprint. The Ridge Road is hard but it's short. And depending on exactly how they do the run in, I think it will be a bunch kick."