Kristin Armstrong wins inaugural edition of the Women’s Pro Challenge

Article and photo by Todd Hofert

The USA Pro Cycling Challenge wrapped up Sunday on the front lawn of the Capitol building in Denver Colorado. The men’s event, in its fifth edition, was joined this year by the inaugural edition of the Women’s Pro Challenge, a very welcome and complimentary addition to this ‘Tour of Colorado’.

Ladies First!

“Long overdue” has been the mantra for women cyclists and their fans, and 2015 has proven to be a watershed year for the advancement of women’s racing around the globe. Many prominent men’s races took advantage of the obvious opportunity to provide cycling fans more bang for their cycling-crazed buck by adding women’s racing to their agendas. And recently the UCI formed a Women’s World Tour starting in 2016, further solidifying the women’s position in the professional cycling peloton.

The USA Pro Challenge followed this advancement trend and provided a stellar foundation for the women to compete on. A three-stage event; a Stage 1 time trial preceding the men’s Stage 5 time trial on Friday in Breckenridge, a 93km road stage from Loveland to Fort Collins following many of the same roads as the Stage 6 men’s race that started fifteen minutes after the women rolled out and a Stage 3 criterium in Golden after the final stage of the men’s race got underway. Needless to say, the riders took full advantage of this opportunity and delivered world-class racing in return.

Sixty-six riders representing twelve teams would take the start for the Stage 1 Time Trial in Breckenridge. The course would follow the same 13.7km route the men would contest later in the day and included the steep slopes of Moonstone Road up to an elevation of 10,088’ and the fast descent of Boreas Pass taking the riders back into town for a tricky finish.

Kristen Armstrong (Twenty 16 p/b SHO-AIR), who turned 42 in the weeks leading up to the race, would demonstrate her rich and storied pedigree turning in a performance that would edge out her teammate, Allie Dragoo (Allie Oop) by the narrowest of margins. The official time gap between Armstrong and Dragoo was 12 one-hundredths of a second giving Kristen Armstrong the first ever Women’s Leaders Yellow Jersey.

Of Dragoo, Armstrong said, “I love the challenge that was presented today. I don’t look at Allie as losing to me. I look at Allie as an amazing talent coming up on the peloton”. Allie Oop was equally cordial and respectful of her teammates’ victory and the narrow margin, “I’m not going to let it eat me alive. I rode my best. It could have been a gust of wind. It could have been something so small. You never know what could have happened. All I can do is be proud of my self, and be happy for Kristin. It was a good ride.” The podium was rounded out by Amanda Miller(Visit Dallas) 24 seconds off the pace set by Armstrong and Dragoo.

The Stage 2 start line call-ups in Loveland included Kristen Armstrong (Twenty 16 p/b SHO-AIR), the race leader in the Smash Burger Yellow Jersey, Allie Dragoo(Twenty 16 p/b SHO-AIR) sporting the Lexus Sprint Classification Leaders Green Jersey, Abigail Mickey(United Healthcare Professional) wearing the Sierra Nevada QOM Leaders Red Jersey, Chloe Dygart(Twenty 16 p/b SHO-AIR) wearing the Colorado Tourism Best Young Rider Leaders Blue Jersey, Breanne Nalder(DNA Cycling) wearing the Strava Most Courageous Rider Orange Jersey and the rest of Twenty 16 p/b SHO-AIR as the leaders of the best team competition.

The heat and the wind were the two factors on everyone’s mind as the riders signed in and were introduced by the iconic voice and personality of Dave Towles. Strong and gusty tail and cross tailwinds negated any chances that a break would form early on and the wind would follow the riders west to the canyons where the QOM points would be contested. A split would finally form on the climb of Rist Canyon and four riders would stay clear spurred on by an aggressive and fearless descent.

The group was made up of Taylor Wiles (DNA Cycling) Lauren Komanski and Kristin Armstrong (Twenty 16 p/b SHO-AIR) and Mara Abbott (Amy D Foundation). Tyler Wiles would jump clear of the group and out-sprinted them to win the Stage in front of huge and enthusiastic crowds packing the downtown finish. “I knew I was going to have to play it pretty smart since there were two Twenty16 riders,” said Wiles. “Lauren Komanski had gone again with 500 meters to go, so I stuck on her wheel. Then I went with about 400 meters to go, which was pretty early. It was a long straight drag and I knew if I could get a jump and get a little on the downhill I could hold it.”

Adding to the electric atmosphere, cycling legend Connie Carpenter-Phinney was on hand to provide colorful PA commentary as a highlight to the festivities.

The successful long-range break would shake up the GC as well as the majority of the other points classifications. Kristen Armstrong would retain Yellow now followed by Taylor Wiles and Mara Abbott. Taylor Wiles stage win would wrest the Green Jersey from Allie Dragoo and Mara Abbott would claim the right to wear the Red QOM Jersey. Abigail Mickey would rightfully claim the jersey for the Best Young Rider, previously on loan from Allie Dragoo and the Most Courageous of the day would belong to Coryn Rivera(United Healthcare Professional). Twenty 16 p/b SHO-AIR would continue as the leader of the best team competition.

Golden Colorado played host to the Stage 3 start on Sunday and the town delivered a brilliant atmosphere as has come to be expected during its tenure as a host city. The women set out on a very technical 2.4km circuit that they would race for an hour. Barring catastrophe Kristen Armstrong’s 31-second grip on Yellow seemed unlikely to be threatened. At the end of the day, she would survive and only give back two seconds to her nearest rival, Taylor Wiles.

Coryn Rivera (United Healthcare Professional) would take the stage honors with an aggressive style coming through the final corner into the finish. Tyler Wiles and Mara Abbott would round out the day’s podium. On her victory, “It was a really fast finish,” said Rivera. “I had a feeling I wanted to be first out of the last corner as I know it was going to be fast and it was off camber. I wanted to take that risk without anyone near me. I took the last corner on my own and let it all out.”

With the overall win, Kristen Armstrong takes home a new Lexus and her name will forever be etched on the race as its first ever winner. Her sentiments echoed the sentiments of many in the cycling community. “This is the beginning of the new U.S. women’s cycling,” Armstrong said. “This is hopefully going to be contagious across the nation, across the world, because this is what we deserve.” Tyler Wiles (DNA Cycling) and Mara Abbott (Amy D Foundation) rounded out the final GC podium.

The final Jersey podium was as follows:

Kristin Armstrong(Twenty16-Sho p/b Sho Air) – Smashburger Race Leader Jersey.
Coryn Rivera(United Healthcare Professional) – Lexus Sprint Points Jersey.
Mara Abbott(Amy D. Foundation) – Sierra Nevada Queen of the Mountains Jersey.
Abigail Mickey(United Healthcare Professional) – The Best Young Rider Jersey
Amanda Miller(Visit Dallas p/b Noise4Good) – Strava Most Courageous Rider Jersey

Viewed as a success, Sean Petty, Women’s USA Pro Challenge Race Director said. “I looked up that hill today and saw the huge crowds in Golden and tears came to my eyes.” “A lot of hard work went into this from the communities Breckenridge, Fort Collins and Golden and they exceeded all of our expectations. Our goal is to continue to grow the race and make it bigger and better every year.”

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