Perhaps fittingly, a healthy dose of Colorado weather ushered in a brand-new Colorado race.
Hail pelted a field of elite cyclists Thursday afternoon and rain soaked the pavement as the Colorado Classic made its debut in Colorado Springs.
John Murphy emerged the soggy winner of Stage 1, outdueling Travis McCabe and Logan Owen with a spirited sprint to the line. Now, if only the rider from Holowesko/Citadel Racing could recall how it all unfolded.
“To be honest, I couldn’t really see through my glasses that well,” Murphy said. “It was pretty wet and wild out there. But we had really good position coming into the last turn.”
Just getting to the last turn might have been the greater victory on this day.
When Boulder native Taylor Phinney came through downtown as the leader heading into the sixth and final lap of the 93.5-mile stage, raindrops began to fall. Within minutes, a downpour ensued. Fans scrambled for cover and officials tried to keep barriers in the finish area from blowing into the course.
“Once the rain and the storm hit, it was just on to survival mode for most of the guys,” said McCabe, who rides for UnitedHealthcare. “No one wanted to crash, and everyone was pretty cautious.”
Added Owen, an Axeon Hagens Berman cyclist: “I actually thought it was going to be dry for the finish, but then we saw the big death cloud coming in as we came to the finish line. We knew it was going to be pretty gnarly after that.”
And gnarly it was. But the storm did little to dampen the enthusiasm surrounding the inaugural event.
“It was great, even with the weather. People toughed it out,” said Phinney, who rides for Cannondale Drapac. “They were giving us some good cheers. A good amount of people in Garden of the Gods. A ton of people at the finish line. Colorado Springs definitely treated us well.”
Now the four-day stage race moves to Breckenridge, where more gnarly conditions await in the form of 10 laps on a challenging, high-altitude layout.
The route was featured several times from 2011 to 2015 in the USA Pro Challenge, the state’s last elite stage race. So riders know what to expect. And that’s why there’s a bit of trepidation.
“People are scared about tomorrow for sure,” Owen said.
Murphy knows it won’t be easy to hang on to his overall lead with the likes of Tour de France runner-up Rigoberto Uran lurking behind him.
“It definitely depends on how the Urans and the big boys deliver to us,” he said. “I know it’s going to be super hard.
“It’s definitely nothing to be scared of,” he added. “You make it or you don’t make it.”
STAGE 2 BREAKDOWN
2 p.m. Friday (approximate finish 4:40 p.m.), Breckenridge. 64 miles, 7,320 feet of elevation gain. A stage race in Colorado wouldn’t be complete without a trip to the high country. And with a starting elevation above 9,600 feet, this route certainly qualifies. Expect carnage and extreme time gaps.