Around 50 of the nation's top women will come together Saturday in Fort Collins for a vicious battle in front of throngs. It's a rare pleasure for women's racing to get the volume of crouds this race hopes to attract, which it will accomplish by piggybacking with a highly-anticipated, heavily-funded race.

The same .93-mile circuit that the men racing the USA Pro Cycling Challenge will finish on later that day will be action-packed from noon with the Fort Follies' Women's Grand Prix criterium race.

"Although ideally the women would love an opportunity for their own USA Pro Challenge, we are very excited with the opportunity we have available to us at Stage 6 to make a positive impact on the sport, engaging both women and men," said the race's PR representative, Cynthia Wilson.

Professional riders in the field include former Fort Collins residents Meredith Miller and Amy Charity, riding for Team TIBCO and Vanderkitten, respectively. The race also features current USA Cycling Professional Criterium national champion Alison Powers (NOW and Novartis for MS) and USA Cycling Professional Road Race national champion Jade Wilcoxson (Optum Pro Cycling).

"By utilizing the resources already present we have been able to avoid many of the costs that we would normally face- road closures, police, restroom facilities, most of the course barriers, and so on," continued Wilson. "Although we have to operate within the rules provided by Medalist, such as no competing sponsors with the USA Pro Challenge, it has allowed us to put on what will be one of the best stacked fields in the country and we have been able to meet our fundraising goals largely through support from companies in our community who supported the event because they saw it's value. The high-caliber women's field is unique in that with it they are also bringing the Ride with the Stars, a way for them to engage with the community and inspire future riders and racers. Any additional funding beyond our costs will go 100% to the Fort Follies Women's Cycling program to continue to grow the sport from a grassroots level."

Last year, the Women's Blue Ribbon Alpine Challenge sought to use a similar model for a women's three-day stage race that coincided with the men's Pro Challenge, but falling short on funding two days were cut. Much of the energy and activism behind building up women's pro racing is focused on pairing women's pro races on stretches of roads already closed for men's pro races. "Pairing women's and men's races together is a positive and progressive thing for the sport," added Wilson. "Yes, road closures can be challenging but closing them for an extra hour or two is pennies in comparison to the costs and time and effort associated with closing them two separate times."

The women’s criterium race starts and finishes on Mountain Avenue, near Coopersmith’s Pub & Brewing, No. 5 Old Town Square, Fort Collins.The criterium race lasts about 50 minutes, so the cyclists will make several loops around the circuit, on Mountain Avenue, College Avenue, East Olive Street and Peterson Street.  

After Stage 6 of the Pro Challenge, the Fort Follies women’s cycling club hosts an after-race party at 6:30 p.m. at the Rio Grande Mexican Restaurant, 143 W. Mountain Ave., Fort Collins.The party is the official launching of the Women’s Cycling Association, an organization of professional women cyclists striving for equality in women’s cycling. Schultz, Miller and Wilcoxson helped form the WCA this June.

The WCA seeks increased media exposure, equal prize purses and a minimum salary structure, allowing women to use cycling as a viable career.

Emily Zinn