Just like so many other students at the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs, Jenn Valente spends much of the summer on the road.
In recent weeks, she’s taken trips to Idaho, Oregon and her native California.
But Valente isn’t a typical coed.
She’s an Olympic silver medalist. She’s a professional cyclist. And, thanks to a stirring performance in her first trip back to town in a month, she’s the overall leader of the inaugural Colorado Classic.
Valente outsprinted a field of elite riders Thursday to win Stage 1, so intent on crossing the line first she didn’t raise her arm in victory until 100 yards after that outcome was settled. Skylar Schneider of ISCorp was second followed by Emma White of Rally Cycling.
The win capped a perfect, albeit somewhat stressful, homecoming for Valente.
Minutes after finishing, the Sho-Air Twenty20 cyclist was asked if she had friends and family cheering her on through Garden of the Gods and downtown Colorado Springs.
“I actually don’t know,” she said with a laugh. “I just got in town and I haven’t talked to anybody yet.”
When she does, she’ll have quite a tale to tell. And that’s nothing new for the 22-year-old.
A year ago, Valente helped the U.S. claim silver in team pursuit at the Rio Olympics. And she continues to make a name for herself on the track, having won nationals Saturday in Carson, Calif.
Thursday’s road stage, however, presented a much different challenge. There was that half-mile ascent of Ridge Road, which boasts grades of nearly 17 percent. There were those two bumpy trips through the Garden. And then there were the three finishing laps, where anything can happen.
But Valente had plenty of help along the way courtesy of her Sho-Air Twenty20 comrades.
“The team did a really good job of just making sure I was in the front group coming over the climbs,” she said. “We knew if it was a really hard race that I would struggle going up the hill, but it all worked out.”
While Valente’s effort might not have been witnessed by friends and family, fellow riders took notice.
“She’s super strong,” Springs resident and cyclocross national champion Katie Compton said. “She’s got so much talent and she’s a hard worker. She had a great day today, for sure.”
Friday could be a different story as the stage race concludes in Breckenridge with a 32-mile route that includes more than 3,500 feet of elevation gain.
Valente’s plan for Stage 2 is simple: “Suffer. It’s gonna be hard for everybody.”
No matter Friday’s outcome, she always will carry memories of the sun-splashed day she took the overall lead in the Colorado Classic on the streets of her adopted hometown.
“It’s really cool,” she said. “Sometimes a lot of people get to do a local crit (circuit road race) or two where they live, but doing a race of this caliber in my home city is really cool.”
As far as classes, Valente said she’s enrolled for the fall at UCCS, where she’s attended for 2½ years. But she’s not committing to anything yet.
“I’m registered for classes,” she said. “I’ll kind of play it by ear with track season.”
STAGE 2 BREAKDOWN
11 a.m. Friday (approximate finish 12:45 p.m.), Breckenridge. 32 miles, 3,660 feet of elevation gain. The finale will dish out plenty of pain, and the first to finish will be the first champion of the Colorado Classic. Expect the climbers to rule the day as five ascents of Moonstone Road will splinter the field.