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Setting up for a busy 2014

End Zone



So you're not much of a baseball fan — although the Colorado Rockies might change that in the months ahead — and you've been unsure what to expect from the rest of 2014.

It's true that the Rockies are off to a much stronger start than most observers expected, staying in the division hunt with surprisingly consistent pitching (despite injuries to three starters), superb defense and steady offense. But even if the Rockies can't stay relevant, recent events indicate other story lines will nicely — and quickly — carry the day in Colorado. Let's check out three in particular: the USA Pro Challenge, the Denver Broncos and Colorado College hockey.

USA Pro Challenge: Once again this year, Colorado Springs gets to share in the fun as the international cycling test (Aug. 18-24) enters its fourth year. Stage 4 will come to Colorado Springs on Thursday, Aug. 21, with what looks to be a much different format — a 70-mile race inside the city.

The field will start in front of The Broadmoor, make a quick circle around that area, then head north on 21st Street all the way to Colorado Avenue, before turning east and beginning what turns into a circuit race. The route, with four laps, will go through downtown similarly to the way it did in 2012 (north on Cascade Avenue to Colorado College, then south on Tejon Street), back out Colorado to Ridge Road, up into and around Garden of the Gods, down 30th Street to Colorado, then eastward back to downtown with a final sprint down Tejon to the finish.

The scenery, receiving worldwide TV exposure, should provide a fascinating mix of mountain backdrops, rock formations and the downtown setting. The next day, everyone leaves from Woodland Park for Stage 5 to Breckenridge. Vail hosts Stage 6 before the finale returns to Boulder and Denver on Sunday, Aug. 24.

After being left out in 2013, Colorado Springs has absolutely no complaint now.

Denver Broncos: If you kept up with the NFL Draft, you probably shared my view that the Broncos always seemed to be a step behind the other elite teams. They gambled on first-round pick Bradley Roby, though the Ohio State cornerback could prove valuable if he behaves. Still, he's considered only a nickel-back defender for this year, while Denver passed up Southern Cal receiver Marqise Lee, whose upside easily could be Pro Bowl-quality.

Denver also once again chose not to focus on inside linebacker, an ongoing weak spot. If fifth-round pick Lamin Barrow of Louisiana State turns into a gem, fine, but he's a long shot at best.

However, as soon as the draft ended, the Broncos signed a first-rate crop of 15 undrafted free agents, several of whom could make the roster. Colorado State runner Kapri Bibbs, coming off a brilliant 2013 season, and CSU linebacker Shaquil Barrett will have good shots, as will receivers Isaiah Burse of Fresno State and Bennie Fowler of Michigan State, plus Oklahoma running back Brennan Clay.

Those free agents could more than make up for an uncertain draft.

Colorado College hockey: Clearly, in hiring a new head coach, CC athletic director Ken Ralph wanted a fresh start and somebody with more outward fire than just-departed Scott Owens. The choice, Mike Haviland, definitely fills those criteria, with no ties to the Tigers other than having coached a few CC alumni along the way.

Haviland hasn't been a college head coach, but he obviously impressed CC's search panel, which included two returning players. We'll have to withhold judgment, but the first impulse is to conclude that Haviland isn't likely to produce a stunning, instant turnaround. Perhaps the change in personality can help, but you have to figure CC needs more recruiting successes before making a big rise.

If Haviland can make it to break-even in his first year, perhaps with some postseason success, that would be progress. But it also might be too much to ask.

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