USA Pro Cycling Challenge route: a little bit for everyone

BOULDER, Colorado (VN) - Two 12,000-plus-foot mountain passes. An iconic, uphill time trial above 8,000 feet. Two perfect ramps for late attacks in Crested Butte and Breckenridge. Likely bunch finishes in Steamboat Springs and Denver.

BOULDER, Colorado (VN) – Two 12,000-plus-foot mountain passes. An iconic, uphill time trial above 8,000 feet. Two perfect ramps for late attacks in Crested Butte and Breckenridge. Likely bunch finishes in Steamboat Springs and Denver.

There will be a little bit for everyone when organizers announce the route for the inaugural USA Pro Cycling Challenge for Millennium Promise in Colorado Monday.

“The Tour de France has Col du Galibier which crests at 8,600 feet, the Giro d’Italia has Passo Giau which crests at 7,300 feet, but the USA Pro Cycling Challenge has Cottonwood Pass and Independence Pass both cresting at 12,000 feet. What’s really remarkable is that the athletes will ride both these passes in one stage,” said race co-chairman Shawn Hunter. “There is no better place in the world for athletes to test their endurance and pure athleticism than Colorado, and there is no better place to watch a professional cycling race than in the Colorado Rockies.”

The 510-mile parcours along the Front Range and through the Rocky Mountains of Colorado will offer a mix of brutal, high-elevation climbs, chances for aggressive stage hunters and even a couple of high-speed drag races.

USA Pro Cycling Challenge for Millennium Promise (UCI 2.1)

August 22-28

PrologueAugust 22
Garden of the Gods – Colorado Springs (5.2 mi.)
1:15 PM Start / 3:30 PM Expected Finish
The mostly downhill prologue time trial from the scenic Garden of the Gods to downtown Colorado Springs will provide the first classification splits, but time gaps should be small. Losses of more than 20 seconds by the GC favorites will be surprising, while the differences in Aspen two days later could be in the minutes. A rider like David Zabriskie or Gregory Rast has the potential for the stage win and the first leader’s jersey in the race’s history.

Stage 1August 23
Salida – Crested Butte (101.8 mi.)
11:15 AM Start / 3:15-4:15 PM Expected Finish
The first significant GC selection could come in the race’s first stage. The altitude, a 3,250-vertical foot climb to above 11,000 feet on Monarch Pass and a tough uphill finish at Mount Crested Butte will provide the first signs of who is in Colorado to contest the final classification.

After a descent from the pass into the western town of Gunnison, riders will face nearly 30 miles of false flats, where wind could be an issue, before they reach the finish climb. The three-mile ramp from the eccentric mountain bike-crazy town of Crested Butte to the base of the ski area is a steady grind that tops out at nine percent just before the finish. The power climbers à la Rory Sutherland should do well in the finale.

Stage 2August 24
Gunnison – Aspen (130.3 mi.)
9:45 AM Start / 3:00-4:00 PM Expected Finish
The queen stage of the tour comes on just the third day as riders face two of the highest summits on the UCI calendar. The 130-mile odyssey from the Gunnison to the Roaring Fork Valley includes ascents of the Cat. 1 Cottonwood Pass (12,071 feet) and Independence Pass (12,046 feet). After the 12-mile ascent of Cottonwood, and its miles of dirt road, softens up the climbers’ legs, the 15-mile gauntlet of Independence will tear the race apart.

The downhill finish in Aspen will likely rein in the time gaps amongst the GC hopefuls, but the descent off Independence Pass is fast, technical and could prove decisive if a skilled downhiller like Ryder Hesjedal puts the hammer down. With the looming time trial, recovery after the highest stage in U.S. racing history will be key.

Stage 3August 25
East Vail Time Trial (10.1 mi.)
1:00 PM Start / 3:45 PM Expected Finish
The iconic East Vail Time Trial returns to top-level racing on the third stage. Starting in the Austrian Alps inspired ski village, riders will climb 1,100 feet in 10 miles on the west side of Vail Pass to finish three miles shy of the summit. With a starting elevation of 8,203 feet, metering effort against the thin air will be vital.

Ben Day has won the event twice as part of the Teva Mountain Games and the high altitude and consistent pitch are well suited to riders like Tom Danielson and Peter Stetina. The rider wearing the leader’s jersey on the podium in Vail could very well hold it through to the finale in Denver.

Stage 4August 26
Avon – Steamboat Springs (82.8 mi.)
12:15 PM Start / 3:30-4:00 PM Expected Finish
The fourth stage, from Avon in the Vail Valley to the cowboy ski area town of Steamboat Springs is the first of three possible sprinters’ stages. Despite five categorized climbs spread over two long ascents above Wolcott and State Bridge, the day’s final summit lies 45 miles from the finish.

After descending past the Colorado River, the sprinters’ teams will work to position their finishers in the bunch and tick up the pace into the Yampa Valley. A breakaway could survive, but with just three bunch finishes possible, the fast men will fight to have their day. The downhill drag race in the heart of town will suit the pure sprinters not taking aim at worlds through the Vuelta a España.

Stage 5August 27
Steamboat Springs – Breckenridge (105.2 mi.)
11:15 AM Start / 3:30-4:00 PM Expected Finish
Another possible day for the sprinters, the 105-mile trip down the Green Valley and up into the mining-turned-ski area town of Breckenridge is tailor-made for a long breakaway to escape early. The climb to 9,536-foot Rabbit Ears Pass comes just five miles into the stage will split the bunch and the gradual, 50-mile ascent to the finish will take its toll on the escapees.

Highway 9 from the former railroad town of Kremmling to Breckenridge is a long, winding and often breezy affair and GC splits could develop in the peloton if conditions are right. With the uphill finish after a long ascent, riders like Matt Goss and Peter Sagan should top the list of contenders, if they’re at the start.

If they’re to have a shot, the sprinters’ squads will have to control the pace over a 2.5-mile Cat. 3 climb along Dillon Reservoir nine miles from the finish – the ramp is a perfect launch pad for a late move by a stage hunter like Jens Voigt or George Hincapie.

Stage 6August 28
Golden – Denver (74 mi.)
10:30 AM Start / 1:00-2:00 PM Expected Finish
The final-day route around the Front Range west of the capital city will split the peloton early and end with an all-out drag race into the city. After rolling out under the “Howdy Folks” arch in downtown Golden, riders could face crosswinds on Highway 93 north of town that are often violent enough to turn big rigs over and close nearby airports. The 6.1-percent, 1,500-foot climb of Lookout Mountain is the final crescendo before the race’s finale at the state capitol – and the original Quiznos sandwich shop.

A downward-trending run through residential streets in the western suburb of Wheat Ridge will offer protection to any escapees, but the six long, open finish circuits along Speer Boulevard on the border of downtown will give the sprinters’ locomotives ample opportunity to reel them in. If the bunch can hold off a late surge on the gentle climb to capitol hill and comes to the line together, the pure sprinters will shine in the downhill finish.