Gunnison — Aspen (130.5mi)
Wednesday 22 August
One of the toughest days of racing in the United States returns in 2012 — the epic Gunnison to Aspen stage will again feature two of the highest climbs in professional racing.
The challenges start just after the first turn out of Gunnison, with a sprint line in the small community of Almont. This will likely be the last time the true sprinters will feel comfortable on the stage, as the race quickly turns uphill and heads toward the first King of the Mountain line near Taylor Park Reservoir. But this moderate climb is just a warm-up for the challenges to come.
A short flat section of road on the north side of the reservoir will be the last pavement the field will see for almost 14 miles. This dirt climb will take the race to 12,126 feet and the highest point of the week at Cottonwood Pass. A beautiful twisting descent will take the peloton into Buena Vista and the second sprint line of the day. Then, the race will head north on US24 to Twin Lakes. A left turn will give the racers their first glimpse of the massive ridge they must tackle next.
Although the climb up Independence Pass is paved and not quite as high as Cottonwood, it is sure to produce fireworks again this year. In 2011, the climb to 12,095 feet caused several gaps in the field and, almost as exciting, the wild descent into Aspen saw George Hincapie lead a small group to victory in the rain. Expect another fireworks display this year.