Drama a focus, USA Pro Challenge may include summit finish in 2012

“We tried to set up the whole course so that it provides a good experience for the fans and they can visit more than one stage”

BOULDER, Colo. (VN) — The USA Pro Cycling Challenge will visit the Four Corners region and Boulder in 2012, and race organizers said Thursday night that a true summit finish was a strong possibility for the event’s second edition, August 20-26.

Race organizers were caught out Thursday night when television media partner KUSA broke the details of the 2012 host cities online. An official announcement, originally slated for November 17, was set for a happy-hour soiree at the Tavern Downtown in Denver on Tuesday December 13.

“We would have rather been able to celebrate the announcement with our host cities,” race COO Brian Farris told VeloNews. “It will still be a fun night, a great night. The host cities really just deserve to have the spotlight on them. … This race is part competition, part festival and part party and we’ll have a little bit of our party on Tuesday.”

The event will broadcast live online, with interviews airing featuring host city officials and athletes like Lucas Euser (Spidertech-C10) and Chris Baldwin (Bissell).

Holistic Logistics

Farris said that two main logistical factors determined organizers’ final decision-making over the host cities for 2012: travel distances for spectators and athletes. Farris said that the average spectator traveled to 2.9 stages in 2011, a number he hoped to improve. Races like the USA Pro Cycling Challenge are big business, however, and Farris said that every one of the 24 bids his office received was “excellent.” Financial and in-kind commitments for host cities lie in the $100,000 to $400,000 range.

“We tried to set up the whole course so that it provides a good experience for the fans and they can visit more than one stage,” he said. “Having continuity in the course and proximity allows the fan experience to be good and limits transfers for the athletes.”

The peloton heads toward downtown Denver in the 2011 USA Pro Challenge. Photo: Casey B. Gibson |

Organizers seriously considered next year’s Durango-to-Telluride opener for 2011. However, without Montrose or Grand Junction submitting a bid to host the inaugural race, that stage would have been geographically isolated in the far southwest of the state. With Montrose on-board for the start of the second stage, the opener to Telluride, which may take in Lizard Head Pass and end with a likely bunch sprint, is on.

Steamboat Springs, which saw a finish and start in 2011, is one of two communities, along with Salida, to miss out on the race’s second edition. (While Vail proper will not host a stage, the Vail Valley will welcome the race’s fourth stage with the Beaver Creek finish.)

“We looked at the course holistically,” said Farris. “Cities that didn’t make it back in deserved to be and will be back in future editions.”

Route Details Inaccurate

The Denver Post reported details online of the 2012 route Thursday night — details Farris said would not be decided until early next year. While he stopped short of rebuking the Post’s route descriptions, Farris was clearly agitated with the details that were published.

“Nothing about the route can be accurate because we have made no route decisions,” he said. “No decision has been made on the route; there is a significant amount of work to be done … so any reporting of the route is premature.”

Crews from Medalist Sports have been in Colorado this fall working over potential routes. Organizers released the final 2011 map in June; Farris said his team is much further along this time around (calling the difference “night and day”) and expected the full route announcement in March.

USA Pro Cycling Challenge stage 2While the general trajectory for some stages is easy to determine based on limited availability of terrain — as in the instance of the roughly 106-mile run from Breckenridge to Colorado Springs — other itineraries, particularly that of the penultimate stage to Boulder, are difficult to project.

As in 2011, the race’s second day will finish at Mount Crested Butte, though two potential routes exist: Highway 50 winding past Blue Mesa Reservoir to Gunnison or the more northern jaunt over the scenic north rim of the Black Canyon. Farris called the finish at the ski area in August, “insane. And that was a Tuesday.”

When asked whether the second edition of the Colorado tour would include a true summit finish, something missing from the inaugural event, Farris said the option was on the table.

“That’s part of the discussion we are undertaking now after selecting host cities,” he said. “It’s something we are strongly considering.”

Given the terrain offered in the host cities, potential mountaintop finishes lie in or around Aspen (Independence Pass) and Boulder (Flagstaff Mountain or Lefthand Canyon/Lee Hill). With Aspen hosting a stage start in addition to a finish, the possibility of the organizing committee welcoming a stage 3 finale 20 miles — and 4,600 feet in elevation — from town is realistic, though perhaps not likely.

Farris said Thursday night that one focus of the organizers this time around was to maintain high drama all the way to the finish in Denver. The 2011 race was ultimately decided in the Vail time trial with three stages remaining. The final-stage Denver time trial will help to that end — and so would a summit finish above Boulder. Flagstaff Mountain is the most iconic of the local climbs, featuring sinuous, stair-stepping switchbacks leading to potential finishes in a high-elevation amphitheater or even higher, with a view of the Indian Peaks wilderness and the Continental Divide.

With myriad options for the race’s last road stage, including the summits or a sprint in the shadow of the Coors Classic at North Boulder Park or downtown, Farris said the planning for stage 6 was particularly fun.

“The options in Boulder are many and they’re all excellent,” he said. “We’ll have to make some tough decisions about where we go.”

The Denver Post reported that the fourth stage would climb the more challenging side of Independence Pass from Aspen before taking riders over the innocuous Tennessee Pass and Battle Mountain en route to a potential uphill finish at Beaver Creek. Farris would not confirm this route, though the only other route would require use of Interstate 70 through Glenwood Canyon.

In commenting on moving away from the Vail Pass time trial, Farris said the iconic stage — where Levi Leipheimer secured his overall title — would likely reappear in future editions.

“The Vail TT was awesome and we loved it and I am sure it will be back at some point in a later race,” he said. “It was tough decision to change our finish in Vail and go with a traditional stage to Beaver Creek.”

The fifth stage will almost certainly travel from Breckenridge to Colorado Springs through South Park, with the climb of Hoosier Pass coming almost immediately and a long, downhill run-in to a likely bunch finish in the race’s 2011 overall start town.

“We were delighted with the turnout in Colorado Springs and the work that they had done not only on race day but the weekend building up,” said Farris. “They made a statement last year and were strongly in consideration for a prologue again based on their performance from last year.”

After visiting Golden and Boulder, the race will wrap up with a downtown time trial in Denver. Farris said that the Civic Center Park venue, which hosted the record-setting finale in 2011, was an ideal place to close out the race’s first edition, but would not commit to revisiting the location, which lies in the shadow of the Capitol Building.

“We were thrilled with the park and crowds we drew there,” he said. “We haven’t selected the course and haven’t even selected where the time trial will start and finish, or the area it will traverse across, so it’s a little early to comment, but we were very happy with Civic Center Park.

“Having the time trial on the last day brings significant drama all the way to Denver. We’re looking forward to bringing diversity to the final weekend and highlighting and building it in Denver.”

Even without “significant drama” in Denver last August, the stage set a new standard in American racing with unmatched crowds lining the streets of Golden and the capital city. The stage capped not only the competition side, but an ultra successful inaugural event for fans and Farris hoped to recapture and even improve on the race’s first edition.

“There were so many things we were pleased with last year, but we look to improve on all of them,” he said. “We’re blessed. We’ve had great support from state, from the Colorado Department of Transportation, state patrol. It’s only going to get better now that we have shared experience through last year’s race. They’re all enablers for us to continue to deliver great experiences.”

2012 USA Pro Cycling Challenge potential routes

Stage 1 Durango — Telluride
111 miles, via Lizard Head Pass
120 miles, via Red Mountain Pass

Stage 2 Montrose — Crested Butte/Mt. Crested Butte
95 miles, via Gunnison
101 miles, via Paonia

Stage 3 Gunnison — Aspen
130 miles, via Cottonwood and Independence Passes
110 miles, with Independence Pass summit finish
132 miles, via McClure Pass

Stage 4 Aspen — Beaver Creek/Vail Valley
99 miles, via Glenwood Springs
102 miles, via Independence Pass and Battle Mountain

Stage 5 Breckenridge — Colorado Springs
106 miles, via Hoosier Pass and Fairplay

Stage 6 Golden — Boulder
Many options including Coal Creek Canyon, Peak-to-Peak Highway, Flagstaff Mountain, Lefthand Canyon and Morgul Bismarck

Stage 7 Denver (ITT)
Downtown, likely anchored at Civic Center Park