USA Pro Challenge is an American race — but it may not have an American winner

The Americans aren't the only ones with legs at the USA Pro Challenge

DURANGO, Colorado (VN) — Don’t crown an American champion in Colorado just yet.

Though the 2012 USA Pro Challenge is a distinctly American affair, the makeup of the teams and top challengers come from far and wide. Most of the race’s favorites make their homes in the States, such as Tom Danielson (Garmin-Sharp), Levi Leipheimer (Omega Pharma-Quick Step) and Tejay van Garderen (BMC Racing). But the start list includes several contenders who could steal the American show, notably Liquigas-Cannondale’s Vincenzo Nibali.

Americans locked up every spot in the top five last year. This year could see a few different flags on the podium. If there is anyone capable of dethroning defending champ Leipheimer and swatting the other Americans away, it’s Nibali. The Shark swam to third at the Tour de France and was the only rider who consistently attacked Bradley Wiggins and his dominant Sky team. His descending skills are unrivaled among the GC men, and his climbing ability matches any of his rivals lining up in Durango.

This is Nibali’s first appearance in Colorado, but it doesn’t seem like he came for the hot springs.

“I just arrived a few days ago for a small training camp, and now I’m just getting more in shape. It’s going to be a good race with strong riders. It’s going to be okay for me,” the Italian said. “The team is really strong, and we expect a good result here … like all races.”

Nibali’s team isn’t the strongest in the race — that honor would have to go to American outfit BMC, which brings 2011 Tour de France champ Cadel Evans, Taylor Phinney and George Hincapie in support of van Garderen’s bid for the overall — but the Liquigas squad is formidable.

Timmy Duggan, the reigning U.S. national road champion, will look to ride a strong race for himself and for Nibali. Moreno Moser is a dazzling up-and-comer. And Ivan Basso will captain the squad on the road.

If there is one significant disadvantage for Nibali and some of the other foreign contenders, it’s time spent at altitude.

“It’s difficult for the Europeans to ride at this kind of elevation for a week. And it’s a really big advantage for the Americans, mainly for Tejay,” Nibali said.

Evans said much the same: “I’ve been over here for a week now in America at altitude trying to minimize the difficulties. I don’t think you ever eliminate them on this kind of course. But we’re trying to minimize the suffering as much as possible.”

Certainly, the field will be looking to spoil the party for the American riders, notably those who call Colorado home, such as Danielson. Evans spoke to that notion.

“We’re bike racers,” he said of the field. “We want to win wherever we can.”

Other riders to watch outside the American contingent in Colorado are Jakob Fuglsang (RadioShack-Nissan); 2012 Tour of Utah champion Johann Tschopp (BMC Racing), should van Garderen falter; and Janez Brajkovic (Astana) who finished ninth at the 2012 Tour.

Fuglsang is a gifted young rider and won the tours of Austria and Luxembourg in 2012. And it’s worth noting that RadioShack didn’t bring a sprinter of any kind — banking on the overall for either Matthew Busche, Chris Horner or Fuglsang.

“For us, it’s most important to see our jersey up there,” Voigt said. “We just hope that one of them actually in the end is there.”

The USA Pro Challenge begins Monday in Durango.