One hundred twenty-eight of the world’s best cyclists from 31 countries are less than a day away from attacking the Colorado landscape to see who’ll survive the altitude and be crowned the 2013 USA Pro Challenge overall winner.
Since his announcement that he would be joining the field, 2013 Tour de France winner Chris Froome jumped to the head of the pack. If his performance at the Tour is any indication, he could be tough to beat. But how will he handle the altitude? This is the first Pro Challenge for Froome and his No. 1 ranked Sky Procycling Team.
In an interview with the Summit Daily, 12-year professional cycling journalist and editor of Velo Magazine Neal Rogers posed another question regarding Froome: “Has he been celebrating, or has he been training?”
He followed that by saying, “If he is in any kind of shape, he’s going to be the guy to beat.”
Rogers also questioned the Sky team’s strategy. Froome could work to help his Australian teammate Richie Porte earn the win and return the favor for Porte’s efforts in the Tour. “He (Porte) was Chris Froome’s right-hand man in the Tour,” Rogers said.
Another top contender is Colorado’s own Tom Danielson, who was injured in the Tour de France this year but is fresh off a win in the Tour of Utah. The Boulder native showed he’s recovered from his Tour injury and is ready to race at altitude with his performance just over a week ago in Utah.
“I’d like to be up there on the podium in the end,” he told the Summit Daily in an interview earlier this month.
Danielson finished eighth overall in the 2011 Tour de France. He was voted most aggressive rider and won Stage 3 of last year’s Pro Challenge. Fellow Garmin Sharp Teammate and defending Pro Challenge champion Christian Vande Velde should be in the mix with the top finishers. Vande Velde is expected to retire at the end of this season. This could be a fitting swan song for the accomplished rider.
After a disappointing Tour de France, BMC Racing Team rider Tejay van Garderen, also from Boulder, could be out to show he’s a contender, Rogers said. He finished fifth in the 2012 Tour de France and was awarded Best Young Rider.
“Which Tejay are we going to see?” Rogers said.
While some have listed Australian native and Boulder resident Rory Sutherland as a top contender, Rogers doesn’t think so. “It’s too hilly for him. He could win a stage, he could finish top 10, but he’s not going to win it.”
Sutherland won the Boulder Stage last year and has been training heavily in the area prior to the race.
Rogers does, however, see Sutherland’s Saxo-Tinkoff teammate Michael Rogers as a contender.
Easily the entire field’s biggest competition will be the altitude. Danielson said all the top Tour riders are going to come into the Pro Challenge in great shape. But how will they handle the altitude?
“We know how hard they can ride at 6,000 feet; what can they do at 12,000 feet?” Rogers said.
Most stage starts and finishes are already above the highest points of the Tour de France, and the courses rise from there.
“Your aerobic system is a lot more taxed,” Danielson said of racing at altitude. “The next day you wake up super sore and achy.”
Independence pass hits 12,000 feet in Stage 2 as riders make their way to Breckenridge.
“You don’t race at that altitude, pretty much anywhere else in the world,” Sutherland said.