Tuesday’s Stage 2 of the USA Pro Challenge could be the biggest test for riders. With only a day of racing at altitude behind them, they the will be thrown right at the race’s biggest climb over Independence Pass.
Making a motion like a prize fighter in the ring, 2012 Pro Challenge winner Christian Vande Velde said,“It’s going to be like a kidney punch.”
Riders will climb over 3,500 feet from Aspen to the top of Independence Pass in the first 20 miles of the 126.1-mile stage. At 12,000 feet, the pass is considered the highest point in professional cycling.
“The Breck stage looks like one of the key stages overall,” Vande Velde’s Garmin Sharp teammate Tom Danielson said. “It’s definitely a stage we have marked in our calendars.”
“It won’t make or break, but it will be nasty,” Vande Velde said.
The climb over the pass will also be one of the two timed King of the Mountain (KOM) climbs on the day. The second is over Hoosier Pass. The rider who has the fastest time during the climbs will earn the red KOM jersey for the stages. American Matt Cooke earned the coveted jersey for Stage 1.
From the top of Independence Pass riders will head to Buena Vista. Then the climbing starts again as the peloton makes its way through Fairplay and up and over Hoosier Pass. The two sprint sections of the day will be in Buena Vista and Fairplay. Along with the general classification (G.C.) lead after Stage 1, Slovakian Cannondale rider Peter Sagan will look to hold on to his green sprinter jersey.
Before the racers cross the finish line in Breckenridge, they will take on a new course wrinkle. The pack will race into town and then attack a challenging climb up a 15 percent grade on Moonstone Road.
“We’ve never come in this direction. There’s a lot unknown with the finish,” said Team Saxo-Tinkoff rider and Boulder resident Rory Sutherland (Aus.).
“Stage 2 will be the most decisive day. I don’t think it will be won there, but it will be lost there by some people,” said Neal Rogers, editor for Velo Magazine and longtime pro cycling journalist.
The stage has it all and should make for an exciting day.
“The finishing climbs, the hard side of Independence Pass, it should be the best guys in the race coming across the finish line,” Danielson said.