A team preview for the 2015 USA Pro Challenge | SummitDaily.com

A team preview for the 2015 USA Pro Challenge

Leo Wolfson
Special to the Daily
After a devastting early season injury, BMC pro cyclist Taylor Phinney continues his road to recovery with a start at this year's USA Pro Challenge.
Getty Images / Special to the Daily | AFP

The men’s continental teams

The four pro continental and eight continental divisions are just a small step below the pro international teams, with riders like Kiel Reijnen often rising up to beat their big-name competitors with bigger budgets.

Drapac Pro Cycling: Lachlan Norris, Martin Kohler

United Healthcare: Kiel Reijnen, Janez Brajkovic

Team Jelly Belly p/b Maxxis: Lachlan Morton, Taylor Shelden

Others to watch: Daniel Jaramillo (Jamis-Hagens Bergman’s), Gregory Daniel (Axeon Cycling), Jure Kocjan (Team Smartstop)

The fifth running of the USA Pro Challenge starts on Aug. 17 in Steamboat Springs, and, despite the absence of past winners, this year boasts one of the youngest, strongest fields ever. Highlighted by 25-year-old 2015 Tour de France Stage 1 winner Rohan Dennis and 22-year-old 2015 Tour of Italy stage winner Davide Formolo, the theme at this year’s race will be young talent versus veteran experience.

Noticeably absent this year will be two-time Pro Challenge champion Tejay van Garderen. With Garderen gone, the race will be practically anyone’s game for both the general classification (individual) title and overall team title.

“Overall, we expect a great race that is wide-open,” said Shawn Hunter, USA Pro Challenge CEO. “It will be fun to see who rises to the occasion.”

The pro division in the 2015 Pro Challenge includes four top-tier teams: Trek Factory Racing, Team Cannondale-Garmin, Team Tinkoff-Saxo and 2014 team champion BMC Racing.

BMC Racing

Dennis and fellow 25-year-old upstart Taylor Phinney, a Boulder native and son of cycling legend Davis Phinney, lead a talented BMC Racing team that is eager to repeat its 2014 team title. Although the team is racing for the first time without van Garderen, BMC still strikes an imposing figure, with 2015 Tour de France Stage 9 winner Michael Schäre and 2015 Tour of Italy top-10 finisher Damiano Caruso also on board.

“Our team is, in a way, a mixture of veterans and young guns,” BMC Racing team manager Jackson Stewart said. “There’s advantages with young guys — they’re hungry, no one knows what they can do. But it’ll be hard to win overall without Tejay.”

Van Garderen was far and away BMC’s best rider and will be sorely missed, especially in the climbing sections. But, even without him, BMC is still remarkably talented and should be considered a race favorite, even against a stacked field of opponents.

Team Cannondale-Garmin

Cannondale-Garmin also brings a world-class cast, led by the youngster Formolo and Janier Acevedo. Acevedo finished third in the prestigious Amgen Tour of California in 2013 and later took fourth overall in the 2013 Pro Challenge. With a fifth-place finish in the 2014 Pro Challenge King of the Mountain standings, Acevedo is the highest-ranked returning KOM rider, making him a bona fide threat on the every stage. Expect the Colombian to make a serious push for the King of the Mountain crown again this year.

Another threat is 22-year-old Ruben Zepuntke, who won bronze at the 2014 Tour of Alberta. He could easily become an unexpected star for Cannondale-Garmin.

Tinkoff-Saxo

Russian team Tinkoff-Saxo will be a formidable force because of its high-level veterans, even without two-time Tour de France winner Alberto Contador. Finishing third overall in the 2014 race, the team boasts an eclectic roster of international heavyweights: Colombian Edward Beltran, Portugal’s Bruno Pires, Spain’s Jesus Hernandez and, most notably, 29-year-old Czech Roman Kreuziger.

Kreuziger is a two-time Tour de France top-10 finisher and a former winner of the Tour de Suisse in Switzerland and Amstel Gold Race in the Netherlands. He’s looking for a triumphant return to high-level cycling after a faulty doping ban. Expect him to excel on the Pro Challenge course thanks to past success at Grand Tour-style events.

Trek Factory Team

The Trek Factory team is the dark horse in this year’s Pro Challenge. Despite suffering a brutal crash at the Tour of Utah in early August, one of the team’s best riders, Matthew Busche, announced on Aug. 15 he will compete in the Pro Challenge.

Still, many in cycling may already be counting the Trek front man and his team out of contention. But, don’t jump to conclusions just yet, as Busche took fifth overall at the 2014 Pro Challenge, making him the highest-ranked cyclist on the 2015 roster.

In addition to Busche, Julian Arredondo, the 2014 Tour of Italy King of the Mountain winner, should also provide a plethora of climbing intel and talent for this team.

The best and the rest

As glamorous as past accolades may be, the Pro Challenge will come down to a lot more than past results for any team or individual. Elite strategy will inherently be important because of the race’s widely varied terrain.

This year, six of seven Pro Challenge stages will feature mountain climbs, and the event as a whole covers 865 miles — the majority higher than 8,000 feet. With so many climbs and descents, expect frequent lead changes and peloton shifts thanks to fatigued riders. Success in the mountains relies on experience and, even more valuable, how well each individual rider can adjust to the altitude.

Three notable riders that boast experience and sheer physical endurance are the Colombians: Arredondo, Beltran and Acevedo.

“With the altitude and amount of climbing in this year’s race, including a mountain-top finish at Arapahoe Basin at over 10,000 feet, the Colombians have to be marked men,” said Danny Summerhill with UnitedHealthcare Pro Cycling team, a Denver-based squad. “They are dangerous, but there are a lot of Americans who live or have been training in Colorado at high altitude that should be up for the challenge.”

Local flavor

Summerhill’s teammate, Boulder resident Kiel Reijnen, fits this bill, regularly riding many of the Pro Challenge routes for training. He should make a strong push for the overall yellow jersey this year. He has the local expertise, along with a Stage 1 win and overall sprint classification in the 2014 race.

Taylor Phinney, a former track cycling world champion, will be another local force to reckon with, coming off a quality performance at the 2015 Tour of Utah last week. He’s been plagued by injuries, including a broken leg last season, but Stewart is confident he’ll continue finding success.

“He’ll be at home and looking to make an impression,” he said. “At the Tour of Utah he surprised a lot of people.”

Category jerseys

Along with teams and riders, the Pro Challenge has six category jerseys to watch.

The most coveted is the yellow leader’s jersey, but the red King of the Mountain garb is almost equally cherished in the cycling world. There will be KOM and sprint sections in six of the seven stages, where stellar performances determine daily winners for the red and green (sprint) jerseys.

Other tracked categories will be best young rider, most aggressive rider and best Colorado rider. In a year with so many talented youth riders, the winner of the best young rider jersey could likely hoist the yellow leaders jersey as well.


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