USA Pro Challenge Stage 3 preview: Copper Mountain to Aspen (video) |

USA Pro Challenge Stage 3 preview: Copper Mountain to Aspen (video)

USA Pro Challenge Stage 3 — Copper Mountain to Aspen

Start: 11:15 a.m.

Finish: 2:45 4:30 p.m.

What to watch: Independence Pass climb, Leadville to Twin Lakes sprint, Independence Pass to Aspen sprint

Who to watch: Daniel Jaramillo, Davide Formolo, Taylor Phinney

2014 Stage 3 Winner: Tejay van Garderen

Fun fact: Although the Pro Challenge is no stranger to Aspen, this will be the first time since 2012 that the Pro Challenge will descend Independence Pass.

Live TV Coverage: 2 p.m. NBC Universal Sports (not provided by Comcast in Summit County)

The USA Pro Challenge has visited Aspen every year since its inception in 2011, but this will be the first time Copper Mountain hosts a stage. With a starting elevation of 9,703 feet, riders will spend more than 50-percent of the stage above 10,000 feet. It promises to be a showing of high-mountain riding at its finest.

Climbing starts immediately, with a 1,376-foot grind to the top of Fremont Pass, the first King of the Mountain Challenge for the day. This six-mile trek will likely lead to an early split between breakaway riders and the peloton. Following the climb comes a slow, rolling descent to Twin Lakes for the first sprint of the stage into Leadville at 10,200 feet.

At 64 miles in, the action reaches a peak with a final KOM climb to Independence Pass, followed by a steep descent into Aspen. In tackling Independence Pass, riders will climb nearly 3,000 feet before maneuvering down an equally steep descent nearly 21 miles long.

Nothing is guaranteed for riders who summit Independence at the front of the pack, though, as proven by an historic summit in the 2012 USA Pro Cycling Challenge. American Tom Danielson had a 2:30-minute advantage at the pass, but, as the route started to flatten outside of Aspen, his lead began to evaporate. A classic photo finish commenced, with Danielson barely holding on by a mere two-second win. The stage was proof that anything can happen in these final sprints; the 2015 edition promises just as much drama.

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Daredevil cycling

Stage 3 is both scenic and grueling. Fremont Pass is an ideal place to watch early-stage climbing, and the mid-stage sprint passes straight through the heart of Leadville. The historic town is a great locale for spectators who want more than cycling — and don’t want to deal with the enormous crowds at stage starts and finishes.

But, these points are just an appetizer to the main course of the stage: Independence Pass. Watching cyclists push up this agonizingly difficult section, filled with 6-percent grades and hair-raising switchbacks, will likely be one of this year’s most exciting moments. The route overlooks several of Colorado’s highest peaks, reminiscent of climbing through the Alps in the Tour de France. The Independence Pass descent brings equally stunning scenery on the ground, as riders careen through turns at over 60 mph in pursuit of the stage win.

Stage 3 will be a grueling one, with almost nonstop climbing and high altitudes throughout. Riders with past success at high altitudes will excel, like young Colombian Daniel Jaramillo (Jamis-Hagens Berman) and Tour of Italy stage winner Davide Formolo (Cannondale-Garmin).

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