USA Pro Cycling Challenge: On the road |

USA Pro Cycling Challenge: On the road

Stephen Lloyd Wood
Special to the Daily
The Denver Post/Helen H. RichardsonMembers of the Boulder-based Team Garmin-Cervelo hit the road recently for some final training before the start of today's inaugural USA Pro Cycling Challenge.

VAIL – The 507 miles of Colorado roads to be covered in seven days by cyclists competing in the USA Pro Cycling Challenge offer some of most demanding mountain terrain and dramatic scenery in the world, guaranteeing the overall winner will be one who not only survives but excels in a wide variety of conditions. Here’s some likely scenarios along the way:

Prologue: This 5.19-mile individual time trial from Garden of the Gods Park to downtown Colorado Springs is flat to slightly downhill with few turns, making it very fast. Look for a proven aerodynamic specialist, like U.S. National Time Trial Champion Dave Zabriskie, to take the race’s first leaders jersey.

Stage 1: Beginning in Salida, this 99.4-mile road stage has one major obstacle, the often-steep climb to Monarch Pass at 11,318 feet above sea level. But with its crest at just 26 miles into the race, followed by a fast descent, then more than 60 miles of relatively flat, potentially windy terrain, the main peloton most likely will arrive in the town of Crested Butte together. The final, uphill mile or so to the ski resort at Mount Crested Butte, however, should prompt some attacks by explosive riders, such as Ryder Hesjedal, hoping to win the stage and/or the overall favorites looking to gain a few seconds’ advantage.

Stage 2: With not one but two epic climbs soaring above 12,000 feet, this 131mi stage from Gunnison to Aspen promises to be epic. The first ascent to Cottonwood Pass, though not particularly steep, involves roughly 14 miles of dirt road, which could provide some technical dramatics that split the field; and the descent is super fast, with riders expected to exceed 60 mph. It’s on the eastern slopes of Independence Pass, however, where things should shatter. If the Schleck brothers, or Cadel Evans, are on form and motivated, this is where they’ll need to make their moves. Otherwise, look for the high-altitude specialists like Levi Leipheimer and Tom Danielson – and don’t forget the Colombians – to top the pass first. The final descent to Aspen is very technical, bumpy and narrow, which could play into Evans’ hands quite well.

Stage 3: On a course made famous in the 1980s by the Coors Classic, this 10-mile time trial from Vail Village east to a place on Old Highway 6 halfway up Vail Pass probably will decide, or seal, the overall classification. Slightly uphill for the first half, then a bit steeper, the course requires both good aerodynamics and climbing prowess, perfect for the likes of Leipheimer … or Evans.

Stage 4: With the overall classification likely decided, this 83-mile stage from Avon to Steamboat Springs, over wide-open roads with two relatively easy climbs, provides the race’s most likely field sprint. Without many true sprinters in the field, it will be interesting to see who can accelerate fastest to win the stage. Look for former U.S. National Champion Freddy Rodriguez of Team Energy, or perhaps the veteran German sprinter of UnitedHealthcare, Robert Forster. Crosswinds could cause chaos and play a role in splitting up the field beforehand, however, giving a distinct advantage to Robert Gesink and his fellow Dutchmen with Team Rabobank.

Stage 5: This stage’s main obstacle, the 9,400-foot Rabbit Ears Pass, looms over the start in Steamboat Springs, so expect riders from the domestic teams – such as UnitedHealthcare’s Brad White – to have an early go at establishing a breakaway that could make it all the way Breckenridge 105 miles away. Fireworks from the overall favorites could come on the short but relatively steep climb on Swan Mountain Road late in the day, however, if time gaps are still close.

Stage 6: Modeled after the Tour de France’s final stage to the Champs Elysees in Paris, this 74-mile final jaunt from Golden to the steps of the Colorado State Capitol Building in Denver could see some dramatic action early on with a loop up and over Lookout Mountain. Then it’s a long, flat run in to the city core, terminating with six laps of a five-mile circuit along Speer Boulevard. Look for a final mass dash to the line led, possibly, by Rodriguez or Forster.

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