Tour de France stars Cadel Evans (BMC Racing), Andy Schleck (Leopard Trek) and Ivan Basso (Liquigas-Cannondale) have cited the frequent visits to more than 12,000 feet of elevation as the biggest factor at the USA Pro Cycling Challenge held from August 22-28 in Colorado.
Much of the stage race is held at elevations between 6000 and 9000 feet. However, ‘queen' stage two from Gunnison to Aspen will boast two of the highest and most decisive climbs in the race over Cottonwood and Independence Pass, both higher than 12,000 feet.
Evans, who recently won the Tour de France, arrived to Utah last week in order to train and acclimate to the altitude prior to traveling to Colorado for the USA Pro Cycling Challenge. The Australian believes that the high-peaked ascents during the seven-day race will be a challenge for most of the European riders who might not be accustomed to such altitude.
"The altitude, for me and most of us coming from Europe, will be the biggest obstacle," Evans said. "The climbs are reasonably hard but it is the altitude that will be the biggest obstacle for us."
Schleck, who placed second at the Tour, arrived to Colorado two weeks ago in order to avoid jet-lag, acclimate and train at altitude, and see some popular sights.
"I've been in the US since [August] 9th and spent a few days in Wisconsin and the rest in of that time in Colorado up in Steamboat," Schleck said. "I spent some days training and on holiday. I was training in the mornings and in the afternoon I had time to enjoy the beautiful landscape.
"I don't think I will have a problem with the jet-lag but the altitude will be a little bit hard, and as Cadel said, it will be the biggest obstacle for us in the race," he continued. "We are going higher up than I have ever been before in my life, and we have to go up on the bike. It will be a big challenge. The highest point we go is 3600 metres and I have never been that high before. I am looking forward to going up there."
Eighth place Tour finisher, Basso arrived to Colorado two days prior to the start of the event. He is confident in his form, however, unsure how he will adapt to the high elevation and the long travel from Italy to western USA.
"I just arrived here a few days ago," Basso said. "I hope that during the week I will feel okay. I looked at the map and I know that we go really, really high, almost into the sky. It's okay because I have good condition, the only problem for me will be the big altitude and the jet-lag, during the week I hope I feel okay."
One rider who will not have a problem with the altitude is Sergio Henao (Gobernacion de Antioquia). The Colombian recently placed second at the Tour of Utah behind overall winner Levi Leipheimer (RadioShack). He is accustomed to living and training in the high altitude terrain and is looking forward to the seven-day race.
"For the Colombians, the altitude is an advantage because we train every day over 2000 metres," Henao said. "We are good in the mountains and for us this is an important race and we think that we can be among the top places in the results. There is a high level of racing here but we will fight to do a good race."
The inaugural USA Pro Cycling Challenge will include a high-quality field that includes ProTeams RadioShack, BMC Racing, Liquigas-Cannondale, HTC-Highroad, Garmin-Cervelo, Saxo Bank-SunGard, Leopard Trek and Rabobank.