The recent talk of high-altitude mountain climbing at the USA Pro Cycling Challenge might cause some people to wonder why a sprinter like Robert Förster (UnitedHealthcare) would dare show up and contest the seven-day event held from August 22-28 in Colorado. The German proved his worth by placing fourth in the opening prologue and he sees a potential victory at the finish of stage four in Steamboat Springs and stage five in Breckenridge.
"My goal this week is to try and get a stage win from a sprint," Förster told Cyclingnews. "This is a good race for UnitedHealthcare. I think there are two or three chances for a bunch sprint. We will try for the sprints and that is an option for the team and it is not a bad option. I think the fourth and fifth stage could be field sprints."
Förster finished the 8.2km prologue in a time of 8:33 minutes, losing six seconds to stage winner and overall race leader Patrick Gretsch (HTC-Highroad). American's Christian Vande Velde (Garmin-Cervelo) placed second and Brent Bookwalter (BMC Racing) placed third.
However, Förster placed higher than he thought he would prior to the start of the stage. "The prologue is not too technical, there is one technical corner and the rest was straight, our team tried it out before the race," he said in the morning before the prologue.
"I hope the prologue is good for the fast guys here and I will try to do well. I think I can try make a good result but I don't think that I can go for the top 10 because there are also a lot of good time trialist here and the level of racing is higher than it was at the Tour of Utah. I will try my best but it is not a top ten."
Optimistic a bunch sprint will take place in the mountains
Förster believes the first bunch sprint could take place at the end of stage five in Steamboat Springs. The peloton will begin the 131km stage in Avon and pass more than 5000 feet of climbing before it reaches its final destination. The second opportunity for a bunch kick is during stage five that begins in Steamboat Springs and boast 168km with more than 8300 feet of climbing before finishing in Breckenridge.
Looking down the list of participants, the sprinters are scarce but they are there. Förster is one of a handful of fast-men who are on the hunt for a seemingly far-fetched bunch sprint, and none of them are likely to have a lead-out crew to help in their endeavours. In Förster's case, his team will be primarily focused on protecting the overall ranking of climber Rory Sutherland.
"A team cannot bring five or six lead-out guys for these kinds of races," said Förster, who recently competed at the Tour of Utah. "The main goal for us is that Rory [Sutherland] goes for the GC. We have good helpers here for him for the GC. The other option is for me to sprint and I'll have to sprint without the lead-out, it is no problem. For sure, the first four days will be hard but I have survived a lot of other races and I hope I can survive here."
Should the stages four and five culminate in a bunch sprint, Förster's rivals include the likes of Daniel Oss and Elia Viviani (Liquigas-Cannondale), who won a stage of the Tour of Utah, along with Kenny Robert van Hummel Skil-Shimano, Hayden Roulston (HTC-Highroad), Freddy Rodriguez and Carlos Alzate (team Exergy) and Ken Hanson (Jelly Belly p/b Kenda), among a very few others.
"There are four of five other fast guys here," Förster said. "Liquigas has a couple of fast guys and from Skil-Shimano. I think there are other teams too that want to see a sprint in those two stages."