- Peter Hymas
High elevation climbing galore in the Colorado Rockies
The 2012 USA Pro Challenge final podium (L-R): Tejay van Garderen (BMC), Christian Vande Velde (Garmin-Sharp) and Levi Leipheimer (Omega Pharma-Quickstep)
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The USA Pro Challenge returns for its third edition, encompassing seven days of racing in the high mountains of Colorado from August 19 to 25, and is quickly establishing itself as the country's biggest stage race. Replete with strong teams from seven WorldTour squads, plus a motivated contingent of both international and domestic Pro Continental and Continental teams, once again a deep peloton is slated to compete in Colorado.
For the second time in the race's nascent three-year history, the reigning Tour de France champion will compete in Colorado. While 2013 Tour champion Chris Froome has been making the rounds on the post-Tour criterium circuit, the USA Pro Challenge will be his first true race since riding into Paris resplendent in the yellow jersey as Team Sky makes its racing debut in the United States in grand fashion.
The 28-year-old Briton will be joined by his trusted right-hand man from the Tour, Richie Porte, while Peter Kennaugh and Kanstantsin Siutsou also make the trip to Colorado after supporting Froome in his French Grand Tour triumph. A trio of Americans are on Sky's USA Pro Challenge roster, including veteran professional Danny Pate plus Joe Dombrowski and Ian Boswell. Dombrowski, 22, and Boswell, 22, each have made their WorldTour debut this season with Sky and for both it will be their first time racing on US soil in Sky colours. Dombrowski put in a stellar performance in Colorado last year while a part of the Bontrager squad, finishing 10th overall and claiming the young rider classification, and despite both crashing out of the recent Vuelta a Burgos on its opening stage, Dombrowski and Boswell are ready to race at the USAPC.
Another luminary from the 2013 Tour de France making his USA Pro Challenge debut is wunderkind Peter Sagan (Cannondale), who for the second straight year won the points classification at the Grand Boucle. While this is the first time the reigning green jersey champion from the Tour competes in Colorado, Sagan himself is no stranger to racing Stateside. The 23-year-old Slovakian owns the record for most stage wins at the Amgen Tour of California, with 10, and has won the points competition there for four straight years.
Sagan has been in Aspen, Colorado since August 5, acclimating to the altitude and beginning his build-up to the world championships in Florence, Italy. Multiple stage wins in the USAPC are certainly in the cards, particularly the opening day circuit race in Aspen, stage three into Steamboat Springs, as well as the final stage circuit race in the heart of Denver.
Garmin-Sharp's Christian Vande Velde returns to the USAPC as defending champion (as well as 2011 runner-up) and the American WorldTour squad's roster is likely the deepest from top to bottom, featuring multiple contenders for both stage wins as well as the leader's yellow jersey. While a repeat victory for the 37-year-old Vande Velde, slated to retire this year, would be a fairy tale ending to a lengthy career, teammates Tom Danielson, Andrew Talansky and Lachlan Morton provide an enviable array of options. Danielson, a stage winner in Aspen at last year's USAPC, is certainly on form having just won the Tour of Utah while Morton, too, showed high mountain form with a stage win plus stint in the leader's jersey, too, in Utah.
But perhaps the strongest weapon in Garmin-Sharp's arsenal is Andrew Talansky, who finished 10th in his debut Tour de France this July and joins Froome as the only top-10 finishers from this year's Tour to contest the USAPC. If Talansky doesn't win overall, then certainly the stage 5 mountain time trial in Vail appears tailor-made for his ample skill-set.
It's probably safe to say that Tejay van Garderen (BMC) has had a love/hate relationship with the USAPC and after finishing third overall in 2011 followed by a second place GC finish last year, the 25-year-old American certainly hopes to complete the podium cycle and claim the final yellow jersey in Denver this go round. Van Garderen has worn the yellow jersey in both previous editions, but was unable to retain the lead through the race finale. Van Garderen did win the first stage race of his pro career earlier this season at the Amgen Tour of California, and after suffering through a disappointing Tour de France campaign this July, nothing would be sweeter than to sweep both of the USA's 2,HC-rated stage races in a single season.
Among the teammates supporting van Garderen in Colorado are two riders with strong showings at the recently concluded Tour of Utah. Greg Van Avermaet won the opening stage and followed that with three straight second place stage finishes while Swiss champion Michael Schär finished 7th overall. Mathias Frank provided key support in the mountains for van Garderen last year, and returns one year later in the midst of the strongest season of his career.
Andreas Klöden returns to the USAPC following a fourth place overall result last year, but the RadioShack-Leopard squad's premier climbing talent is the resurgent Andy Schleck. The 28-year-old Luxembourger placed 20th overall in this year's Tour and was a competitor in the inaugural USAPC in 2011. Will Schleck show flashes of climbing brilliance at this year's USAPC?
RadioShack-Leopard's evergreen strongman Jens Voigt, a stage winner in Colorado last year, arrives in Colorado after racing a typically aggressive Tour of Utah campaign while Tiago Machado and George Bennett acclimated to altitude at the Tour of Utah, placing 10th and 11th overall, and should be poised for a good outing in Colorado.
Saxo-Tinkoff makes its second USAPC start, led by veteran Australian Michael Rogers. A multi-time podium finisher at the Amgen Tour of California, including first overall in 2010 and second this year, the three-time time trial world champion arrives in Colorado after a career-best result at the Tour de France - 16th overall. Saxo-Tinkoff sports a pair of Colorado residents in Rory Sutherland and Timmy Duggan, each intimately acquainted with the parcours and ready to perform on home turf. Sutherland returns to the USAPC after a memorable stage win in Boulder atop Flagstaff Mountain.
Among the Pro Continental ranks, the UnitedHealthcare Pro Cycling Team enters the USAPC on a high following a strong outing the Tour of Utah. Lucas Euser finished just off the final GC podium in fourth place, while Phil Deignan finished a strong 6th overall. Alessandro Bazzana and Kiel Reijnen are both strong finishers and should factor in the mix for stage wins.
A team with high expectations is the Italian-based Team Colombia squad, eager to put their considerable climbing talent to the test at the USAPC. Headlining the roster is Darwin Atapuma, who recently won the team's first race at the WorldTour level with a victory in a brutally hilly Tour of Poland stage.
In the Continental ranks the Bissell team arrives in Colorado after firing on all cylinders at the Tour of Utah. Michael Torckler claimed the mountains jersey while this year's mountains winner at the Tour of California, Carter Jones, placed a solid 8th overall.
Climbing sensation Janier Acevedo (Jamis-Hagens Berman) has placed third overall thus far this year at both the Amgen Tour of California and the Tour of Utah, and certainly looks to have the form to once again be in the mix for a podium finish at the USAPC.
The Optum p/b Kelly Benefit Strategies team will certainly be on the attack, and have fast finishers in Alex Candelario and Ken Hanson to mix it up for stage wins.
Current US pro road champion Fred Rodriguez (Jelly Belly p/b Kenda) can never be counted out while the young Bontrager squad will be led by Lawson Craddock, eighth overall and the best young rider at the Amgen Tour of California and an aggressor at the Tour of Utah.
2013 USA Pro Challenge route synopsis
Taking place at high altitudes and rife with climbing, the 2013 USA Pro Challenge features a blend of signature climbs and locales from the previous two editions, while debuting new cities and ascents, too.
The USAPC gets underway on Monday with the hilly Aspen/Snowmass circuit race, a relatively brief 104km parcours that looks ripe for the picking for Peter Sagan. Aspen hosts the start of stage 2 as well and the USAPC's longest stage, at 203km, features an initial climb over Independence Pass, cresting 12,000ft in elevation, while another high elevation ascent, Hoosier Pass at 11,500ft, must be tackled in the stage endgame en route to the finish in Breckenridge.
While the 171km stage 3 from Breckenridge to Steamboat Springs features a sting in the tail with an ascent of Rabbit Ears Pass, it's likely that a full-on field sprint will take place on the streets of Steamboat Springs. Noted fast finisher Elia Viviani prevailed in Steamboat Springs in 2011 and look to riders like Peter Sagan, Greg Van Avermaet, Alessandro Bazzana, Kiel Reijnen, Alex Candelario and Fred Rodriguez to figure prominently.
Stage 4,165.6km from Steamboat Springs to Beaver Creek, is the USAPC's queen stage featuring the debut of the Bachelor Gulch climb, with pitches of 18 percent, in the finale. The peloton will then negotiate a technical descent before the final 2km kicker up to Beaver Creek Village.
Stage 5 features the return of the Vail time trial, whose 16.1km route provides a gentle grade early before a steady ascent to more than 9.500ft in the finale. This stage was part of the inaugural race in 2011 and saw Levi Leipheimer beat Christian Vande Velde by just 58 hundredths of a second. Tejay van Garderen, who lost his leader's jersey that day, has a score to settle in Vail while Chris Froome, Richie Porte and Andrew Talansky all have the ability to make their mark.
Stage 6 enters new territory, heading to Colorado's Front Range for a new stage from Loveland to Fort Collins. This is the final chance for anyone to make up time on general classification, but the day's only categorised climb of Devils Gulch, the USAPC's final KOM, is situated midway through the 185.4km stage. There are some steep rollers on the approach to Ft. Collins around Horsetooth Reservoir, but this may be a day for the sprinters.
As in each of the previous two USAPC editions, the stage race concludes in Denver. The 2011 final stage was a 116km course that started in Golden and finished with a circuit finale in Denver, while the 2012 edition's closing stage was a 15.3km time trial in the Denver downtown. For 2013 there's a road stage to conclude the USAPC, a circuit race entirely in the Denver downtown, with a bunch gallop to the finish line the likely scenario. While Peter Sagan is certainly a threat, look also for noted sprinters such as Juan Jose Haedo (Jamis-Hagens Berman) or Ken Hanson (Optum p/b Kelly Benefit Strategies) to vie for the top step of the podium.