The 2014 USA Pro Challenge fires up Monday in Colorado with a circuit race around Aspen and nearby Snowmass Village. Five WorldTour teams are set to compete against four Pro Continental squads and seven Continental outfits over the seven-day race, which concludes next Sunday with a stage from Boulder to Denver. Cyclingnews has compiled this brief list of 10 riders to watch this week as the peloton deals with the elevation and climbs of the Rocky Mountain state.
Rafal Majka (Tinkoff-Saxo) - The 24-year-old rider from Poland was a revelation in this year's Tour de France, where he won the mountains classification on the strength of two stage wins and two second-place finishes. Majka was 44th overall in the French Grand Tour, and he followed that up by winning the Tour of Poland last week. He won another two stages on his way to the win in Poland. Majka was clearly one of the best climbers in the Tour de France, but he lost more than six minutes during the individual time trial, finishing 58th. It will be interesting to see of the long, highway-grade climbs at Colorado's elevated altitude will provide him with another chance to shine.
Michael Rogers (Tinkoff-Saxo) - Another Tour de France stage winner for Tinkoff, the 34-year-old Aussie was clearly on form for the three-week race. After the Tour, however, Rogers was unable to finish the Classica San Sebastian at the beginning of August. The 2010 Amgen Tour of California winner finished 26th overall at the French race after a disappointing time trial, but if he's on form and can put in a good performance in Vail, he could challenge defending champion Tejay van Garderen for the overall.
Tejay van Garderen (BMC Racing Team) - The 2013 USA Pro Challenge winner has been resting up since finishing this year's Tour de France, where he matched his top result of fifth overall. Van Garderen rode solidly in the mountains during the French race and climbed to fifth place on the strength of his individual time trial, where he finished sixth. He has raced just one day since the a Tour, finishing 58th in San Sebastian. The 26-year-old took the leadership reins at BMC after wining both the Tour of California and USA Pro Challenge last year. Expect van Garderen to shine in his adopted home state, where he'll start the race in his current hometown of Aspen.
Leopold König (NetApp-Endura) - Twenty-six-year-old König recently finished seventh overall at the Tour de France, his best-ever result in the race. König had two top-10 finishes in France and came in one spot better than van Garderen in the stage 20 time trial. He's not unfamiliar with winning in North America, having taken the Mt. Diablo stage at the Tour of California in 2013. König is another rider to watch for the overall, especially if he can count on the one-two punch the team features with Tiago Machado, König's NetApp-Endura teammate who finished fourth overall earlier this year at the tour of California.
Riccardo Zoidl (Trek Factory Racing) - Although Trek Factory Racing has Frank Schleck and Jens Voigt on the Colorado roster, Austrian road race champion Riccardo Zoidl may be team's best chance for a stage win or a general classification podium spot. The 26-year-old rode aggressively last week at the Larry H. Miller Tour of Utah, making the final selection on the climbs up Guardsman Pass and Little Cottonwood Canyon on the way to the Queen Stage finish at Snowbird Ski and Summer Resort. Zoidl finished third on the day behind a very cagey Cadel Evans (BMC) and a very determined Joey Rosskopf (Hincapie Sportswear).
Hugh Carthy (Rapha-Condor) - The 20-year-old prodigy recently won the Tour of Korea for his British Continental team and would no doubt like to shine across the pond in the States. Carthy took the lead in Korea in the hilly penultimate stage and held it through the next day. Just his second year at the Continental level, Carthy also finished sixth overall at the Tour of Japan in May. Carthy finished fourth in Britain's U23 time trial championships in June and warmed up for the Colorado race at Kreiz Breizh (UCI 2.2) earlier this month.
Carter Jones (Optum Pro Cycling) - Jones' star has been on the rise all year since moving to Optum Pro Cycling this year. The 25-year-old product of USA Cycling's development program won the UCI 2.2 Tour of the Gila earlier this year in New Mexico, and he followed it up with an 11th-place overall finish at the Tour of California. Jones finished third on the Mt Diablo stage, and he was the first to attack race leader Bradley Wiggins (Team Sky) as the finish line approached. Jones used his climbing skills to nearly chase down several breakaway riders during the Queen Stage of the Tour de Beauce in June, finishing third on the route that finished atop Mont Megantic. Jones' seventh-place finish at the Tour of Utah marked his best finish yet at a 2.1 or above race, despite that fact that his team brought a squad geared toward the sprint finishes. The team makeup didn't seem to hamper Jones, who finished 8th on Powder Mountain, ninth at Snowbird and sixth on the final day.
Joey Rosskopf (Hincapie Sportswear) - The 24-year-old Hincapie rider had a breakout race last week at the Tour of Utah with two big efforts in two different stages. Rosskopf was one of two sole survivors of a daylong breakaway on stage 2, eventually getting swallowed up by the field in the final kilometers as former breakaway partner Micaeal Schär (BMC) rode on to a solo win. Rosskopf wasn't finished yet, making a large breakaway on the Queen stage to Snowbird Ski and Summer Resort, then making the final selection of four before Evans slipped by him in the finale. Rosskopf, who attacked in the final kilometers of the stage, held on for second and earned the mountains classification jersey for his efforts.
Jure Kocjan (Team SmartStop) - Team SmartStop continued its run through the North American calendar last week in Utah, led by 29-year-old Jure Kocjan. The Slovenian strongman finished second on the both of the first two stages, grabbing the race lead after stage 2 and holding onto it for two more days. Kocjan backed up the results from the first two days with another second-place finish during stage 5, securing the final points jersey. Kocjan also won a stage and the overall earlier this year at the Grand Prix Cycliste Saguenay, a UCI 2.2. race in Canada. Colorado's highway-grade climbs could set Kocjan up well to win sprint finishes from a select group that can make it up and over the ascents.
James Oram (Bissell Development Team) - The 21-year-old rider from New Zealand is champing at the bit to get a result that will help him move to the next level in 2015, and Colorado could provide the perfect opportunity. Oram excels in long climbs that aren't overly steep, and the relatively mellow climbs in Colorado appear to suit him well. Oram was especially active in Utah, infiltrating multiple breakaways in multiple stages, but none of the escape efforts paid off with the big result he's looking for. Look for Oram and his Bissell teammates to try again this week.
Growing up in Missoula, Montana, Pat competed in his first bike race in 1985 at Flathead Lake before studying English and journalism at the University of Oregon. He has covered North American cycling extensively since 2009, as well as racing and teams in Europe and South America. Pat currently lives in the US outside of Portland, Oregon.
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