US Pro XCT series wraps up this weekend in Colorado Springs

The USA Cycling Pro XCT series will make its final stop in Colorado Springs, Colorado, on July 9-11 at the Carmichael Training Systems International Classic presented by GT Bicycles. Racers will compete in the shadow of Cheyenne Mountain, home of NORAD. This race is a UCI category-2 stage race and will feature a US$10,000 cash prize list for the elite riders. Most amateur classes will be offered as well.

This will be the first event on the US Pro XCT calendar in which racers will compete in a mandatory three-day stage race. Any rider who skips a stage may not compete in the next stage. On Friday afternoon, racers will compete in a 4.39-mile time trial with 393 feet of climbing. The base elevation is over 6,000 feet. Organizers report that the time trial will use the locally infamous and highly technical Medicine Wheel Trail for a portion of the course.

On Saturday evening, the elite men and women will compete in the cross country event using the same course as last year. Max Plaxton (Sho-Air/Specialized) will be returning to attempt to make it two in a row. The course is also 4.39 miles long with 658 feet of climbing per lap. On the backside of the course, there are some challenging uphill switchbacks. The descent is twisty, rocky, and extremely fast. The run into the finish is on pavement. Men will race approximately 120 minutes, while the women will race 105 minutes (with exact number of laps to be determined on race day).

"The course was awesome," said Todd Wells (Specialized) last year. "It was a good combination of flat, smooth, fast sections and rocky, technical sections up top. It was a real mountain bike course. Wells has a commanding lead in the US Pro XCT series of 85 points over Geoff Kabush (Team Maxxis-Rocky Mountain). Behind them, however, there will be a battle as only 30 points separate Plaxton, US National Champion Jeremy Horgan-Kobelski (Subau-Trek), and Sam Schultz (Subaru-Trek). You can be sure that everyone will know the math before they take the starting line on Saturday.

Last year Plaxton, who lives near sea level, spent a couple weeks racing and training in Colorado. It paid off as he won his first-ever Pro XCT race in Colorado Springs. The margin of victory came as he out-rode Horgan-Kobelski and Wells down the technical descents.

Catherine Pendrel (Luna Pro Team), who nipped Katie Compton (Planet Bike) at the line for the win last year, will not be attending the race this year. Compton, however, will be back. She, too, seemed to have an advantage on the rocky descents last year. Willow Koerber (Subaru-Trek), ranked fifth in the world in UCI points, will be racing as well and generally excels on this type of course. Georgia Gould (Luna Pro Team) has to be considered the race favorite since she is undefeated since winning the Sea Otter Classic in May. She has what should be an insurmountable lead of 115 points for the series title.

Mary McConneloug, also a top-10 World Cup racer, will be using the US Pro XCT race to help prepare for the US National Championships the following weekend in Granby, Colorado. Heather Irmiger (Subaru-Trek), fresh off winning her second Marathon National Championship last weekend in Breckenridge, is obviously riding well and is a threat to win the race. Amy Dombroski (Luna Pro Team) is poised to finish on the final series podium in her first full season competing as a mountain biker.

Sunday's racing will be the most unique of the season. The format is the UCI's XCC (Cross country criterium). Men will race for 45 minutes plus five laps on a 1.2-mile track. Women will race for 30 minutes plus five laps. Unlike short track racing, where lap times are one to two minutes, these lap times will be much longer. The "plus five laps" amounts to six additional miles of racing. It will feel more like a short cross country race than like short track racing. One thing is for sure, at the end of the three-day stage race, there are going to be plenty of tired legs.

Largely due to a scheduling conflict with the Downieville Classic in California, several of last year's top finishers will not be attending the Pro XCT finals. These include the entire Giant Team of Kelli Emmet, Carl Decker, and Adam Craig. Also missing will be Katerina Nash (Luna Pro Team), Jeremiah Bishop (Cannondale), and last year's winner Catherine Pendrel (Luna Pro Team).

The Team Competition should be quite interesting to watch. The Specialized Factory Team is currently tied with the Luna Pro Team. Both have 225 points. However, Todd Wells is expected to be the only Specialized racer present this weekend while Luna will have both Georgia Gould and Amy Dombroski. The Subaru-Trek Team only trails by five points and is on fire right now in terms of results. Their whole squad is expected to be present including Jeremy Horgan-Kobelski, Heather Irmiger, Willow Koerber, Sam Schultz and Russell Finsterwald.

With cross country start times at 4:00 pm and 6:00 pm for the elite women and men respectively, it has many of the pro racers buzzing about starting so late, apparently due to all the amateur classes. Normally the pros have completed podiums by 5:00 pm and are headed back to their hotels.

"It sounds more like dinner time to me and that is probably where all the spectators will be; that or driving home by the time we are racing the XCC on Sunday," said Kabush.

Gould had another point of view, "I don't mind the late start times- maybe it will mean cooler temps and more spectators? It will be interesting to see."

Stay tuned to Cyclingnews this weekend for full coverage of USA Cycling's Pro XCT finals.

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