USA Pro Challenge: The Day Report Stage 2

Before the start of stage 2 of the USA Pro Challenge you could tell that the riders were nervous, virtually every team had stationary trainers set up for the riders to warm up on. Once the flag dropped, the riders would be faced with the ascent up Rabbit Ears Pass. The stage would culminate with a 7km climb up to 3,317meters (10,882ft) of altitude after 185km of racing.

The dynamics of this stage were different to stage 1, as the riders let the first move of the day be the selection that pushed on, isolated out on the road, searching for glory. Early motivation was the thing that paid off. They weren’t far off, as breakaway rider Nate Brown for Cannondale-Garmin only got caught with one kilometer to go.

Today I rode in the UnitedHealthcare team car and got an insight into their tactics during the stage. Danny Summerhill, a Colorado native, and a rider always motivated to shine in his home state, instigated the first attack of the day in an attempt to keep the King of the Mountain’s jersey, that Jonny Clarke won after the first stage, within the UHC team. Although he pushed hard to make it happen, Summerhill was beaten to the line twice by Optum’s Will Routley. and now lies 2nd in the KOM competition with Clarke in 3rd.

After the stage, we took a look at Summerhill’s Pioneer power file and discussed with him how he utilizes the metrics he has on his cycle computer. A common theme among the professional riders is that they use many parameters to gauge their effort. They are aware of their power numbers, their heart rate on the screen, their cadence, but as well they are listening to the sensations in their body. This is a talent of the pros, to understand what their limits are on any given day. The power of the mind, and external motivations means that given the right circumstances, a rider can smash through their previously recorded best efforts in an attempt to fight for that podium position or help their teammate attain a similar feat. Human limitations are constantly pushed.

Getting into some fine detail of Summerhill’s ride today using Trainingpeaks WKO+ software, we see the difficulty of that first climb up Rabbit Ears pass and the KOM sprint. Danny averaged 351W for 34 minutes before accelerating to average 679W over 1min13sec in a sprint where he was beaten by the in-form Routley. As we alluded to yesterday, the altitude in Colorado is a huge additional stress, and at the top of this pass, Summerhill’s maximum physiological effort would have been blunted by as much as 10%.

From there we shoot down to where you see the second KOM of the day. As it was undulating coming into this climb, the lead-up to the sprint line was 3.5 minutes long and Summerhill needed to hold 394W to stay in contention before launching for 23 seconds at an average of 684W.

Finally, there is another important feature to review in the “heaviness” of today’s stage. Summerhill spent over four hours in the breakaway burning over 4400kj at an average of 305 normalized watts (a smoothed out version of average watts taking into account true physiological exertion). Using an “internet” reported weight of 70kg (not always the best for accuracy), this equates to 4.3watts/kg, which is a sign of Summerhill’s immense aerobic capabilities. I’m sure he enjoyed a good feed tonight

The stage was won by BMC’s Brent Bookwalter with our featured rider yesterday, Clarke, showing great form, backing up from the breakaway with a fourth place not far behind.

Stage 3 launches from Copper Mountain, up and over Independence Pass, cresting at 3678 meters (12,065ft) above sea level and down into the town of Aspen. It will surely be a tough stage and it will be exciting to see if some of the fast men can chase down the mountain climbers on the final descent.

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