USA Pro Cycling Challenge highlights Rocky Mountains

The 2012 USA Pro Cycling Challenge will take the peloton to an altitude of 12,000 feet, “not once, but three separate times, and will include a finish on iconic Flagstaff Mountain on the penultimate day.” The race, which takes places in Colorado, USA, from August 20-26, “will take riders on a heart-pounding journey throughout the breathtaking Colorado Rockies.”

Race organisers released the more-detailed course description on Tuesday after releasing the preliminary route in December. "In determining the route for the 2012 USA Pro Cycling Challenge, we wanted to showcase as much of the Rocky Mountains as possible, while creating a challenging course for the riders that would provide ideal viewing locations for spectators," said Shawn Hunter, CEO of the USA Pro Cycling Challenge.

This second year of the race will introduce four new stage cities, and moves the time trial from the first stage to the last one, “to see who will be awarded the overall victory of the seven days of fiercely competitive racing.”

The first stage goes from Durango to Telluride. After bumping over the tracks of Durango's Narrow Gauge Railroad, the field will tackle the Hesperus Climb, and later take on a 30-mile long canyon climb which tops out at the Lizard Head Pass, 10,222 feet. That will be followed by a 15 mile descent to the finish in Telluride.

The second stage is 99 miles from Montrose to Crested Butte. It starts out with climbs over Cerro Summit and Blue Mesa Summit, and finishes with the two mile climb up Mt. Crested Butte, where Levi Leipheimer took the leader's jersey in 2011.

The “queen stage” comes on the third stage from Gunnison to Aspen. Nearly 14 miles of dirt road which takes the peloton up to the race's highest point, 12,126 feet at Cottonwood Pass. That will be followed by the 12,095 ft. Independence Pass.

Much of the fourth stage will be above 9000 feet, with the Independence Pass appearing again before providing 75 miles of racing at altitude. The peloton will cross the Continental Divide at Tennessee Pass before the final climb to the ski resort of Beaver Creek.

Stage five, from Breckenridge to Colorado Springs, will wake the riders up with a “daunting 10-mile climb up Hoosier Pass”, 11,500 feet, shortly after the start. That is the only big climb of the day, and the road to the finish passes by Pikes Peak and through the Garden of the Gods. A mass sprint is expected on the circuit course in downtown Colorado Springs. 

The penultimate stage from Golden to Boulder will take the riders up to Nederland for the day's first climb, followed by ascents exceeding 9300 feet “on the incredible Peak to Peak Highway.” But the real excitement comes at the finish, with a 3.5 mile vertical climb up Flagstaff Mountain.

The race will crown its winner and close out with time trial in downtown Denver. The flat and fast course “will be a completely different kind of race – and one that could dramatically change the results.”

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