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Vande Velde analyses the USA Pro Cycling Challenge route

Christian Vande Velde tipped his hat to the USA Pro Cycling Challenge prologue held in Colorado Springs on Monday. The American is confident that his Boulder-based Garmin-Cervelo team will put forth a strong performance in the opening day's 8.2km prologue time trial and carry that through the seven-day even held from August 22-28.

"We checked out the course this morning," Vande Velde said. "It was a spectacular course and it will be really cool. We fly through the most beautiful parts in the country in Garden of the Gods, a spectacular left-hand corner into the Springs and right downtown. It will be fast and a great kick off for the Tour of Colorado."

Tour de France winner Cadel Evans (BMC Racing) echoed Vande Velde's opinion with regard to the prologue course and believes it will be a high speed battle for the early race lead.

"For the eight kilometres you just have to go fast like every other time trial," Evans said. "From a racing perspective it is a false flat downhill and will be a really high average speed and fast times, I think. It will be interesting."

Garmin-Cervelo is fielding a quality team that also includes Tom Danielson, who placed ninth at the Tour de France, Peter Stetina, Ryder Hesjedal, Daniel Lloyd, Tom Peterson, Danny Summerhill and US National Time Trial Champion Dave Zabriskie.

"We have been based out of Boulder, Colorado since day one with Jonathan Vaughters in 2003," Vande Velde said. "We have extra motivation when we are on US soil but being in Colorado and on a lot of our home roads, we are extra excited. It's nice to come off of a great back foot of the Tour de France and race back here on American soil."

The USA Pro Cycling Challenge is hosting 17 teams that includes seven ProTeams Garmin-Cervelo, HTC-Highroad, BMC Racing, Saxo Bank SunGard, Leopard Trek, Rabobank and Liquigas-Cannondale.

"I'm really excited about doing this event, as is most of the peloton," Vande Velde said. "Even talking to Andy and Frank Schleck and guys from Europe, who were excited about coming over and racing some of the infamous climbs. Our team has always had this event in the back of our heads, during the Tour de France. It was fun to race in the Tour but it will be great to race in front of hometown crowds."

A handful of contenders

Vande Velde placed 17th at the Tour de France despite crashing several times during the three-week event in July. He returned to the US to compete in the Tour of Utah two weeks ago in order acclimate to the elevation and prepare for the USA Pro Cycling Challenge.

The course includes numerous high altitude ascents including Cottonwood and Independence Pass, both climb above 12,000 feet during stage two. However, he predicted that the stage race will come down to a handful of riders who are capable of contending for the overall victory.

"I think there is going to be a few guys that are up in the same category as far as climbing goes, probably five or ten guys," Vande Velde said. "So, the time trial is going to be a huge factor. There is no mountaintop finish that really separates everyone and there will be a little bit of regrouping on some of the descents. For the most part there will be five or ten guys who are pretty close and the time trial will definitely be the turning factor after that."

Vande Velde and Danielson believe that the stage three time trial in Vail could be the deciding factor between the strong climbers in the overall classification. The event is 16km and predominantly uphill with 1,783 feet of climbing. The course was revived from the former Coors Classic held in the 1980s.

"I think the prologue will be a key component of the race and it will dictate how a lot of the GC guys will race the race," Danielson said. "If you take more seconds in the prologue then you might be able to have a more comfortable ride on Independence Pass. The race of truth will be on that Vail time trial.

"I rode that course and it is not easy, not straight forward and not a typical time trial," he said. "It is difficult to read and know what equipment to use and how to guage your effort on the time trial. Going into the prologue, winning or being up there on Independence Pass and the Vail time trial are the key components."

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Kirsten Frattini is an honours graduate of Kinesiology and Health Science from York University in Toronto, Canada. She has been involved in cycling from the community and grassroots level to professional cycling's WorldTour. She has worked in both print and digital publishing, and started with Cyclingnews as a North American Correspondent in 2006. Moving into a Production Editor's role in 2014, she produces and publishes international race coverage for all men's and women's races including Spring Classics, Grand Tours, World Championships and Olympic Games, and writes and edits news and features. As the Women's Editor at Cyclingnews, Kirsten also coordinates and oversees the global coverage of races, news, features and podcasts about women's professional cycling.