Between grueling hill climbs in Colorado’s high country and blisteringly fast sprint challenges, this week’s USA Pro Challenge bike race will push more than 120 riders’ stamina and lung capacity in ways many have never seen before.
That’s the allure of one of the country’s premier professional bike challenges. Now in its third year, the seven-day race that rolls through northern Colorado on Saturday will bring out the best of the best, including this year’s Tour de France champion Chris Froome and Tour sprint jersey victor Peter Sagan. Those two riders are the top-two cyclists in the world and lead a star-studded field with six current national champions and six former Olympic medalists.
“The diverse field of cycling stars participating in the USA Pro Challenge presents an opportunity to celebrate the sport of cycling on a global scale,” said Rick Schaden, owner of the USA Pro Challenge, in a written statement. “As the race continues to grow, we are seeing increasing enthusiasm from both the fans and the riders, and these impressive rosters are a testament to that.”
Froome, who grew up in Kenya and lives in Great Britain, crushed the competition in July’s Tour de France. The 28-year-old won the overall race by more than 4 minutes after being heavily favored because of his second-place finishes in 2012 and 2011. Since joining Sky Procycling — the top-ranked UCI team in the world — he’s seen runaway success in all aspects of racing and quickly cleaned up in tours around the world including the Tour of Oman (2013) and the Tour de Romandie (2013).
Similarly, Sagan, a breakaway sprinter, stormed on the scene in 2010 at just 19 years old. Now 23 and racing for Cannondale Pro Cycling, the Slovak routinely pulls away from the competition, most notably at the 2011-2013 National Road Race Championships. He also won this year’s Tour de France Sprint Jersey.
“This competitive level of the field for the 2013 USA Pro Challenge is by far one of the best that has ever raced on American soil,” said Shawn Hunter, CEO of the USA Pro Challenge, in a written statement “The competition this year should be faster and tougher than ever.”
It’ll have to be if riders want to survive the grueling seven-day, 600-mile tour across Colorado.
» The race kicks off on Monday in Aspen with three 22-mile laps, pushing riders to climb 3,080 feet on each lap. Though just more than 66 miles total, the leg will give riders from around the world a crash course in climbing at altitude — the day starts at 7,900 feet.
» Tuesday, the tour moves to even tougher terrain. Riders will suffer to the summit of Independence Pass (12,095 feet) and race down toward Buena Vista before ending the 126-mile day in Breckenridge. By way of comparison, the Tour de France’s highest mountain stage tops out at around 11,000 feet. The Pro Challenge is billed as the highest professional road race in the world.
» Wednesday’s jaunt from Breckenridge north to Steamboat Springs will send riders, once again, to challenging limits up and over Rabbit Ears Pass. That 105-mile stage will shed light on the competition and separate for the first time in the race the sprinters from the climbers and the complete, well-rounded riders.
» Eighteen-percent grade climbs welcome riders for Stage 4 on Thursday moving back toward Beaver Creek on a roller-coaster series of hills over a 102-mile cruise.
» Riders wary of the long days in the saddle will find reprieve on Friday in Vail during a 10-mile sprint up Vail Pass that will test strategy on the initial gentle slope and eventual steady climb over the final three miles.
» After completing Saturday’s showdown from Windsor to Fort Collins, riders head to Denver for the final stage and the last sprint — a 72-mile circuit of raw power and any energy riders have left after dueling in the mountains. The flat course and city streets will encourage speed and skill, making it a make-or-break afternoon for anyone who hasn’t already been broken.
Since its inception, the Pro Challenge has grown in popularity and prestige, attracting world class talent year-after-year. Whether riders are looking to make a name for themselves or continue a successful, long career, they’ll be pushed all week all the way to the podium.
“We’re really looking forward to the USA Pro Challenge,” said Carsten Jeppesen, head of technical operations for Sky Procycling, in a written statement. “It’s a great race that has everything. With climbing, sprints and a time trial, as well as good crowds, it’s a mini-Tour – the kind of race we really like. It’s only our second race in the U.S., and we aim to put on a good show.”
This competitive level of the field for the 2013 USA Pro Challenge is by far one of the best that has ever raced on American soil. The competition this year should be faster and tougher than ever.
USA Pro Challenge CEO