USA Pro Challenge 2015 cycling preview

The USA Pro Challenge cycling race begins today in Colorado, challenging the world’s top riders with high altitudes, long distances, and brutal climbs.

This week cyclists and teams from around the world descend upon Colorado to tackle mountain challenges and high-elevation time trials in the 2015 USA Pro Challenge. The week-long race covers 865 miles, passes through 16 Colorado cities, and climbs more than 42,000 feet. Much of that climbing takes place at elevations above 10,000 feet, creating an event that challenges even the world’s top riders.

Two-time defending champing Tejay van Garderen is missing from this year’s race, leaving the field wide open for the leader’s jersey. Locals will be keeping a close eye on Boulder Colorado’s Taylor Phinney, who once again appears on the BMC Racing Team. Followers of the recent Tour de France will recognize team names such as Jelly Belly, Team Novo Nordisk, and Team Tinkoff-Saxo.

Stage 1 begins today at 11:40 MDT in the mountain ski town of Steamboat Springs, where riders will complete two laps of a 49-mile circuit, with 6,518 feet climbed. The day includes two Category 4 climbs and one sprint.

Stage 2 travels from Steamboat Springs to the ski area at Arapahoe Basin, which boasts an altitude of 10,882 feet. The 104-mile route and 8,965 feet of climbing includes the Category 2 climb up Rabbit Ears Pass, Category 3 Ute Pass and the final Category 1 climb to A-Basin. Two sprints round out the demanding day.

Stage 3 starts at the Copper Mountain resort, a new location on the Pro Challenge route, and takes riders to Aspen over Category 4 Freemont Pass and Category 1 Independence Pass. Over half of this stage takes place above 10,000 feet, providing riders an additional challenge on top of two Category climbs. Once again the day includes two sprints.

Stage 4 turns around and travels back over 12,095-foot Independence pass, leading from Aspen to Breckenridge. The 129-mile route climbs over 9,600 feet, and also includes Category 2 Hoosier Pass and Category 3 Moonstone. Another challenging day with two sprints.

Stage 5 is the Breckenridge individual time trial, 8.5 miles with a flat, fast start, then climbing steep grades with a fast descent to the finish that could decide the race.

Stage 6 returns riders from the mountains to the city, starting in Loveland and finishing in Fort Collins, a distance of 104 miles and 6,228 feet of climbing. The climbing on this day involves no major passes, but will challenge riders with Category 2 Rist Canyon, Carter Lake, and the steep and jagged rollers around Fort Collins’ Horsetooth Reservoir, finishing on a steep and fast descent into town. This stage is one of the last chances for top contenders to make their move.

Stage 7 wraps up the race with a return to the roots of the Pro Challenge, beginning in Golden. Riders will loop through the city and then tackle Category 3 Lookout Mountain, a familiar challenge for local riders. After another pass through Golden, riders will speed through Lakewood and Wheatridge on the way to downtown Denver. Four laps of the Denver circuit await, providing excellent spectator possibilities. 69 miles and only 3,237 feet of climbing make this a fast stage, particularly the finishing Denver circuit.

The race concludes next Sunday, August 23. Follow on the USA Pro Challenge Tour Tracker.

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