The USA Pro Challenge pits top cyclists from around the world against each other and the Rocky Mountains for seven days, racing at altitudes higher than most have ever had to endure.
The U.S. BMC Racing Team finished the 2015 USA Pro Challenge with the team championship and the top two riders. Virtually unchallenged since day 2, Rohan Dennis of Australia held the overall lead throughout the final four-lap circuit of downtown Denver to take the win by a margin of 40 seconds. Teammate Brent Bookwalter (U.S.) was second. Rob Britton of Canada, Team SmartStop, rounded out the podium.
The challenge of this race is as much man against mountain as man against man. Many of the mountain stages take riders to elevations of 12,000 feet, where oxygen is thin and temperatures are low. Steep climbs in these conditions challenge the best in the world, many of whom have never raced at those heights. As a point of comparison, the highest elevation in the Tour de France is 8,678 feet.
Colorado fans had something to cheer about on Day 1, as Boulder’s Taylor Phinney, riding for BMC, won the first stage, the Steamboat Springs Circuit Race, ending the day with the yellow jersey.
Stage 2’s win, and the yellow jersey, went to Bookwalter with the help of Dennis, who finished only 6 seconds back, as riders battled steep mountain passes and high altitudes from Steamboat Springs to the Arapahoe Basin ski area. Dennis took second in Stage 3 as well, clocking the same time as stage winner Kiel Reijnen (Team UHC). As of Day 3 the yellow jersey still belonged to Bookwalter.
BMC retained the leader’s jersey, but the wearer changed to Dennis, who had his first stage win on day 4 in the mountains from Aspen to Breckenridge, nosing out teammate Bookwalter by 19 seconds. Dennis won again on day 5, this time by 27 seconds in the Breckenridge Individual Time Trial, establishing himself as the clear front runner. Day 6, from Loveland to Fort Collins via the jagged rollers of Horsetooth Reservoir, was won by Tinkoff-Saxo’s Roman Kreuziger. Dennis finished the stage in fifteenth place, but kept his hold on the yellow jersey by 44 seconds over Bookwalter.
The final day’s Stage 7 is a crowd favorite, taking riders from the city of Golden, over Lookout Mountain and into downtown Denver, where riders make four laps through a downtown circuit at blazing speeds. Fans can feel their clothes and hair move as the peloton literally blows by at speeds of more than 30 mph, a mere arms length away. BMC charged to the lead with 6 km to go with five riders, including Dennis in the yellow jersey. Dennis made a breakaway with about 1 mile to go, but was caught in the closing moments. The race ended in a virtual photo finish between John Murphy of UnitedHealthcare and Taylor Phinney of BMC, with Murphy nosing Phinney out in the final pedal strokes for the win.
In addition to the overall win, Dennis captured King of the Mountain. The Sprint jersey and Most Agressive Rider went to Kiel Reijnen. Best Young Rider went to Great Britain’s Tao Geoghegan Hart. Alexandr Braico took Best Colorado Rider.