Sunday, August 21, 2011

USA Pro Cycling Challenge: World's Toughest Climbing Stages

Starting tomorrow, 130 professional cyclists from all over the world will start the inaugural USA Pro Cycling Challenge.  If you like to watch climbing stages, this race will showcase some of the best days of racing in the world as these elite cyclists struggle in elevations they've only rarely raced in before.

To compare, here are the highest elevations reached in the Grand Tours this year:

Tour de France - Col du Galibier - 8,729 feet
Giro d'Italia - Cima Coppi - 9,191 feet
Vuelta Espana - Sierra Nevada - 11,213 feet

Pro Cycling Challenge
Cottonwood Pass- 12, 126 feet
Independence Pass - 12,095 feet

By the way, the Cottonwood and Independence summits are done on the same day: Stage 2.

This 6-day event will include top riders such as Cadel Evans (this year's Tour de France winner), Andy Schleck, Frank Schleck (both brothers finished 2nd and 3rd in the TdF), Levi Leipheimer, and my favorite for the race, Tom Danielson.

Tom Danielson, Colorado's Top Cyclist
Photo: Graham Watson
The Challenge will be broadcast on Versus all week, with the final stage appearing on NBC on Sunday.

The stages are as follows:

Prologue (8/22) - Colorado Springs; a short five-mile time trial to kick off the race. This stage is relatively flat, coursing through the streets of western Colorado Springs.

Stage 1 (8/23) - Salida to Crested Butte - 102 miles; This is a very difficult stage (over 8,000 feet of climbing), with the lowest elevation of 7,214 feet at the start line, and a top elevation of 11, 242 feet.  The stage ends with an uphill finish on Mt. Crested Butte at 9,409 feet.

Stage 2 (8/24) - Gunnison to Aspen - 131.1 miles; Total climbing of 9,746 feet. This is the mother-of-all-mountain-racing stages: the Cottonwood/Independence Pass stage.  Both passes top out at over 12,000 feet.  Twelve miles of the Cottonwood ascent will be on dirt-covered asphalt, which just adds to the cruelty of this incredibly difficult stage.  Independence Pass' ascent is at a 6.5% grade.  To compare, Alpe du Huez (TdF's most famous mountain stage) averages a 7.5% grade, but the elevation tops out at 5,954 feet (the elevation I'm sitting at right now while I write this post), less than half of this Pass.

Stage 3 (8/25) - Vail time trial - 10 mile course that gains 1,783 feet in elevation (all above 8,000 feet).

Stage 4 (8/26) - Avon to Steamboat Springs -  82.8 miles; this is a more rolling stage with no major climbing to do today.  There is 5,034 feet of climbing, but it's max elevation is around 8,500 feet, practically sea level after the past few days.

Stage 5 (8/27) - Steamboat Springs to Breckenridge - 105.2 miles; This stage is also a bit more rolling, but there are a few climbs contained within.  After the first four miles of the stage, there is a steep climb up Rabbit Ear Pass, gaining over 2,000 feet of elevation in the next 7 miles.

Stage 6 (8/28) - Golden to Denver - 73.79 miles; The final stage of the race starts in Golden and will feature an insane climb up Lookout Mountain, one of Colorado's most famous and most-attempted climbs.  Then the race course moves into Denver and finishes at the State Capitol.

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