USA Pro Cycling Challenge unveils new route |

USA Pro Cycling Challenge unveils new route

Jon Maletz
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO, Colorado
Published: Jeremy Swanson contributed photo

The stages are set.

Organizers on Wednesday unveiled details on a revamped route for the second USA Pro Cycling Challenge, one that will feature more lung-searing climbs, more miles and the potential for more late-race drama.

“We wanted to showcase as much of the Rocky Mountains as possible while providing a challenging course for the riders that would provide ideal viewing locations for spectators,” Challenge CEO Shawn Hunter said in a statement. “Each day of this route will be a challenge; there will be nowhere to hide for these riders.”

A race widely regarded as the most difficult ever staged on American soil will be even more daunting in 2012: The course now stretches 680 miles – about 150 longer than in 2011 – features three uphill stage finishes and more mountain passes, including five that top out at more than 10,000 feet.

The event will close with a 9.5-mile time trial Aug. 26 in downtown Denver, which could shake up the final leaderboard.

“Staging the individual time trial will punctuate the drama, as we expect any time lead could be taken away with the challenge and intensity of a circuit sprint,” Hunter said. “With this course, we should witness intense competition right down to the last minute.”

Four new host cities – Durango, Telluride, Montrose and Boulder – will join the mix in August. Aspen, meanwhile, will be featured prominently for a second consecutive summer. The city has the distinction of being the only place to host a stage finish and start.

Aug. 22’s third, or Queen Stage, will stretch more than 130 miles from Gunnison to downtown Aspen and includes ascents of two 12,000-plus-foot passes – Cottonwood and Independence. One day later, competitors will charge back up Independence Pass, pedal toward Leadville, cross the Continental Divide via 10,424-foot Tennessee Pass, descend into Minturn and make their way to the Beaver Creek ski area.

The stretch will cover 97.2 miles.

“Aspen’s stages will be a kind seen only in the grand tours of Europe, with long routes and steep climbs.” Mayor Mick Ireland said. “With two stages over Independence Pass, the race is likely to be decided in or above Aspen.”

“It’s going to be a much more difficult race this year than last,” added Alex Hagman, a professional cyclist and Woody Creek native who finished 31st in 2011. “Coming right back out the next day and doing Independence again, that’s going to be fun. It’s going to be hard on that whole new route. That finish at Beaver Creek, I think that’s going to be a shock for some people – especially that high plateau from where (Highway 82) hangs a left going into Leadville. That section is going to be brutally hard, especially if the weather turns foul and the wind kicks up. You’re so exposed.

“For me personally, I’m excited (to spend more time in Aspen during the 2012 race). I still have a huge contingency of fans and friends, and that makes it really fun. To have a race of this caliber go through my hometown is extremely exciting.”

The inaugural race drew rave reviews from racers, Hagman said. He expects this installment to generate a similar reaction.

“They really pulled it off well in the first year. It totally lived up to expectations, and it was pretty cool to be a part of,” the Jelly Belly p/b Kenda team member said. “The fans that came out to support the race were unbelievable. The chatter among the peloton riders was that there was as many fans out here as there were (at the Tour de France).

“Colorado needs a big event like this. There are outdoor-oriented communities almost everywhere you go, so having a professional bike race is extremely important. No teams have been selected yet, but we’re hoping to get back into it and show the world what we can do.”

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