2012 USA Pro Challenge: a hard course made more difficult by aggressive racing

The race is hard, and getting harder as Garmin-Sharp keeps the pressure on

Photo: Casey B. Gibson

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BEAVER CREEK, Colorado (VN) — Liquigas-Cannondale’s Ted King said it best:

I think the worst part about barfing and climbing at 12,000 feet is that barfing interferes with breathing. Which is apparently kinda important.

King tweeted that bit of insight on Thursday after a stage that saw the peloton tackle Independence Pass a second time, en route to Beaver Creek, which featured a short uphill finishing ramp.

King’s not the only one on the rivet in a Colorado race that’s been brutal from the opening gun in Durango. Dave Zabriskie threw up while digging too deep during stage 1 in hopes of making a breakaway stick for his Garmin-Sharp teammates. At the time, Zabriskie said: “I was going pretty hard, pretty deep … the body said stop, and spirit said you’re puking.”


Thus far, 14 riders have abandoned the 2012 USA Pro Challenge, and even on moderate climbs (by other race standards) the elastic in the peloton snaps. The field hit the finish town of Telluride an hour early on stage 1. The terrain is difficult. And certainly the altitude plays a role. Garmin-Sharp, by the way, hasn’t helped much, either, as it has put riders in breaks in hopes of grinding the BMC juggernaut to dust.

“It’s a difficult parcours, and definitely the altitude is a challenge. But any race is as hard as the guys make it. And right out of the blocks they’ve been making this race harder than it needs to be,” said Champion System manager Ed Beamon.

“The beauty and all the drama that this race potentially has, and they’ve just taken it up another level by racing so hard.”

Michael Creed (Optum-Kelly Benefit Strategies) races out of Colorado Springs and is used to the altitude, but even Creed noted how tough the racing’s been in the Centennial State thus far.

“Yeah. I mean — it’s a kind of hard that I’m really good at … people just slowly crack,” Creed said. “Garmin’s really made the race hard. It could have been a predictable script, and we could have waited until the Boulder stage and the time trial, but Garmin’s made this race a lot harder than it could have been.”

More than a few riders in the field are from Colorado, but it’s not like Creed is even noticing his home state slip by.

“To be honest, I’m so tired it’s hard to take it all in,” he said. “I’m a little swimmy in my head. But in general, it’s great. I’m really excited about the stage into Colorado Springs, the stage in Boulder. It’s going to be awesome.”

Enthusiasm here is running high. It’s a cycling-crazed state, with a deep history that includes the Red Zinger Bicycle Classic and its successor, the revered Coors International Bicycle Classic. The riders want to pay homage, and it’s showing.

“It takes a certain amount of preparation to get ready for this race. I think the peloton is a pretty strong group. So, you combine those things, plus the fact that we’re going through some pretty historic country from the yesteryear of bike racing, and there’s a lot of enthusiasm by athletes. They want to win races, to put the stripes on, you know?” said BMC manager Jim Ochowicz.

What Garmin hasn’t done, Colorado has: The altitude has sapped even the strongest climbers and Mother Nature has given the field a few lashings of rain and wind. It’s the kind of riding for which the state is known.

“Most of these athletes are not accustomed to racing at altitudes basically 8,000 feet and above,” said BMC team doctor Eric Heiden. “(Wednesday’s) race started at 8,000 feet and they went over 12,000-foot climbs.”

BMC, for instance, has adapted to the altitude by sending its team to Park City, Utah, for two weeks prior to the Colorado race, with some of its riders racing the 2012 Larry H. Miller Tour of Utah. It’s for the best, because the American squad has had to work hard all week to reel in Garmin-Sharp’s Tom Danielson, who’s attacked like a madman twice, nearly going the distance on stage 1 and bagging the race’s queen stage on Wednesday, from Gunnison to Aspen.

“This is a unique race,” Heiden said. “Last year’s race was a little more controlled. And this year, there have been attacks. And our team has really been taxed to keep the race together.

“The other thing that makes this race very unique is just the altitude and the elevation these guys are riding … those guys see that only here. In Europe, there’s some big mountain passes and other passes they go over, (but) it’s rare that those things are much over 6,000 feet.”

The peloton should be able to grab some respite on Friday from Breckenridge into Colorado Springs, but that’s of course relative: Before the long descent into the Springs, the field has to crest Hoosier Pass (11,500 feet) and Wilkerson Pass before heading downhill into Colorado Springs.

“It’s been on every single day,” UnitedHealthcare’s Rory Sutherland said. “I don’t think tomorrow’s going to be any different. You look at the crowds the closer we get to Denver. And this is pretty nuts here, and then, yeah, on to Boulder. Boulder’s going to be an interesting little thing.”


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