Favorites look ahead to USA Pro Challenge

Van Garderen, Danielson, Sky duo arrive to USA Pro Challenge on different levels

Photo: Casey B. Gibson

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ASPEN, Colo. (VN) — As Colorado’s USA Pro Challenge kicks off in Aspen today, a picture of the seven-day race’s likely GC contenders has begun to take shape, with BMC Racing’s Tejay van Garderen and Garmin-Sharp’s Tom Danielson among the top favorites for victory in Denver.

A collection of the race’s marquee riders, including van Garderen, Danielson, 2013 Tour de France champion Chris Froome (Sky), and defending race winner Christian Vande Velde (Garmin), spoke to the press Sunday — with several of the race’s biggest names citing the Pro Challenge as an opportunity to work their way back into form following a post-Tour hiatus.

Coming into the race, the status of Froome and Sky teammate Richie Porte was perhaps the biggest question mark of the week. The pair, which packed a devastating 1-2 punch at the Tour, took pains to downplay expectations Sunday, clarifying that they are in Colorado to support American neo-pro Joe Dombrowski, who finished 10th in the race’s 2012 edition.

“Richie and myself have had a little bit of a break since the Tour,” Froome said. “So we’re probably not going as well as we were. But either way, we’re here to do what we can and help out our teammates.”

Porte was similarly self-effacing: “I’m not really at my best, but that’s not to say I can’t be in there helping out my team. In my current shape, I’m not really looking forward to the climbs so much.”

Like Froome and Porte, Tour de France green jersey winner Peter Sagan (Cannondale) described the race as an opportunity to build form in advance of the upcoming world championships in Florence, Italy.

Still, Sagan hopes that a handful of stages may yet have his name on them.

“We will see how I do in this race,” said Sagan. “When I am doing good I can stay on the front of the climbs, but there [are] also some stages for the sprinters.”

Post-Tour downtime aside, not everyone is prepared to roll over on the general classification, according to RadioShack-Leopard’s Jens Voigt, a stage winner in 2012.

“Some of the guys here are saying they don’t know about their shape. Hey, we do know and we are ready,” Voigt said of his team. “Yes, we want to get a good result here, you know? George [Bennett] looks pretty good. He looked really sharp and ready in the Tour of Utah.”

Van Garderen, fresh off a disappointing Tour, described the race as an opportunity to “take his revenge on July.”

“We’re definitely taking this race seriously,” van Garderen said. “We brought a really strong team and we’d like to win it … that’s the ultimate goal. We’re obviously going to face some stiff competition with all [the top-flight riders] participating this year.”

Amongst van Garderen’s largest obstacles will be the Garmin team of 2012 winner Vande Velde. The Colorado-based team touts not only the defending champion (competing in what will be the final stage race of his career), but also Andrew Talansky — who turned in a top-10 finish at the Tour — and recent Tour of Utah champion Tom Danielson, who proved to be the strongest man at altitude earlier in August.

Of his own preparedness, Danielson was bullish.

“I feel good and I always love coming to this race. It’s my home race and I’m pumped for sure,” the Boulder, Colorado, resident explained. “I think the key is a strong team. As you saw last year, we were super aggressive. The course really favored an aggressive approach and this year is similar. You have to either control other people being aggressive or be aggressive yourself.

“It’s a very strong field this year with Sky and the Tour de France champion. You have to be careful … you can’t do crazy stuff. We’ll be as strong as we can be, and we’ll try to be as smart as possible as well.”

The USA Pro Challenge kicks off Monday with a 68.2-mile circuit race through the streets of Aspen and neighboring Snowmass Village.

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