Vail Valley stages of USA Pro Challenge should prove pivotal in determining Sunday's winner
Pre-race favorite van Garderen just 11 seconds behind leader Morton
With the addition of “The Brink,” the new grueling climb up and over Bachelor Gulch, the Beaver Creek “Queen Stage” finish is likely to decimate the peloton once the riders begin their five-mile ascent up the relentless grade, which features an average pitch of 10.3 percent, exceeding 20 percent grade in sections.
“We anticipate that the main peloton will be pretty much intact when the riders hit the gate at the base of Beaver Creek,” said Ceil Folz, president of the Vail Valley Foundation and head of the Local Organizing Committee for the USA Pro Challenge.
“Climbing The Brink could easily blow the main field apart, especially considering that the riders will have already covered over 90 miles. We’re guessing that a small group may attempt a breakaway and then try and survive to the finish. After conquering The Brink, the leaders still have to race down a technical descent and power up the final mile-and-a-half climb to Beaver Creek Village.”
If Beaver Creek’s Stage 4 is about establishing a lead, then Vail’s Stage 5 Time Trial is all about protecting that lead. Two years ago, in the inaugural USA Pro Challenge, eventual tour champion Levi Leipheimer solidified his overall victory with a win in the Vail Time Trial, edging runner-up Christian Vande Velde by 58-hundredths of a second to take the win. Pre-race favorite Tejay van Garderen was visibly shaken by his performance that fateful day.
Van Garderen never recovered and wound up third in 2011. Last year he came in second overall to Vande Velde. And now the young American who lives in Boulder and is married to an Aspen resident sits tied for fourth with top sprinter Peter Sagan just 11 seconds back of Garmin-Sharp’s Lachlan David Morton.
“While the new Beaver Creek finish may favor a climber, Stage 5 is going to be all about speed, endurance and tactics,” Folz said. “The Vail Time Trial is not just about strong legs. You also need the right race strategy in order to maximize your opportunities over the course of the 10 miles. The rider that can combine good climbing with the right race plan is the one that will emerge as the clear cut general classification favorite.”
New paving on the Vail Pass time trial course could also be a factor. Organizers admit the new pavement is a feature that may dramatically change the tactics and perhaps even the equipment that competitors select for the race, not to mention the outcome.
The new paving project encompasses approximately the final four miles of the 10-mile course, beginning in East Vail just prior to the Highway 6 gate and extending all the way to the finish at the Vail Pass cul de sac.
“I think the smoother surface will allow riders to maintain their rhythm much easier,” said Jim Birrell, managing partner of Medalist Sports, the organization responsible for USA Pro Challenge race operations and management. “Because they are able to maintain their rhythm, we should expect to see some faster times.”
Beginning in Vail Village at Solaris Plaza, the Vail Time Trial winds its way through Vail Village before heading east on the South Frontage Road through East Vail and up Vail Pass. The gentle grades of the first half of the course give way to a steady climb for the last three miles.
But it takes more than legs on this strategic course; go too hard early and the climb may kill your chances, but conserve too much for the climb and the leader board may be out of reach.
“Depending on how steep and how long the climb is will determine which bike they choose to ride (time trial or road bike)," Birrell added.
One sentimental downside of the new paving is that the rider names that were painted on the old road base, many dating back to the Coors Classic days, are now part of history. “None of the names of the past will be on the road,” said Birrell. “It’s time for new names.”
From the Vail Valley, the tour will head east to the Front Range for Stage 6 from Loveland to Fort Collins on Saturday and the final criterium in Denver on Sunday. For details and spectator tips, temporary road closures and other information related to Stage 4 and 5 in the Vail Valley, visit www.vailgov.com/ProChallenge.
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