Monday, August 8, 2011

Our USA Pro Cycling Challenge preview

We have lived in CO for about a year and half, and I am still amazed by the scenery, terrain and the weather.  The latter I feel will be a deciding factor in this 1st edition of the USA Pro Cycling Challenge.

Most of these riders are aware that this will be the highest stage race they have done (until the ASO figures out how to add Tour of Tibet to the calendar).  Many non-CO pros are already out here acclimating to the altitude.  To give some perspective to the lack of O2, the arrival line on Alpe d'Huez is at 1860 Meters (6,102 ft).  Several of the start towns at this race are already a 1,000 ft above that.  For those riders that are not yet here getting used to the altitude, it will be a bit of a shocker.

Yesterday I went for a ride and already had 5,000 ft of climbing in when the wind picked up.  It was 95 degrees w/30mph wind on my way home.  I was in the hurt locker and was thinking about how the wind can and will change the US Pro.  You just don't know when and where it will hit you in CO.  I have been in the middle of ride that started with no wind to speak of, only to get blasted on a descent with 35+ mph gusts.  As Nick Legan and the Rapha N. America crew pointed out in their stage 1 preview (Rapha Stage 1 preview), the wind here can change the game.  That said, to win this race I believe it will require a strong GC contender and a very smart/cunning Director Sportiff.

Who does that count out?  

LEOPARD TREK and the Schleck brothers: 
Cunning and tactics are not the norm with the Lanky Lux boys.  They can climb, which is a very good thing for this race, but descending is not at the top of their skill list.  Add in some wind, rain, sleet, snow on 12,000 ft descents and this could cost them the race.  Not to mention what will happen when another team makes a move on a flat section with a wicked side wind.  We have wondered if the LEOPARD TREK director is playing Angry Birds during a majority of their races (Amstel Gold as the Schlecks escorted Gilbert to the line, or in the Pyrenees at the TDF as Andy and Frank looked for each other like Bert and Ernie). Add in the stress of their "Hotel Demands "we highlighted earlier in the season, and it might be just too much for this team. I think these two have their sights set on the 2nd and 3rd step of the podium.  Expect a quote like this at the end of August:  
Schlecks "happy" w/ 2nd and 3rd again.
Constantly Schlooking around for each other.

“We would have hoped to have one Schleck on top of the podium, but we’re proud of each other and proud of ourselves.”

Who does that favor?

Radio Shack:
They have had a very Jekyll and Hyde season so far.  They very quietly won early on in the year, but followed that up with one of the worst TDF's in recent memory.  Johan Bruyneel has many fans and an equal number of detractors, but you can not deny he knows how to win stage races.  We normally think of his victories in the context of Grand Tours, but he has dominated the US races as well.

Tour de Georgia:
3 of 6

Tour of California:
4 of 6

Tour of Missouri:
1 of 3

Levi is not a true climber by any means, but he can hang tough with most of them.  He has shown he can handle the extreme altitude with his victory at the Leadville 100.   It does appear that Levi has better "luck" on this side of the Atlantic, so we will have to see if that continues here. Levi raced against many of these riders at ATOC and his team won the race in dramatic fashion.

After a very impressive TDF by Tom Danielson, they look poised to shake this race up.  As a CO based team, they know about the altitude and the weather they will encounter.  I predict that this team will animate this race from start to finish.  They have 3 cards to play with Ryder, Christian and Tommy D.  Teams won't be able to mark all three of them, and a breakaway move on a hot and dry day when the wind picks up could actually steal this race.  Ryder fits that bill perfectly and I would expect he gives it a go on several occasions.

This Dutch team knows a bit about how to deal with wind and the elements.  Robert Gesink is a world class climber, if he is recovered from his TDF injuries, he could be on the podium.

The big ?'s for me:

Cadel Evans:
Will he be riding this to maintain his World #1 ranking, or as a glorified post TDF criterium to help his US based Team add to their marketing strategy?  It is hard to imagine that one would come to race at this altitude and not be here to win.  A Tour win is a dream come true for any rider; there has to be a bit of complacency that sets in right? Since 2009's Worlds, Cadel has surprised us, so I would expect him to throw us another curve ball in CO.

Dark horse:
Could an "unknown" win this thing?  The GC guys might let a solid domestic climber go away and gain minutes only to regret that situation later.  Even at the TDF, they almost had a surprise from Voeckler.  This race is not that long, if 3-5 min. is given, it could stick.

We are sure of a few things; this race will be beautiful and filled with the highest level of suffering any cycling fan can wish for.  VIVA CO Cycling! VIVA USA PRO CYCLING CHALLENGE!

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