DENVER – After making history in the inaugural year by traveling to the highest elevation of any race in North America or Europe – higher than the most challenging route on the Tour de France – this year’s race will take the riders to an altitude of 12,000 ft. not one, but three separate times and will include a finish on iconic Flagstaff Mountain on the penultimate day.
The route for the 2012 USA Pro Cycling Challenge professional cycling stage race, taking place Aug. 20-26 in Colorado, will take riders on a heart-pounding journey through the breathtaking Colorado Rockies beginning in the Western San Juan Mountain towns of Durango, Telluride and Montrose.
“In determining the route for the 2012 USA Pro Cycling Challenge, we wanted to showcase as much of the Rocky Mountains as possible, while creating a challenging course for the riders that would provide ideal viewing locations for spectators,” said Shawn Hunter, CEO of the USA Pro Cycling Challenge, in a press release on Wednesday. “This year, the route will take the riders through more mountain passes than any other race of its kind, with five topping out at a minimum of 10,000 feet.”
The race will visit 12 official host cities for the starts and finishes of each stage, with varying sizes ranging from towns as small as 250 residents, to cities as large as Denver with a population of more than 600,000. The four new cities joining the 2012 race – Durango, Telluride, Montrose and Boulder – each offer breathtaking scenery, as well as a unique cycling history, that will add to the overall excitement of the race.
Also new in 2012 is the placement of the Individual Time Trial on the final day of racing in Denver, keeping fans holding their breath to the very end to see who will be awarded the overall victory of the seven days of fiercely competitive racing.
“Each day of this route is a challenge; there will be nowhere to hide for these riders,” said Hunter. “Staging the individual time trial on the last day will punctuate the drama, as we expect any time lead could be taken away with the challenge and intensity of a circuit sprint. With this course, we should witness intense competition right down to the last minute.”
A highly anticipated event on the race calendar, the 2012 USA Pro Cycling Challenge will test the riders’ strength and endurance over a more than 680-mile course. Highlights of the route include:
Stage 1: Durango to Telluride – Monday, Aug. 20
This year’s Grand Depart will begin with a unique start of two neutral laps through downtown, followed by a larger 6.5-mile racing loop that encompasses most of Durango and then heads back through downtown for the first Sprint Line of 2012. A few bumpy feet of road as the racers cross the tracks of Durango’s famous Narrow Gauge Railroad will send the riders on their way out of town toward Telluride.
On the ride out of LaPlata County the racers will have to tackle the Hesperus Climb on U.S. Hwy. 160. After a challenging, rolling ride across the high windswept plains and the second Sprint Line in the town of Dolores, the riders start a gradual canyon climb that lasts more than 30 miles.
Topping out over Lizard Head Pass at 10,222 ft., any time gaps gained going up must be maintained on the 15-mile descent into Telluride. A tight and technical finish awaits the riders in the small, scenic town and they must navigate a small round-about and four turns in the last mile before sprinting to the finish line.
Stage 2: Montrose to Crested Butte – Tuesday, Aug. 21
At 99 miles, Stage 2 is a mix of old and new.
Beginning with a new course for the first 65 miles, the race then visits familiar territory as it passes through Gunnison and retraces the 2011 route up to the grueling finish in Mt. Crested Butte. Beginning at Montrose Pavilion, the stage will begin with a quick neutral lap, then the riders head east out of town. As Montrose fades into the distance, the short but challenging climbs over Cerro Summit and Blue Mesa Summit await and make for early launch pads for the breakaway specialists.
As the road levels giving way to the picturesque twists and turns along the shores of Blue Mesa Reservoir, the riders approach the first Sprint Line of the day in Gunnison, 65 miles away from the start in Montrose. Gunnison will host the race two days in a row, first as a pass-through in Stage 2 and then as a start city in Stage 3. Moving north out of Gunnison breakaway time gaps will shrink, team leaders will move to the front and domestiques will protect and position their leaders. As the riders head into downtown Crested Butte, they face the day’s last Sprint Line. From there it’s a two-mile climb to the line at Mt. Crested Butte. A dynamic and exciting uphill finish, this short, but steep hill gave Levi Leipheimer the leader’s jersey in 2011.
Stage 3: Gunnison to Aspen – Wednesday, Aug. 22
In 2011, U.S. stage racing saw one of its toughest days with the ride from Gunnison to Aspen and in 2012 the “Queen Stage” will again feature two of the highest climbs in professional racing. The stage starts in downtown Gunnison with a short neutral section leading out of town; however, as soon as the racing begins, so do the challenges. Just after the first right turn the riders face the first Sprint Line of the day in the small community of Almont.
This will most likely be the last time the true sprinters will play a part in this stage, as the race quickly turns uphill and heads toward the first King of the Mountain (KOM) of the day near Taylor Park Reservoir.
A short, flat section on the north side of the reservoir will be the last pavement the field will see for almost 14 miles, as the dirt climb that follows will take the race to 12,126 feet and the highest point of the week at Cottonwood Pass. A beautiful, twisting descent will take the peloton down into the town of Buena Vista and the second sprint line of the day before heading north on U.S. Hwy. 24 to Twin Lakes. The left towards Twin Lakes will show the field what is to come as they see the massive ridge in front of them. Although the climb up Independence Pass is paved and not quite as high as Cottonwood, it is sure to produce fireworks again this year. Lined with fans in 2011, the climb to 12,095 ft. caused several gaps in the field that led to an exciting finish in Aspen, which will no doubt be duplicated in 2012.
Stage 4: Aspen to Beaver Creek – Thursday, Aug. 23
Elevation is the main story for Stage 4 because with much of the course above 9,000 feet, it will be anything but easy. Those who conquered Independence Pass on Stage 3 will see it again very early in Stage 4, with the climb starting almost immediately after several neutral start laps in downtown Aspen.
Unlike the previous day, the climb may not decide the winner, but will be an ideal launching point for a breakaway or possibly an overall contender to lose time.
Anyone who is brave enough to attack over Independence Pass will be faced with more than 75 miles of racing at altitude. Along the way they will compete for a sprint in the historic town of Leadville, the highest incorporated city in the United States at 10,152 feet. Next on the agenda will be the climb over the Continental Divide at Tennessee Pass (10,424 feet) before descending into Minturn and tackling the rolling run toward the final climb to Beaver Creek. Passing through the 2011 start city of Avon, the peloton will be faced by a stiff 2.5-mile climb that rises almost 1,000 feet. to the ski resort of Beaver Creek. Although not the fiercest climb on the route, the finale is sure to produce exciting racing, especially among those fighting for the overall lead.
Stage 5: Breckenridge to Colorado Springs – Friday, Aug. 24
Stage 5 will see two returning host cities, but in new roles. A rude awakening is the only way to describe the start of Stage 5 in Breckenridge. After a short flat section through downtown, the riders will have to face the daunting 10-mile climb up Hoosier Pass, which tops out at 11,500 feet.
The summit is followed by a fast descent into Fairplay and with that, the high mountains are left behind and a day for the sprinters and breakaway specialists awaits. A fast rush across Colorado’s high plains end with a Sprint Line in Woodland Park where the riders may hit their fastest speeds of the week, and from there they continue downhill to Colorado Springs through the shadow of Pikes Peak. Once in Colorado Springs the route will take a technical uphill run through the Garden of the Gods, home of the 2011 Prologue. From there the route takes a quick downhill run to downtown for the 2012 race’s only finishing circuits.
With the peloton passing through the finish line three times as they blast around downtown Colorado Springs spectators will be treated to a thrilling elbow-to-elbow competition that can reach up to 35 mph.
Stage 6: Golden to Boulder – Saturday, Aug. 25
Stage 6 will depart from Golden, a second-year host city and site of one of the largest crowds in the 2011 race, but not before several circuit laps around downtown provide fans with the chance to cheer on their favorite riders. The peloton will then head north on CO 93 en route to Boulder, a city very well known for its bicycle culture.
Upon arrival in downtown Boulder, the sprinters will have an opportunity to earn valuable points with a sprint line adjacent to the Pearl Street Mall and the USA Pro Challenge expo area.
After the sprint points have been awarded, the route will head up Boulder Canyon along CO 119 towards Nederland and the day’s first KOM competition. Joining the cycling fans in this small mountain town will be the 14th Annual Nedfest, a music, arts and microbrew festival. Riders will continue climbing as they are faced with ascents exceeding 9,300 ft. on the incredible Peak to Peak Highway before a long and fast descent into the town of Lyons, where they will encounter another sprint line and the annual Rocky Mountain Folk Festival.
Classic local climbs up Lefthand Canyon and Lee Hill Rd. present the next set of challenges for the riders before they return for one final pass through downtown Boulder. In a dramatic race to the finish, the riders will head up “The Hill” to Flagstaff Mountain where a 3.5-mile vertical, dramatic race to the finish line at Sunrise Amphitheater will commence.
Stage 7: Denver Individual Time Trial – Sunday, Aug. 26
After a week of tough week of racing over mountains at altitude, the Stage 7 Individual Time Trial will be a completely different kind of race – and one that could dramatically change the results. By taking the team factor out of the race, this flat and fast course in downtown Denver will have those looking to take the overall win facing a tough individual test, making this one of the most exciting finishes possible.
Using many of the same roads as the final Denver finish circuits of 2011, the course will provide a challenge for the riders and fantastic viewing opportunities for race fans. Starting at one-minute intervals, with the final riders going off at two minutes, near the State Capitol Building in Denver’s Civic Center Park, the riders will first face a familiar out-and-back section along Speer Boulevard and Colfax Avenue, with a slight detour through the entertainment district along Larimer Street.
Returning toward the start area on Colfax, the riders will turn north to 17th Avenue and a long section of straight road, eventually delivering them to City Park. A short, but technical run through the park will return the riders to 17th Avenue allowing spectators to see their favorite riders pass by again. Two quick turns will put the riders back on Broadway headed south to the finish line adjacent to Civic Center Park.
More information can be found online at www.USAProCyclingChallenge.com and on Twitter at @USAProChallenge.