Leaked Pro Challenge Route
Colorado's biggest stage race is stepping it up in 2012.
Colorado's biggest stage race is stepping it up in 2012.
The announcement wasn't supposed to be made public this soon, but the Denver Post spilled the beans and disclosed the route for the 2012 USA Pro Cycling Challenge. In this year's edition, Boulder had been conspicuously missing. Considering that Boulder is one of the Meccas of American cycling this had to be addressed. And no sooner did the Post announce the details of the race than the Pro Challenge organizer's hand was forced and they confirmed what the Colorado paper had disclosed with an email sent out later that day.
While the start and finish towns have been listed the exact route hasn't been made public - however that doesn't stop us from making a few educated guesses.
When you're planning a stage race in the mountains of Colorado there aren't a lot of options when it comes to how the route details. As mentioned, the exact parcours won't be disclosed yet. But one observation that can be made is the 2012 route looks tougher.
The prologue is gone and instead replaced with a 111 mile stage over the 10,222 foot Lizard Head Pass. The Post states that stage 3 will be the same as the 2011 edition - taking the riders over Cottonwood Pass and Independent Pass.
The Denver Post describes stages 4 and 5 as ones in which the riders will have to drag themselves over some high altitude mountains. One stage that stuck out like a sore thumb to me was the Golden to Boulder stage. Like I mentioned Boulder HAD to be included in 2012 or there might have been looting at that city's Whole Foods. But the newspaper claims that the stage is only 61 miles in length? For a race that is hoping to be considered the best stage race in the country, 61 miles just isn't going to cut it. Joe Lindsey of the Boulder Report points out several options including a jaunt through the famous Morgul-Bismark course - a 13 mile loop route that was part of the Coors Classic in the mid-80s.
Sunday is no longer a promenade into Denver. In order to build racing tension a time trial finishes the seven day race. It's a 15 mile effort and to get the most bang for your tourism buck it has to finish in front of the Capital Building followed by the podium ceremony on the steps or front lawn. And let's throw in an appearance by the state's governor as well.
My first impressions are the 2012 race will be a harder edition. This year's enormously popular USA Pro Cycling Challenge pumped (according to Medalist Sports) 83.5 million dollars into the state's coffers - not bad. The crowds were huge on the mountain tops causing Garmin-Cervelo's Tom Danielson to compare them to Tour de France stages - albeit more compacted. However, like the Amgen Tour of California in those beginning years, a mountain top finish was missing. This year's Amgen did have their first true summit finish - the stage ending in Mount Baldy. In an interview with the Denver Post race CEO Shawn Hunter said the 14,265 foot Mt. Evans is a climb they would have to consider. Take a second to consider that option! Holy crap! I know defending champion Levi Leipheimer has to be salivating at the thought of that possible route; let's remember, it took several years before California tried a summit finish.
As Hunter tells the Post, "What really plays into a race's decision to hold a mountaintop finish is the ability to build an infrastructure up there for the safety of the athletes and second, for the safety and enjoyment of the fans."
If this year's race was any indication the entire side of the road to the summit in Colorado would be clogged with fans, many of whom will have spent a couple of nights camped out in order to secure a prime viewing location. And when you have a summit finish there is only one other way to get off the mountain when the stage is done - back how you came. Now imagine not only the fans, but racers as well trying to leave. Yeah, it's a cluster.
But in order for this race to take in all of that state's scenic beauty, as well as be considered a fantastic race with a worthy winner, a mountain top finish has to be in the cards. And shaking my Magic 8-Ball it predicts, "Outlook Good." Tuesday the 13th is an official press release which promises, "athlete interviews and behind the scene footage." I'm not confident that much more will be revealed other than a bunch of local mayors saying how happy they are the race starts or ends in their town and wishing all the racers good luck.
Since his victory in Colorado, Leipheimer has left Team RadioShack and transferred to the Belgian squad Omega Pharma-Quick Step. In an interview with Cyclingnews Leipheimer acknowledges that the squad, which features one day classic star Tom Boonen, typically isn't one for the Grand Tours, but does state, "they're (Omega Pharma-Quick Step) willing to open up to a new age, thinking like HTC did or Sky is now."
That might be true, but at 38-years of age Leipheimer knows a Tour de France podium is beyond reach and he needs to aim for America's Grand Tours and shorter European stage races like the Tour of Switzerland - which in my opinion - was some of the most exciting stage racing in 2011.
Undoubtedly with Leipheimer on board and the squad riding Specialized bikes you'll see Omega Pharma-Quick Step lined up in California and Colorado. Hell, maybe Utah as well! And if I was a betting man, I'd put money on him as he is motivated. He was second in California to then teammate Chris Horner. And again Leipheimer stresses to Cyclingnews how important California is by saying he's also going to try and be in his best form for both the Golden State and the 2012 Tour de France. If I was Pharma-Quick Step team director Patrick Lefevere I'd aim Leipheimer for California and Colorado and cross my fingers for stage victories during the Tour. My Magic 8-Ball which rarely lets me down in these situations says, "Most Likely."