Sunday, August 19, 2012

USA Pro Cycling Challenge Preview

Last years' UPCC jersey winners

Tomorrow the second USA Pro Cycling Challenge starts in Durango.  A 7-day stage race that will visit Telluride, Montrose, Crested Butte, Gunnison, Aspen, Beaver Creek, Breckenridge, Colorado Springs, Golden, and Boulder before finishing a week from today with a time trial in downtown Denver.  This is a (hopefully) short preview of the race but, as I mentioned on Thursday, the best info on the race can be found at  During the week the last two hours of every stage will be live on NBC Sports Network at 2pm MDT with a 30 minute pre-show at 1:30pm MDT.  Next weekend the race will be on NBC at Noon MDT with a 30 minute pre-show at 11:30am.

For those readers unfamiliar with professional stage racing there are multiple races going on every day.  The overall race champion is determined by the lowest total time when all 7 stages are combined.  Each day is its own race however, with bonus points (used to determine a rider's value from season-to-season) and prizes at the end for the rider that wins each day.  There are also separate competitions for the best climber (determined by awarding points for the first few riders over the top of designated climbs each non-time trial day), the best sprinter (determined by awarding points at intermediate sprint points in each non-time trial stage and at the finish line each day), best young rider (lowest total time for racers under the age of 23), and most aggressive rider (awarded by media vote after every stage, normally to a rider that attacked often or successfully, or a rider that overcame a particularly bad hardship on the day's stage).  There's also an award for the best team determined by combining a team's best 3 times every day with the lowest team total winning.  The current leaders in each combination are signified by that rider wearing a special colored jersey. Colors tend to be traditional but can change slightly form race to race, for the UPCC:

Leader - Yellow
King of the Mountains - Red/white polka-dot
Sprint - Green
Young Rider - White/Blue
Aggressive - Orange
Team - Rider's bib numbers have a yellow background

So as you can see while the ultimate goal is to have the best overall time, there are many different things going on each day and many different goals in the group of riders (known as the peloton).

The UPCC will have 16 teams of 8 riders each, for a total of 128 riders to start.  All teams are known by their primary sponsor(s) though the actual management of the team is a separate company.  Most teams will have 1, maybe 2, riders who's goal is to win the overall race.  The rest of the riders are their to support their leader and/or to race for one of the other jerseys.  Unlike the Tour de France an other top races where all 18 ProTour teams are required to race the UPCC is a smaller race, one level below the ProTour, which means they invite a variety of teams.  There are 3 levels of teams in this year's UPCC;

Pro Tour - The top teams in the world that race in every major race and usually have multiple quads in multiple races at the same time.  This year's ProTour teams are Omega Pharma-QuickStep (Belgium), BMC (USA), Radio Shack-Nissan-Trek (Luxembourg), Liquigas-Cannondale (Italy), Astana (Kazakhstan), and Boulder-based Garmin-SHARP (USA).

Pro Continental - The second division/AAA of cycling.  These teams are either working on building towards qualifying for Pro Tour status (which is based on the quality of riders on the team and their financial resources) or have found their niche as a good quality team that doesn't have the support to make it to the next level.  The Pro Continental Teams in this year's UPCC are RusVelo (Russia), United Healthcare (USA), Champion System (China), SpiderTech-C10 (Canada), and Team Type 1-Sanofi (USA).

Continental - The third division/AA of cycling.  Teams at this level are smaller organizations that are sometimes tied to a top team to be a development team for them.  Often they have very young riders just getting started in racing.  The Continental Teams in the UPCC are Bissell (USA), Optum-Kelly Benefit Strategies (USA), Exergy (USA), EPM-Une (Colombia), and Bontrager-Livestrong (USA).

While the teams are each based out of their home countries they can sign riders from anywhere.  In the case of the Pro Continental and Continental teams their home countries have an affect on which races they get invited to and how their season-long results are calculated.  At the Pro tour level every Pro Tour team is required to race every Pro Tour race so the country is less important for anything other than national pride.

So now that you know who's racing and what's being raced for, who are the big favorites?  Here's a few I expect to be involved for the overall title.

Levi Leipheimer (USA/Omega Pharma-QuickStep) - Last year's defending champion is the obvious place to start.  In recent years Levi has made the 3 American races that include ProTour teams (Tour of California, Tour of Utah, and the UPCC) a focus, having won California in 2007. 08, and 09, Utah in 2010 and 11, and the inaugural UPCC last year.  A collision with a car early this year resulted in a fractured leg and has prevented him from having a good season, but he finished 2nd two weeks ago in Utah and is looking at the UPCC as his chance to get back on top.

Cadel Evans (Australia/BMC) - The 2011 Tour de France winner always has tp be considered.  He did not have as good of a Tour de France this year, being outraced by teammate Teejay Van Garderen (see below) but at Evans level he has to be considered a threat.

Teejay van Garderen (USA/BMC) - The best young rider at this year's Tour de France and the highest finishing American (4th).  He is expected to be the next dominate American stage rider and last year took the yellow jersey in the UPCC for one stage from Leipheimer before losing it back to him in the time trial.  Teejay finished 3rd in this race last year, 17 seconds back.  This year, with the race going through his home of Boulder, he's going to want to win.

George Hincapie (USA/BMC) - Actually probably not a threat to win but this will be the last race in Hincapie's amazing career and because of that you never know what will happen.  More on his career in my earlier post.

Timmy Duggan (USA/Liquigas-Cannondale) - Duggan is the current national road race champion but is a bit of a dark horse in this race having never finished well against a tough field like he'll see in the UPCC.  However boulder is his hometown so he can draw some inspiration from that.

Christian Vande Velde (USA/Garmin-SHARP) - The leader of Boulder-based team Garmin finished 2nd in the race last year, 10 seconds behind Leipheimer.  He'll want to help the team recover from a disastrous Tour de France by representing well on their home turf.

Dave Zabriskie (USA/Garmin-SHARP) - The current national time trial champion, the final day time trial sets up well for him.  with only a couple of short uphill finishes, if he can stay with the pack and conserve the losses on the road he could jump out with a win on the final day to take the yellow jersey.

Other racers to watch: Janez Brajkovic (Slovenia/Astana), Taylor Phinney (USA/BMC), Chris Horner (USA/Radio Shack-Nissan-TREK), Rory Sutherland (Australia/United Healthcare), Ben Jacques-Maynes (USA/Bissell, especially for the King of the Mountains), 'Fast' Freddie Rodriguez (USA/Exergy).

My prediction: Tom 'Tommy D' Danielson (USA/Garmin-SHARP) - The local favorite who went to college in Durango and then based himself out of Boulder for his career.  He currently holds the record for the fastest climb of Flagstaff Mountain, which will serve as the finish of the stage that ends in Boulder.  Dave Zabriskie might be the Garmin leader but I expect that Tommy D will take advantage of the home turf to surprise some people.  I think a Garmin rider in general has to be a heavy favorite to win.

1 comment:

Gloria Liu said...

Hey Jason, awesome USA Pro Challenge preview - you do a great job of breaking it down to someone who might just be tuning in for the first time. Wanted to let you know about our own USAPC preview at Throughout the race, as the Pro Challenge's official race data provider, we'll also be publishing daily power analyses from the riders after each stage. (Look for them the following morning of each stage). Stage analyses will come with infographics and screenshots as well. If you're interested in getting updates when new stage analyses are available, shoot me an email at gliu[at-sign]peaksware[dot]com. TrainingPeaks would love to be a resource to you during the Pro Challenge.

Gloria Liu
Marketing Coordinator
TrainingPeaks (