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Utah versus Colorado: GC Dynamics, Part 1

September 19, 2011

[Updated September 20, 2011, 4:10 p.m.]

This is Part 1 of a three-part story.

Independence Pass ascent view from 1K to top (Mary Topping)

Part 1: Climbers’ Perspectives

The inclusion of two passes above 12,000 feet elevation in the USA Pro Cycling Challenge (UPCC) lulled many into believing climbing prowess would make a difference in the race. Headlines reinforced this perception, such as this one from cyclingnews.com when the host cities were announced: “Quiznos Pro Challenge not one for the sprinters.” Two and a half months before the race, a different opinion surfaced from Bicycling’s “Boulder Report,” by Joe Lindsey. He said an all-rounder would win the UPCC: “The climbs themselves will be spectacular, but looking at the race, I see only a few spots for anyone to gain real time, and the gaps in the top five by the finish in Denver could be measured under a minute total, much like the Tour of California until this year.”

The UPCC’s GC results bear out Lindsey’s prediction uncannily well; the top five in the UPCC finished within 53 seconds of one another. I would make a slight modification to Lindsey’s description of the type of rider the UPCC course favored. I would describe him as an all-rounder / strong time-trialer. A different story seemed to unfold in Utah this year. Looking at the 2011 top ten GC finishers in the UPCC and Utah races, the Tour of Utah appears to benefit the climbers.

2011 Utah GC Rider “type” 2011 UPCC GC Rider “type”
1 Leipheimer TT / AR Leipheimer TT / AR
2 Henao climb Vande Velde AR / TT
3 Brajkovic climb / TT Van Garderen AR / TT
4 Sevilla climb Danielson climb / TT
5 Danielson climb / TT Hincapie AR
6 Vande Velde AR / TT Infantino AR / climb
7 Duggan climb Evans AR / TT
8 McCarty climb Clement TT
9 Euser climb Pires climb
10 Louder AR / climb Sutherland AR
Rider “type” definitions:
Climber climb
All-rounder AR
Time-Trialist TT

Todd Gogulski phrased it well when he said during this year’s Vuelta a Espana, “It’s a very complex equation out there on the road.” Lots of dynamics play into GC results – like how who’s in the field and how strong the leader’s team rides and hence how well it can control the race. But are these the only factors that determined which riders finished high in GC in Utah versus Colorado?

Timmy Duggan at UPCC Stage 6 Start (Mary Topping)

Timmy Duggan of Liquigas Cannondale joined the Boulder Full Cycle ride with Team Rabobank members after the UPCC, and shared his thoughts on why stronger climbers fared better in Utah: “The climbs in Utah were harder. It was more explosive in Colorado — we’d go easy and then boom! it exploded, like the last K to Mt. Crested Butte.” Timmy thought the easier pace on the climbs in Colorado could have been due to some athletes’ concerns about how they would fare at altitude. Timmy also pointed out that many of the competitors experienced for the first time two races back-to-back at altitude, and reiterated what he had mentioned in an earlier interview, that each athlete’s ability to recover and approach to recovery could have influenced performance in Colorado, especially for guys like Timmy who “went hard in Utah,” finding the breaks nearly every day of racing.

Stef Clement, Boulder Full Cycle ride post UPCC (Mary Topping)

Stef Clement’s comment in Boulder provides further insight. In response to my question about what he thought about the UPCC, he said, “I like riding in the U.S. There are wide roads. I’m not a guy for the corners.” Stef rode to an eighth place overall in the UPCC for Team Rabobank; he is the current Dutch TT champion. His reply echoes Santiago Botero’s assessment of the Colombian GOB team’s results part-way into the UPCC, from an article by cyclingnews.com: “But we had expected steeper mountains like in Colombia,” he said. “These big roads with lots of wind and gradual climbs are not good for us. But still we try every day to make breakaways and to finish well.”

Peter Stetina before stage 2 of 2011 Tour of Utah (Mary Topping)

Peter Stetina of Team Garmin-Cervélo also weighed in: “Yeah, honestly the climbing in Utah was harder. The climbs were steeper/ more selective. Plus the make-up of the race favored climbers with the uphill TT and Snowbird finishes. Whereas Colorado had shallower climbs and flatter TT’s geared to TT specialists. But Colorado was still harder because of the level of competition and it was a much bigger event.”

Lucas Euser at Avon Start (Roxanne King)

Like Timmy Duggan and Peter Stetina, Lucas Euser on Team SpiderTech powered by C10 raced in both Utah and Colorado. During the September 4th, 2011 video session of TourChats, Lucas compared Utah to Colorado, explaining how a race organizer’s other objectives can influence the course, and hence outcomes: “They were both equally difficult in different ways. In Utah you see a little bit shorter stages, a little bit more intensity. You see circuit-race style courses. The USA Pro Cycling Challenge was a different race in the sense that they really wanted to bring the TDF stars, bigger teams, and showcase that. They wanted to showcase as much of Colorado as possible.”

Next up in Part 2: Do Mountain-top Finishes Turn up the Heat?

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