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Two decisive days in the 2012 USA Pro Cycling Challenge

August 17, 2012

Flagstaff Mountain Amphitheater entrance

[updated 8/17/2012]

The last two days. That’s what the riders said would matter most in the 2012 Larry H. Miller Tour of Utah. The same assessment fits the 2012 USA Pro Cycling Challenge (UPCC) in Colorado. Ask the climbers about decisive moments in the race, and they mention Flagstaff, the 6.9 km climb on Stage 6 of the UPCC. Then they mention the 15.3 km time trial on the final day. Here’s why.

Stage 6, Golden to Boulder, 165 km with 3,057 meters of elevation gain

Of the three uphill finishes in 2012 – compared to just one in 2011, Flagstaff ranks as the longest and the steepest.

Stage 2 Mt. Crested Butte finishing climb: 3.4 km, 3.9% average grade with maximum pitch of 4% at top. Levi Leipheimer gained 7 or more seconds on the favorites in this finish last year by attacking near the end of the ascent.

Stage 4 Beaver Creek finishing climb: 4.0 km, 5.3% average grade with maximum pitch of 7% in middle and near bottom.

Stage 6 Flagstaff finishing climb (to the Amphitheatre): 6.9 km, 5.7% average grade with maximum pitch of 10% near bottom. [average gradient is higher if starting from Chautauqua Park]

Joe Dombrowski (Bontrager-Livestrong) earned the Best Young Rider’s jersey at the 2012 Tour of Utah

Joe Dombrowski (Bontrager-Livestrong): “The day we finish on Flagstaff, it’s not a long climb, but it’s a pretty hard stage going into it, so I think that will be pretty decisive.”

Peter Stetina (Garmin-Sharp) finishes the 2012 Tour of Utah

Peter Stetina (Garmin-Sharp): “Flagstaff is significant. That’s a hard climb, and especially since we’re climbing from down on Canyon instead of where the climb normally starts on Chautauqua Park so you almost have to add 5 minutes to the climb.” [the 6.9 km is measured from Baseline Rd. and 13th St. – ed.]

Nathan Haas, Christian Vande Velde, Tom Danielson (l to r)

Tom Danielson (Garmin-Sharp): “We’re going to see a ferocious battle on Flagstaff.”

Stage 7, Denver, individual time trial, 15.3 kilometers, flat

Judging by the flat time trials this year at Tirreno-Adriatico (9.3 km) and the Tour of Austria (24.1 km), the 15.3 km UPCC time trial could separate the leaders by twenty seconds or more. “Colorado favors a good climber with a strong time trial,” Burke Swindlehurst, assistant sports director for the Champion System Team, said during the Tour of Utah.

Dombrowski doesn’t think he’ll fair as well as strong time trialers on the flats, like Levi Leipheimer (Omega Pharma – Quick-Step) for example. But he said the time trial is short enough that he doesn’t expect to lose too much time. While he didn’t say as much, he could aim to make up time on Flagstaff.

Garmin-Sharp before Stage 4 Tour of Utah start, Charlie Wegelius (standing, left), Peter Stetina, Christian Vande Velde, Nathan Haas

Christian Vande Velde (Garmin-Sharp), who wrapped up the UPCC last year in second overall, should contend for the overall again this year. He didn’t climb as well as Leipheimer and Dombrowski in Utah. It’s hard to speculate about the reasons for Vande Velde’s performance on the Utah climbs, which are generally steeper compared to the mountains included in the Colorado course.

Charlie Wegelius, Garmin-Sharp sports director, commented before Stage 5 at the Tour of Utah on Vande Velde’s possibilities in Colorado. “Obviously he is in super condition so when you have condition like that you have to use it and I don’t think he’s going to be holding anything back next week in Colorado,” Wegelius said, “and I think the individual TT favors him, he’s a good time trialist.”

Last year eleven seconds separated Leipheimer’s overall win from Vande Velde’s second. UPCC executives have said they designed this year’s course to produce a nail-biter down to the final stage, where the yellow jersey could change shoulders.

At least one rider agrees it’s going to be a close race again. “The race is going to be a game of seconds, not minutes,” Stetina said in Utah.

Levi Leipheimer (Omega Pharma — Quick-Step) wins Stage 6 of Tour of Utah. Can he repeat overall victory in Colorado?

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