Riders from the Jelly Belly cycling team rode out of Steamboat on Wednesday. The team is riding stages of the USA Pro Cycling Challenge in preparation for the race.

Photo by John F. Russell

Riders from the Jelly Belly cycling team rode out of Steamboat on Wednesday. The team is riding stages of the USA Pro Cycling Challenge in preparation for the race.

Jelly Belly team tastes USA Pro Cycling Challenge course

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— Ken Hanson, fresh off three top-20 stage finishes at the Tour of California, was taking a rest day Wednesday.

As the rest of his Jelly Belly cycling team geared up for its third day of USA Pro Cycling Challenge reconnaissance, Hanson pecked at his bowl of cereals with a spoon.

It was fine by Hanson, however, who had experienced Stage 4 of the Pro Cycling Challenge rout — an 86-mile ride from Avon to Steamboat — the day before.

Avon “to here isn’t that bad,” Hanson said as his teammates mulled around the Rabbit Ears Motel parking lot, prepping to ride the Stage 5 course from Steamboat to Breckenridge.

“There is so much flat after the initial climb,” he said. “I think this stage it’s a sprint finish and that I’m in good condition. I think I’ll have a chance.”

Hanson is one of the top sprinters in the star-studded field of professional riders set to participate in next week’s inaugural Pro Cycling Challenge. Along with his seven Jelly Belly teammates, Hanson has spent the past week getting acclimated to the Colorado Rockies altitude and previewing some of the stages.

The team, based out of San Diego, rode Stage 2 from Gunnison to Aspen earlier in the week, Stage 4 from Avon to Steamboat on Tuesday and Stage 5 from Steamboat to Breckenridge on Wednesday.

“It’s very important to see (the stages) so we’re not going in blindly,” team director Danny Van Haute said. “If you want to put it on percentage-wise, it (helps us) 20 or 30 percent. Now we know what to expect. We know where to attack the group. That’s why (Andy) Schleck was here. He’s doing the same thing. I’m sure he checked out the courses. That’s a good indication that he’s here to win.”

The Jelly Belly team consists of 13 riders, but only eight will race the Pro Cycling Challenge. With a team featuring just one Colorado native, Van Haute said adjusting to the altitude is paramount.

Specifically, the team wanted to see the second stage, a 131-mile ride over Cottonwood and Independence passes that will take riders to more than 12,000 feet.

“That’s going to be a brutal stage,” said Alex Hagman, the team’s best chance in the general classification and its lone Colorado native. “It’s going to be epic. The altitude, that’s really going to hurt people. For those that aren’t acclimated it’s going to be the biggest factor.”

Getting a first look, though, put to ease any first-ride jitters.

And coming from Avon on Tuesday the team was relieved to find a bit of a tail wind. The subtle gains in elevation surprised some, but all conceded that Stage 4 into Steamboat will be fast. Really fast.

“The last 25 miles is flat and downhill,” Van Haute said. “It’s going to be really exciting to come into Steamboat. It’s going to be a huge sprint. All the guys will be flying to the finish together.”

To reach Luke Graham, call 970-871-4229 or email lgraham@SteamboatToday.com

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