Brutal day awaits riders in Stage 2 | SteamboatToday.com

Brutal day awaits riders in Stage 2

Team Smartstop's Emerson Oronte and UHC rider Jonathon Clarke make their way toward the King of the Mountain finish on the first lap of Monday's opening stage of the USA Pro Challenge.

— The consensus heading into the 2015 USA Pro Challenge was that no one was quite sure what was going to happen or who would be well positioned to win.

Taylor Phinney, Monday's surprise Stage 1 winner and the protector of the yellow jersey for Stage 2, has a pretty good idea what's not going to happen — he's not going to bear that yellow jersey burden for long.

Monday's stage pushed riders harder than they expected, and their pain is only likely to amplify in Stage 2 as they begin the day with a climb up Rabbit Ears Pass, the first of three tough climbs on a stage that ends with a mountaintop finish at Arapahoe Basin.

"A mountaintop finish is not my cup 'o tea," Phinney said. "Our plan is going to be more about focusing on the GC (general classification) guys, and I’ll prance around in yellow for a couple of hours.

"It's going to be a difficult prance."

The stage starts at 10:55 a.m. Tuesday from Gondola Square at the base of Steamboat Ski Area. Riders will ride out from the square, onto Mount Werner Circle, hang a left onto Pine Grove Road, then another left onto U.S. Highway 40 as they leave town.

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Rabbit Ears Pass is a category two climb, dangling a lucrative 10 points in the chase for the King of the Mountain jersey, currently held by UnitedHealthCare's Jonathan Clarke.

Clarke racked up seven points, tied with Budget Forklift rider Michael Torckler. The pair split wins at the two King of the Mountain checkpoints on Monday's course, but Clarke won the jersey thanks to beating Torckler across the overall finish line.

They'll get a test Tuesday, both in their ability to climb and in their desire to wear the jersey. Rabbit Ears boasts about 2,600 feet of climbing within the first 20 miles of the 115-mile stage.

"It's a beast," Cannondale-Garmin rider Ted King said. "To race up a climb right out of the gate is very, very tough, and it's one of three significant climbs on the day."

The race had to reroute thanks to construction on Colorado Highway 9 south of Kremmling, and the new course takes riders down dirt roads and up another mountain pass, a category three climb to Ute Pass at 9,570 feet.

One final climb awaits at the end of the stage, a category 1 effort from Dillion up to the finish at A-Basin.

There are enough KOM points on the line — 10 for the winner up Rabbit Ears, 8 for the first up Ute Pass and 12 more for the first to finish the race, and lesser points for every sequential rider to cross the line — that the KOM competition will have an entirely different look by stage's end.

"My legs will tell me at about 10:30 a.m. when we head up Rabbit Ears," said Clarke, considering his chances at holding the jersey. "If they feel good, I'll go in the front and go after it."

With the yellow jersey likely on the line, as well, plenty will hinge on whose legs feel up to what should be a tremendous task.

To reach Joel Reichenberger, call 970-871-4253, email jreichenberger@SteamboatToday.com or follow him on Twitter @JReich9

Stage 2 schedule

9:30 a.m. — Start village opens at Steamboat Ski Resort base area

10:40 a.m. — Start ceremonies begin

10:55 a.m. — Race starts. Riders will ride out of Gondola Square and onto Mount Werner Circle, take a left on Pine Grove Road and a final left onto U.S. Highway 40.

11:25 a.m. — Festival closes

11:30 a.m.-11:45 — Riders should reach the peak of Rabbit Ears Pass

Points to be earned

Stage 2 will offer dramatically more King of the Mountain points than Stage 1. Here’s how the points will be split up:

Rabbit Ears — 10 for the 1st rider 9 for the 2nd, then 7, 6, 5, 4, 2

Ute Pass — 8, 7, 6, 5, 3

Arapahoe Basin — 12, 10, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1