Here they come! Riders expect swift sprint in Steamboat | SteamboatToday.com

Here they come! Riders expect swift sprint in Steamboat

Riders from the Cannondale-Garmin team make their way down a closed Lincoln Avenue on Sunday morning in Steamboat Springs. The USA Pro Challenge cycling race begins today in Steamboat with an 11:40 a.m. start time from 6th and Lincoln streets in downtown. The race's finish is expected after 3:30 p.m.

— The consensus from the riders is that the race to win the 2015 USA Pro Challenge is wide open, but the day before the event, opinions among the field were equally strong about the race's first stage, which takes place Monday in and around Steamboat Springs.

Analyzing the race

Just who joins the breakaway will come down to King of the Mountain points and week-long plans.

Axeon Cycling Team climber Greg Daniel, fresh off winning the KOM jersey at the Tour of Utah, said the Stage 1 KOM points may not be enough to spur him into a breakaway because he wants to save his legs for more important moments.

The Stage 1 KOM climb is a category 4 climb. That means it's the easiest of rated climbs, and even crossing the line first on both laps, earning 4 points each time, isn’t as valuable as winning the climb up to the 10-point category 2 Rabbit Ears checkpoint in Stage 2.

"The KOM jersey will be on the line more in Stage 2 than Stage 1," Daniel said.

He may be playing the long game, but other riders won't be and those will be the men breaking from the pack early.

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It's going to be a dramatic sprint, and the stage and the Day 1 yellow jersey will be on the line as teams barrel down Lincoln Avenue for the finish line.

The race will begin at 11:40 a.m. — in the midst of what will be a jam-packed day of action in downtown Steamboat — and head out of town across the 13th Street bridge to start what will be two laps of the Coal Mine Loop between Steamboat and Oak Creek.

It will add up to 96.6 miles of racing that will all come to a furious finish some time after 3:30 p.m.

The course around Steamboat features five climbs, the most difficult three sandwiched in eight miles of road between the Twentymile coal mine and the town of Oak Creek.

The second of those three, a category 4 climb, will feature a King of the Mountain checkpoint, and that will likely be enough incentive to send some cyclists scrambling into a breakaway group soon after the race's start.

It's not, however, likely to create enough of a disturbance to allow those riders to outrun the main body of racers, the peloton, when it gives chase with all its power, likely some time in the second lap.

The overall altitude of the race and its many climbs will be a major factor, but probably not on Stage 1.

"Altitude doesn't affect people as much on the first day as opposed to having a cumulative effect," said Ted King, a Cannondale-Garmin rider who's raced in every Pro Challenge and will retire after this season.

"Everyone will be very fresh and chomping at the bit," he said. "Even though we're high, this is one of the lowest points we're at all week."

That all means a fast finish, the third such occurrence in as many stage finishes for Steamboat.

Of course, cyclists love to say anything can happen. "Anything," in Steamboat, could involve several scenarios.

Part of the course is through open range, and racers have tweeted this week that they've encountered unexpected and roaming obstacles — cows — along the circuit route.

"We'll keep an eye out," said UnitedHealthCare sprinter Kiel Reijnen, laughing. "Fortunately, there aren't any big blind turns."

Wind could be a more serious factor.

After riders reach Oak Creek, the route is mostly downhill or flat. That's a big advantage for the peloton, which will be able to ride considerably more efficiently than a breakout group and will be able to look ahead and see its prey on the open terrain.

Still, much of that terrain is exposed, and a nasty crosswind could quickly change the math for the peloton's pursuit.

"What could lead it to break up would be the wind and that those climbs are back to back to back," Reijnen said. "If you're already suffering on the first one, by the time you get to the third, you're in deep trouble. You add wind to that, and it definitely can make it hard."

Winner of last year's USA Pro Challenge green sprint jersey, Reijnen is among those hoping for a sprint finish. If he gets his way, it's all going to come to a thrilling conclusion in downtown Steamboat Springs.

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

Analyzing the race

Just who joins the breakaway will come down to King of the Mountain points and week-long plans.

Axeon Cycling Team climber Greg Daniel, fresh off winning the KOM jersey at the Tour of Utah, said the Stage 1 KOM points may not be enough to spur him into a breakaway because he wants to save his legs for more important moments.

The Stage 1 KOM climb is a category 4 climb. That means it’s the easiest of rated climbs, and even crossing the line first on both laps, earning 4 points each time, isn’t as valuable as winning the climb up to the 10-point category 2 Rabbit Ears checkpoint in Stage 2.

“The KOM jersey will be on the line more in Stage 2 than Stage 1,” Daniel said.

He may be playing the long game, but other riders won’t be and those will be the men breaking from the pack early.