Optum Pro Cycling presented by Kelly Benefit Strategies announced its 8-man roster for Colorado’s UCI 2.HC ranked USA Pro Challenge, the United States’ final major stage race of 2013. Its seven stages will take riders from Aspen to Denver across nearly 600 miles of some of America’s most challenging roads. Coming just one week after similarly mountainous and high altitude Larry H. Miller Tour of Utah, the race will be a chance for the team to test itself against some of the world’s best teams, including Team Sky with Tour de France champion Chris Froome in tow.
“Our team is always grateful for the opportunity to compete in a race of this caliber,” said Performance Director Jonas Carney. “It’s exciting to go up against some of the best teams in the world. It’s late in the season, but our riders recognize that these chances don’t come all that often for a continental team, so they’ll show up motivated.”
Four of the eight riders on the roster raced at the Tour of Utah – Jesse Anthony, Alex Candelario, Marsh Cooper, and Mike Friedman. The quartet traveled directly to Colorado following the finish in Park City, to stay acclimated for the exceedingly high altitudes in play. Highlights include a trip up to 12,000 vertical feet on Colorado’s highest paved road over Independence Pass, and a return of the historic Vail Pass time trial, scorching lungs with a 1,694 foot climb over just 16 kilometers.
“It’s hard to appreciate how difficult it is to stage race at altitude unless you’ve done it before,” said Carney. “Racing at over 9000 feet is a different animal compared to racing at even 5000 feet. Many of our riders are from altitude, and anyone who isn’t has been acclimating for some time now. It’s just too difficult of a race and too high of altitude for our riders not to acclimate, so we have had riders living and training out here in the mountains to better prepared for the race.”
Boulder resident Tom Zirbel, who finished sixth at the 2012 edition of the race’s time trial in downtown Denver, is focused on a result on Vail Pass, a stage he has been targeting since it was announced in the early spring it would be returning to its rightful place on the Colorado stage lineup.
Alex Candelario, with multiple top fives in two editions of the race, along with sprinting powerhouse Ken Hanson and leadout experts Mike Friedman and Tom Soladay, will look for opportunities in the flatter finishes. The Aspen/Snowmass and Denver circuits and stage three’s blistering trip from Breckenridge to Steamboat Springs will provide opportunities for a stage win against WorldTour sprinting talent.
All-rounder Ryan Anderson, signed to the team in June and who currently sits third on the UCI America Tour standings, should be a catalyst for the team in the Rocky Mountains. Carney likes his chances with the group he has assembled to contest the race.
“Altitude climbing isn’t really our biggest strength and so our focus will not be the overall,” he said. “Our team is going to be aggressive and opportunistic. We are bringing some strong sprinters in Candelario, Friedman, Hanson, and Anderson and we’ll be fighting for results in all of the sprints.”
2013 USA Pro Challenge Roster
2013 USA Pro Challenge Route
Stage 1 | Aspen/Snowmass Circuit Race | 106km
Stage 2 | Aspen — Breckenridge | 202km
Stage 3 | Breckenridge — Steamboat Springs | 170km
Stage 4 | Steamboat Springs — Beaver Creek | 165km
Stage 5 | Vail Pass time trial | 16km
Stage 6 | Loveland — Fort Collins | 185km
Stage 7 | Denver Circuit Race | 116km