Originally published in The Aspen Daily News on Monday, August 18, 2014
Although Aspen local Tejay van Garderen is the favorite to win this year’s USA Pro Challenge, anyone could ultimately take the podium.
That’s the message top cyclists gave the public during a press conference on Sunday marking the start of the 2014 USA Pro Challenge. The seven-day race takes the peloton of professional cyclists across more than 500 miles and up 40,000 feet of mountainous Colorado terrain.
Ultimately, it’s difficult to predict who will win the race, because the pro challenge has such variety in its stages and that can favor different athletes on different legs, said Tom Danielson, a 36-year-old American cyclist, who recently won the Tour of Utah. The seven- stage race is made up of circuit races, time trials and point-to-point races over Colorado passes.
Van Garderen won the race last year and is favored to win this year. Still, van Garderen agreed with Danielson.
“Any day could be decisive,” van Garderen said.
Race organizers need to partner with professional cyclists to create race courses, said Jens Voigt, a 42-year-old professional cyclist from Germany. Voigt is the oldest man competing professionally and plans to retire after this season.
Races that cover extreme distances aren’t necessarily fun to watch or to compete in, because they can be too long before the race becomes competitive, he said.
“The commentators don’t know what to say, because nothing happens,” Voigt joked.
“We can only go so hard, for so long,” said Michael Rogers, a pro cyclist from Australia. Rogers added that he doesn’t want professional cycling to become like test cricket, where matches can last up to five days.
The pro challenge does a good job of keeping the stages short, challenging and different each day, Rogers said.
Meanwhile, van Garderen said he’s happy the race is starting in Aspen.
“It’s pretty cool to start in your hometown,” he said.
Van Garderen has been home for about two weeks. Before that, he was traveling after competing in the Tour de France where he took fifth place. Since he’s been home, he’s been training.
Shawn Hunter, CEO of the pro challenge, said Aspen essentially serves as an anchor for the race and will host stages in the future.
“You can pretty much count Aspen as being in every iteration,” he said.