USA Pro Challenge: What to expect — Stage 2 of the 2015 USA Pro Challenge | SteamboatToday.com

USA Pro Challenge: What to expect — Stage 2 of the 2015 USA Pro Challenge

A breakaway group of riders work their way up Rabbit Ears Pass during the 2011 USA Pro Challenge.

What to expect: Stage 2

— Stage 1 is likely to end in a sprint finish. Stage 2, however, will offer a different kind of excitement as the week's racers get their first real taste of Colorado mountain passes. Plenty of miles will remain after the day's finish in Arapahoe Basin, but the course could offer up a look at the top overall competitors.

Another quick break

The race begins from Gondola Square, rides out onto Mount Werner Circle, then takes a left on Pine Grove Road and finally a left onto U.S. Highway 40, where the race will officially begin.

Rabbit Ears Pass is a big first test for the day's riders. The USA Pro Challenge went up the pass in 2011, and if that year is any indication, there will be a small group breakaway in the five miles from the edge of Steamboat to the base of the pass. It could contain riders eager to rack up King of the Mountain points, which await at the western summit of the pass.

Gutting it out up the pass

Rabbit Ears Pass is no joke for a regular rider. It's also a serious trek for a pro rider. It's a 2,500-foot climb over six miles, and it will string the field out, transforming the peloton from a big mass of spandex and gears into a long snake of riders desperately trying to stay in contact with the wheel in front of them.

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High-speed chase

The climb up Rabbit Ears may be tough, but after riders reach the top, things will change dramatically as the group reforms and starts hauling bike across the rolling terrain.

A breakaway group will lose many of its advantages when the terrain shifts from up to flat(ish.) The open expanses southeast of the pass toward Kremmling won't help, either. Depending on how hard they push, riders could be going between 35 and 40 miles per hour.

Getting dirty

Just like many Steamboaters driving to Denver, the USA Pro Challenge opted for a re-route thanks to the construction near Kremmling. Now the race will pass through the town on U.S. 40, turn south near Parshall and take dirt roads up and over Ute Pass. It's not as big of a climb as Rabbit Ears will be — 1,200 or so feet in gain compared to 2,500 — but it is another hurdle that could help mix things up, and there's another King of the Mountain line en route to add incentive.

One more climb for an early edge

One final section of "catch-up terrain" awaits riders after they return to the pavement of U.S. 40, but the climb up to the finish could throw one last wrench into the plans of the riders and should keep the day from being another sprint finish.

The last haul up to the Arapahoe Basin finish line is 2,000 feet of elevation gain over about 10 miles. It may not shatter the field, but it could be important in the overall race.

As Stage 1 will likely be a sprint finish, the eventual general classification winner is not likely to gain any time. Stage 2, however, offers that chance and will be the first test of this year's GC (general classification) competitors.

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

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