Vail Pass sure to put cyclists to the test

Melanie Wong

If Thursday’s Stage 4 of the USA Pro Challenge, which ended atop Beaver Creek, required speedy climbing and fearless descending, the Stage 5 Vail Time Trial will be all about endurance and speed.

Riders roll out from Vail Village at 1 p.m. to head up part of Vail Pass before the race heads to the flats of Denver and Fort Collins for its final days. Race leader Tejay van Garderen, who took the yellow jersey on Thursday during the Queen’s Stage, leads by 4 seconds in the general classification ahead of teammate Mathias Frank. Van Garderen looks to hold onto the lead, but with a handful of climbing specialists as well as all-rounders in the top 10, all falling within a few minutes of each other, today’s short race may shake up general classification standings.

A strategic stage

Time trials require a specific skill set – the ability to produce large amounts of power for a sustained period of time. However, Vail’s 10-mile course evens the playing field with an uphill route. The first half from Vail Village to the base of Vail Pass is a fast-rolling false flat, tempered by a steeper final four miles – it’s a pitch that is undoubtedly uphill, but with a grade low enough to still favor the power climbers.

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But it takes more than legs on this particular course, a route that was part of the Coors Classic tour in the ’80s and ’90s. Go too hard early, and the climb may kill your chances, but conserve too much and the leaderboard may be out of reach.

“The Vail Time Trial is not just about strong legs,” said Ceil Folz of the Vail Valley Foundation, the local organizing committee for the Vail and Beaver Creek stages. “You also need the right race strategy in order to maximize your opportunities over the course of the 10 miles. The rider that can combine good climbing with the right race plan is the one that will emerge as the clear cut general classification favorite.”

Thanks to repaving of the final four miles this summer, organizers also expect to see faster times on this year’s course.

“I think the smoother surface will allow riders to maintain their rhythm much easier,” said Jim Birrell of Medalist Sports, the organization responsible for race operations and management. “Because they are able to maintain their rhythm, we should expect to see some faster times.”

Choose your weapon

Riders’ choice of equipment also plays a significant role for Stage 5. The combination of faster flats and a climb mean that racers could choose to ride anything from a traditional road bike to a full-aero time trial specific bike.

Two years ago, in the inaugural USA Pro Challenge, eventual overall winner Levi Leipheimer opted for a full time trial set up while runner-up Christian Vande Velde chose a road bike with clip-on bars. They traded time advantages, with Vande Velde faster on the climb and Leipheimer faster on the flats. In the end, Leipheimer solidified his overall victory with the time trial win, edging out Vande Velde by 58-hundredths of a second.

Van Garderen says he plans to race today with a full time-trial bike.

“BMC makes a great TT bike, and with how light it is, I don’t think I’ll give up too much with the weight,” said van Garderen.

From Vail, the tour will head east to the Front Range for Stage 6 from Loveland to Fort Collins and the final Stage 7 criterium in Denver.

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