Man, machine and clock. That’s the brutal simplicity of bike racing’s time trial, an event that pits cyclists against not only the rest of the peloton, but against their inner demons and the relentless enemy that is time. Conquer your weaknesses and mentally battle through the pain and beat the clock and you’ve won. But only for a day. Because the next time trial always looms. Will the legs give out, the march of time become too relentless or will the mind crack? This is the rarefied world of the time trialist, a lonely place of suffering, misery, pain and, occasionally, joy.
This year Colorado residents are lucky enough to have the opportunity to catch some of cycling’s best in the world. And like all great races, the event features a time trial. Returning after a one-year hiatus is the Vail time trial, a stage that’s built around an interesting and relentless course. The stage starts in the town of Vail and heads East, the first few miles will be gradual, perhaps lulling the riders to complacency. But then the fun begins as the climb passes through the East Vail neighborhood and pushes up the pass on some truly steep gradients. This is where the athletes will be truly tested and there’s plenty of opportunity for drama.
The last time the USA Pro Challenge was in Vail, in 2011, this stage proved crucial to the outcome of the race. After a day when he gifted away the leader’s yellow jersey in a stage marked by nasty conditions including icy rain and wind, Levi Leipheimer bounced back to win the Vail time trial stage by a mere 0.5 of a second to reclaim the yellow. The American, who rode for Radio Shack, would go on to win the race.
When looked at through the lens of history, it’s pretty obvious that the Vail stage has the potential to be a game changer again this year. The course is the same, a 10-mile test that climbs an impressive 1,800 feet from Vail’s elevation of 8,022 ft. The relentless incline at altitude means that this time trial has all the elements that make time trials so a compelling. Riders will start individually, without their teams or teammates to support them, and then, riding alone, must battle the fatigue from four stages of racing leading up to the Vail stage, the altitude and the clock. If you are a spectator, it doesn’t get much better than this and the course offers everyone — from cycling aficionados to neophytes — the perfect opportunity to experience a world class time trial featuring world class athletes up close and personal.
For spectators from Boulder, this year’s Vail event holds some real interest. Former Boulderite (recently relocated to Aspen) and solid time trial rider Tejay Van Garderen enters the race in the lead with just four seconds on his BMC teammate Mathias Frank. Christian Vande Velde, who won the 2012 Pro Challenge and was 2011’s year’s second place time trial rider, will also be competing. The Garmin-Sharp rider currently sits at 23rd overall. His teammate, Tom Danielson, a favorite to win the overall is ranked fourth, but admittedly is better suited to mountain climbing than time trialing (that said, in advance of the 2011 race, Danielson told Boulder Weekly the thing that first caught his attention in the inaugural Pro Challenge was the uphill time trial).
The field is deep with local heroes and world champions alike, as well as this years Tour de France winner Chris Froome and the Tour’s highest points earning, who has already won two of the seven stages for the Pro Challenge, Peter Sagan.
Local heroes and world champions: that’s enough reason to pack the car and find a prime spot along the old highway 6 as it climbs out of Vail to enjoy this unique type of bike racing
If You Go:
$250/night (Lupine Room with King Bed)
Arrabelle- $288/night (Deluxe Room with King Bed)
Lodge at Vail- $245/night (Hotel Room with Two Double Beds) or $262/night (Hotel Room with King Bed)
There will be restricted access for pedestrians only to the best viewing points, along Bighorn Road and up on the steeper climbs where Bighorn Road exits the East Vail neighborhood. Get there early and bring plenty of food and water.
Vail has free parking in the town’s parking structures during the summer months. Get there early and use the free town bus system to head out to East Vail to find your ideal spot to watch the race.