Pedaling higher

Inaugural race provides scenery, high elevation challenges for cyclists - including Boulder resident Tom Danielson

photo courtesy of Garmin-Cervelo

In the launch of the USA Pro Cycling Challenge, Colorado will challenge France for the title of toughest race in the world, putting 128 cyclists to a grueling test against fierce climbs that crisscross Colorado mountain passes, long distances and an uphill time trial. The race, which starts on Aug. 22 in Colorado Springs, will draw top cyclists from around the world, including Boulder resident Tom Danielson. Danielson, who rides for the USA on the Garmin-Cervélo team, finished ninth overall in this year’s Tour de France and was the top-ranked American in what was his first year competing in the Tour.

“Everything from the team presentation to the final lap in Paris was really magical for me,” Danielson says. “It was really a lot different than any other cycling race I’d ever done. This was basically the extreme of every race I’d ever done.”

Speed, intensity, aggressiveness of the race, stress and the amount of media coverage — the Tour is all of those amplified to their max.

“Truly, it’s probably the hardest event in the world you can do,” he says. But the USA Pro Cycling Challenge may give it a run for that rank.

The USA Pro Cycling Challenge, a week-long race, packs 3,000 to 9,800 feet of elevation gain in each stage, traverses three mountain passes in two days and includes an uphill time trial at a lofty course in Vail. In a single day, riders will complete a 200-kilometer stage that crosses both Cottonwood Pass and Independence Pass, each more than 12,000 feet in elevation.

That stage is expected to be the race’s true test piece, but Danielson says it was the time trial that first got his attention.

“I think my first thought was, you know, ‘uphill time trial,’” he says. “I think that the thing I got most excited about was the uphill time trial in Vail. That stage has a lot of history being part of the Coors Classic and everything, cycling greats all have times … Definitely really excited about that one.”

Danielson was part of the winning team for the stage two time trial in the Tour de France. But as with many things in Colorado, elevation and scenery will set this race apart.

“I think more than the high altitude will, it will just be the amazing passes that we’re riding over and the amazing crowds that Colorado will have. I think those things will really set the race apart,” he says. “Yeah, it’s the highest race essentially in the world, and we’re all going to suffer at altitude, but at the end of the day, it’s in Colorado, which is really a cycling mecca.”

That could bring out huge crowds of spectators.

While he lives at more than 5,000 feet and comes home to altitude to recover, Danielson doesn’t expect there to be much of a home court advantage. Local cyclists may see a slight edge, but not a significant change in their abilities as contenders.

“They’ll probably be more competitive than normal, but I still think that the best cyclists will be the best at this race,” he says.

A lot of cyclists are already camped around Colorado Springs and Aspen, and are even out riding around Boulder, he says.

“I don’t really see as much of an advantage as people will think,” he says. “Everyone will have adapted to that altitude, so it will just come down to the people who are more efficient riders … Basically what the altitude will do is just make the selection that much more significant. It will just amplify the difficult obstacles of the race.”

After having ridden the final lap of the Tour de France around the Champs Élysées in Paris, Danielson says this race will bring that feeling home, finishing at the state Capitol in Denver.

“That’s really, really in the back of my mind for sure,” Danielson says. “I thought how special it would be to ride into Denver … Regardless of how this race comes out for me, even if I have a bad race — which I hope I don’t — it will be real special to finish a race here in Colorado close to where I live … It’s definitely going to be really magical for sure.”

The race has drawn five of the top 10 ranked riders from the Tour de France and a Columbian team, the Gobernacio Indeportes Antioquia, that performed well at the Tour of Utah. Other Colorado competitors include Danielson’s Garmin-Cervélo teammate Peter Stetina and Tejay van Garderen of the HTC-Highroad team. Both Stetina and van Garderen finished in the top 25 in the Tour of Utah.

“This race is here to stay, and it’s going to be really amazing this year,” Danielson says. “This is the first year, and they already have the best field that’s ever been assembled here on U.S. soil.”

The USA Pro Cycling Challenge’s Tour Tracker, which will show race results in real time, is available at