9 Things You Didn’t Know About Riding the USA Pro Challenge
Professional cyclist Ben Day rides for the UnitedHealthcare Pro Cycling team. Day also owns his own Boulder, CO-based coaching group DaybyDay Coaching which is powered by TrainingPeaks software. Here, Ben shares 9 secrets from the USA Pro Challenge that only the riders know.
1. It can be annoying riding near Jens Voigt!
Jens, when he’s not on the attack, is definitely good for a laugh in the peloton, but he seems to be every fan’s MVP. Ride next to him when there is a big crowd on the side of the road and you’ll need to be ready for the barrage of noise and possible hearing loss as people scream and call his name, shouting “Shut Up Legs”!
2. Be ready to breathe through every orifice of your body!
The effects of racing over the high altitude passes, is a unique experience. At sea level, strength feels like the limiting factor. At altitude, oxygen availability is the limiting factor and it’s easy to underestimate how this affects your hard efforts. That guy ahead of you may not seem so far away, but you’ll be redlining a lot earlier in covering that move. I feel like my jaw flexibility improved throughout the race as I found myself with my mouth wide open often, to take in as much air as I could!
3. Colorado is a huge state with amazing variety.
I had never been to places like Telluride and Crested Butte before this race. Maybe I would never have gone when destinations like Vail and Aspen are closer to where I live (Boulder, CO). But having the opportunity to see some new corners of the state left me in awe of its beautiful scenery – reminiscent of the towering mountain passes of Switzerland and Austria.
4. Being skinny is practically cheating.
The least mountainous stage of the USA Pro Cycling Challenge we considered a “sprint” stage, and sure enough it ended up in a sprint won by Tyler Farrar. But there was still 5,538 feet of climbing in this “flat” stage! In comparison, the Golden to Boulder Stage 6 had 10,030 feet of climbing. Seriously, those riders coming in around 130 lbs should have to carry extra weight up the hills to make it fair, right? Kind of like how some race horses carry extra weights with them?
5. Your local roads feel different when you’re racing them in a big field of world-class competitors.
I have lived in Boulder for six years, and I’ve ridden many miles around here in preparation for events throughout the world. The Golden to Boulder stage was one of the highlights of my career and I knew the course well. But being in this peloton of super-fit cyclists meant that the pace at which we were covering these familiar roads was out of the ordinary, a speed session as opposed to a slog. Racing through downtown Boulder, it was difficult to recognize landmarks and tell where we were since the crowd was 5 or 6 people deep in most places! So, it seemed like all of a sudden we were making the approach to Flagstaff. The crowd was vocal and boisterous and it was a special day in the lives of the pro cyclists who call Boulder home. At the end, what really resonated with me was how happy everyone seemed – the cyclists certainly, but the crowd themselves were in great spirits and looked like they were having a great time. What an awesome party!
6. Big open descents at high altitude equal very high speeds.
Coming off of Cottonwood Pass, I hit my max speed of the tour at 69.6mph!
7. The riders dictate the difficulty.
In its inaugural year of 2011, the USA Pro Cycling Challenge was by no means easy with many mountain passes over 10,000ft of altitude. In 2012 it was no different with some very hard terrain to cover, but in reality, it was the tactics that were being played out that really made the race hard. With super aggressive racing from all the teams, looking for glory in Colorado and for a chance to unseat the yellow jersey, all of the riders were pushed to their limits. This started on day one with Danielson and Stetina battling up the road until a few kilometers to go, and continued even up until the last day when Christian VandeVelde snatched the yellow jersey from Tejay van Garderen’s shoulders. It must have been an exciting race to watch!
8. Life stops when you’re on tour.
Even though I must defend our existence, I have to admit that we cyclists can be a little bit pampered when we’re on tour. Our team at UnitedHealthcare Pro Cycling is looked after by two directors, three soigneurs, three mechanics, a logistics manager, a physiologist, a team doctor, and a bus driver – all for nine riders! Our day consists of waking up, eating, racing, eating, massage, eating, and sleeping – day in and day out. The support team around us ensures that we can concentrate on racing as hard as we physically can. We lose touch with the outside world, too – our conversations with our families on the phone get shorter and shorter as the week goes on and we look to conserve as much energy as we can. For that week, we live in a bubble and miss out on what’s happening in the outside world. Monday’s newspaper has a lot of surprises!
9. Bike racing is truly becoming global!
Predominantly a European sport in the past, cycling is starting to branch out and showcase its beauty to the world. The Tour of California, USA Pro Challenge, Tour of Utah, and Tour Down Under are some of the biggest and best run bike races in the world with the sport’s best riders. Where will the sport be in 10 years? I hope that more and more people get to capture the amazing beauty of this sport. It’s like playing chess, out of breath, with your heart rate at 200bpm the whole time!