Before the start of Stage 2 of the USA Pro Challenge you could tell that the riders were nervous. Virtually every team had stationary trainers set up for the riders to warm up on. Once the flag dropped, the race went straight up the tough Rabit Ears Pass. The stage would culminate after 185km with a 7km climb up to 3,317metres (10,882ft) of altitude.
The dynamics of this stage were different to stage 1, as the riders let the first move of the day be the selection that pushed on, isolated out on the road, searching for glory. Early motivation was the thing that paid off for these riders. And they weren’t far off, as breakaway rider Nate Brown for Cannondale-Garmin only got caught with 1 kilometer to go – you’ve got to be in it to win it!
Today I rode in the team car of UnitedHealthcare Pro Cycling and got an insight as to their tactics during the stage. Danny Summerhill, a Colorado native, and a rider always motivated to shine in his home state, instigated the first attack of the day in an attempt to keep the King of the Mountain’s jersey, that Jonny Clarke won after the first stage, within the UHC team. Although he pushed hard to make it happen, Danny was beaten to the line twice by Optum’s Will Routley. Danny now lies 2nd in the KOM competition with Clarke in 3rd.
After the stage, we took a look at Danny’s Pioneer power file and discussed with him how he utilizes the metrics he has on his cycle computer. A common theme amongst the professional riders is that they use many parameters to gauge their effort. They are aware of their power numbers, their heart rate on the screen, their cadence, but as well they are listening to the sensations in their body. This is a talent of the pros, to understand what their limits are on any given day. The power of the mind and external motivations means that given the right circumstances, a rider can smash through their previously recorded best efforts in an attempt to fight for that podium position or help their teammate attain a similar feat. Human limitations are constantly pushed.
Getting into some fine detail of Danny’s ride today using TrainingPeaks WKO+ software, we see the difficulty of that first climb up Rabbit Ears pass and the KOM sprint. Danny averaged 351W for 34 minutes before accelerating to average 679W over 1min13sec in a sprint where he was beaten by the in-form Routley. As we alluded to yesterday, the altitude in Colorado is a huge additional stress, and at the top of this pass, Danny’s maximal physiological effort would have been blunted by as much as 10%!
From there we shoot down to where you see the second KOM of the day. As it was undulating coming into this climb, the leadup to the sprint line was 3.5minutes long and Danny needed to hold 394W to stay in contention before launching for 23 seconds at an average of 684W.
Finally, there is another important feature to review the ‘heaviness’ of today’s stage. Danny spent over 4hrs in the breakaway burning over 4400kJ at an average of 305 Watts normalized power (a smoothed out version of average watts taking into account true physiological exertion). Using an internet reported weight of 70kg (not always the best for accuracy), this equates to 4.3watts/kg, which is a sign of Danny’s immense aerobic capabilities. I’m sure he enjoyed a good feed tonight!
The stage was won by BMC’s Brent Bookwalter with our featured rider yesterday Jonny Clarke, showing great form, backing up from the breakaway with a 4th place not far behind. The race is heating up!
Stage 3 launches from Copper Mountain, up and over Independence Pass, cresting at 12,065ft (3,678 meters) above sea level and down into the town of Aspen. It will surely be a tough stage and it will be exciting to see if some of the fast men can chase down the mountain climbers on the final descent. Check back with us to see our Stage 3 report tomorrow!