Stage two, Gunnison to Aspen, Colorado. Does that sound scary?
It does to plenty of riders in the year one edition of the US Pro Cycling Challenge.
First, some elevation numbers that create paralyzing fear: two 12,ooo foot peaks, the Cottonwood and Independence passes in one day.
Second, the oxygen deprivation: only 60% of the life affirming goods they breathe at sea level.
If you’re not acclimatized, you’re going to be in a world of hurt. This photo we took on the way to Crested Butte seems to capture that unease, that stress, that impending trauma.
Everyone from team directors to riders to sports physiologists to media folk know this stage race is all about the up, the hors sea level, the “in to thin air” challenge of this Tour of Colorado.
Tomorrow is the Queen stage, the deprivation stage, the 210 kilometers that separate those who perform well at high altitudes from those who will die slowly.
SpiderTech’s Lucas Euser — who lives and trains in Colorado — said the altitude is ” gonna be the race. They’re going be dying. If you’re scared of the 12,000 foot peaks, they’re gonna break you.”
Tim Duggan of Liquigas-Connondale is another Colorado boy who is well versed in high altitude misery. He saw it today on the road to Created Butte. “You could see that in the peloton. Everyone was scared to race. Everyone is unsure of how they’ll be in the altitude.”
Nobody really knows how their body will respond. Colorado resident Tom Danielson of Garmin-Cervelo is well acclimated and yet today on stage one he just didn’t have it. “When I’m on my bike, I feel fine. But when I go super super hard, I’m just not at the same level as the top guys,” said Danielson.
William Dickerson of Jelly Belly was in the break on the road to Crested Butte. Another rider from Colorado, he knows full well the effects up this high. “If you’re not experienced with the altitude, and you do a big effort like you think you can do at home, you go in the red and you’re done,” said Dickerson. ” You cannot recover and go again.”
The only riders who call high altitude home are the riders from Colombia. They’re not nervous, stressed out or questioning what will happen to them. In fact, they look at the race profile and they can’t wait for the start.