By Ben Day
Stage 1 of the USA Pro Challenge kicked off today in beautiful Steamboat Springs. Greeted by perfect temperatures of 73 degrees Fahrenheit (23 Celsius), the first stage is one of the most opportunistic stages in this year’s tour – a chance at the win for any of the cyclists if they play their cards right.
The pivotal part of today’s stage was the ‘King of the Mountain’ climb that the riders would climb twice during the two-lap race. At just 2.3km and an average gradient of 7%, this climb is merely a warm up for the rest of the week’s action in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado. But because it was bracketed by two other uncategorized climbs, this part of the course defined which sprinters were left to contest the finish in Steamboat Springs. Would it be the pure sprinters who generally don’t like the climbs and high altitudes too much, or the ‘climbing sprinters’ who do well uphill and can dominate in a reduced group sprint.
Making the break on a stage such as this is a feat in itself. As you could imagine, 100+ other riders all wanting the same thing meant strong competition just to make the move! It wasn’t until the third significant group went up the road at the 23km mark that the breakaway of the day was formed. Seven riders established a maximum lead of 4.5 minutes and fought for the two KOM climbs on course. UnitedHealthcare Pro Cycling’s Jonny Clarke infiltrated the move and took enough KOM points on the stage to take the jersey of the best climber in the race. What did it take to make this happen?
By looking at Jonny’s power file from his Pioneer power meter, you can see what happened in today’s stage. Early on there was a period of intense attacking in order to form the first breakaway of the race. You can see that Jonny was jumping around a little in this period highlighted by 3 accelerations near 1000 Watts. During an 11 minute period at this point of the race, Jonny averaged 352W, which when you take into account the effect of high altitude, was an impressive effort. With the altitude of today’s stage in Steamboat Springs at 7000ft (2134m), your lactate threshold power (your maximal sustained power for approximately 1 hour) is diminished by approximately 7-8%.
The moment he chose to go across to the breakaway coincided with a lull in the peloton, and asides from an initial acceleration of 677W over 27 seconds, his traverse across wasn’t too difficult. At kilometer 35, we see Jonny launch an early attack in an attempt to take the KOM points with 1min47sec at 504W. He finished second in this mountain sprint.
From there you can clearly see on the file that Jonny went into conservation mode, not expelling any excess energy in the breakaway so that the peloton didn’t get too animated in their chase by an ever-increasing time gap, and also to have fresher legs than the other riders coming into the second KOM sprint. This time around, he waited a bit later, needing 1min17sec at 489W in order to secure maximum points and the King of the Mountains jersey going into stage 2.
In the end, the pure sprinters didn’t make it over the final climb of the day and just 43 riders contested the stage in downtown Steamboat Springs. BMC’s comeback-kid Taylor Phinney took the win ahead of UnitedHealthcare’s Kiel Reijnen.
Join us for inside footage of tomorrow’s stage 2 of the USA Pro Challenge which will see the riders race from Steamboat Springs to a new finish at Arapahoe Basin, culminating with a final ascent of 7km at nearly 11,000ft!