The route for this year’s USA Pro Cycling Challenge in Colorado will be breath-taking, and we’re not talking about the scenery.
Route details for the Aug. 20-26 bicycle race reveal that cyclists will be pedaling above 12,000 feet — higher than any route in North America or Europe — three separate times.
Because of less air pressure at high altitudes, there’s 40% fewer oxygen molecules per breath than at sea level. Cyclists who haven’t acclimated to riding at high altitudes will be suffering.
The first visit to high altitudes comes on Aug. 22, Stage 3 between Gunnison and Aspen. That’s where the peloton crosses Cottonwood Pass at 12,126 feet — the highest point in the race.
Later that day, the peloton (or what’s left of it) climbs to 12,000 feet against at Independence Pass.
On Stage 4, Aspen to Beaver Creek, the cyclists return to the 12,000-foot elevation for another go at Independence Pass. Later that day, they’ll pass through the highest incorporated city in the US, Leadville, at a mere 10,152 feet.
The next day, Stage 5, the peloton leaves Breckenridge for a 10-mile climb to Hoosier Pass at 11,500 feet.
On Saturday, Aug. 25, Stage 6 routes the peloton to Boulder, where local cycling fans can watch the finish in the 3.5-mile climb up the locally revered Flagstaff Mountain.
If you missed the earlier announcement, here are the host cities for the 2012 USA Pro Cycling Championship:
Monday, Aug. 20 — Stage 1: Durango to Telluride
Tuesday, Aug. 21 — Stage 2: Montrose to Crested Butte/Mt. Crested Butte
Wednesday, Aug. 22 — Stage 3: Gunnison to Aspen
Thursday, Aug. 23 — Stage 4: Aspen to Beaver Creek/Vail Valley
Friday, Aug. 24 — Stage 5: Breckenridge to Colorado Springs
Saturday, Aug. 25 — Stage 6: Golden to Boulder
Sunday, Aug. 26 — Stage 7 (ITT): Denver
This is the second year for the Colorado-based bike race. Levi Leipheimer won the inaugural race last year as a member of the RadioShack team. He plans to return this year as a member of Omega Pharma-QuickStep.