On their home turf | PostIndependent.com

On their home turf

Melanie Wong
Vail Correspondent
Post Independent
Glenwood Springs, CO Colorado

VAIL, Colorado – It’s always good to have home court advantage, as some of the top contenders at the USA Pro Cycling Challenge can tell you.

Six Americans finished in the top 10 of Thursday’s time trial up Vail Pass, and Americans also make up the top five spots overall after the third stage of the race. With the Tour of California earlier in the year, the Tour of Utah recently wrapping up, and Colorado hosting the Pro Cycling Challenge, more of the country’s top cyclists are able to spend more time racing at home.

“It’s great to show the fans here what we do over [in Europe],” said American David Zabriskie (Garmin-Cervelo). “Everyone seems pretty excited, and all the racers seem pretty happy with it, especially the guys from Colorado.”

Many world-class riders in the peloton call Colorado home, and some said they are proud to be hosting the race in their “backyard terrain.”

Garmin-Cervelo rider Daniel Summerhill lives in Denver when not training and racing abroad – he’ll also gladly point out that he graduated from Cherry Creek High School.

“It’s awesome to race at home, and I have so many friends and family up here supporting me,” he said after Wednesday’s time trial. “I heard my name cheered quite a lot today. I really can’t describe how cool it is to say I’m from here.”

He said he’s also proud of the support that Colorado fans have shown for the race.

“Guys [in the race] are saying that the crowds here are bigger and better than at the Tour of California” he said. “People here are absolutely insane. This is world-class, and so are the fans.”

HTC-Highroad’s Danny Pate, a Colorado Springs native, said the race route has done a good job of showcasing the best of Colorado.

“It’s awesome to come through towns like Vail, Aspen and Crested Butte, all these places I know,” he said. “They’re great places to race through.”

The familiar terrain gives some of the riders a home court advantage as well. Christian Vande Velde of the Boulder-based Garmin-Cervelo team, said he was especially familiar with the time trial course.

“I know this course so well – I’ve ridden it hundreds of times,” he said. “I’ve trained for the tour here 10 years ago, and I’ve ridden it so many times in rain, snow and hail.”

But home court advantage or not, many riders admitted to struggling in the high altitude of the mountains. While even Denver and Boulder sit at 5,000 to 6,000 feet, most of the stages are between 7,500 and nearly 12,000 feet.

Pate, of Colorado Springs, said the elevation requires riders to adjust their racing accordingly.

“You can’t breathe,” he said. “You don’t have the big surges, and if you give a big, hard effort, you can’t recover. You just have to ride smooth.”

American rider Ben King (Team RadioShack) said he’s used to mountains – but none like those he’s found in Colorado.

“I’m from Vermont, and we have mountains there, but it’s a different kind of suffering,” he said. “It’s more depressing. All the Europeans basically race at sea level as well, and only a few races are at altitude like this.”

The difficulty of high elevation racing goes beyond feeling more out of breath, said Hunter Allen, co-founder of training software company TrainingPeaks. According to Allen, riders can expect to see a 10 to 15 percent decrease in their power output when riding at 6,000 to 9,000 feet.

“They’re going hard like they are at sea level, but they can’t produce the same amount of force,” he said. “People who are acclimatized won’t suffer as much, but it’s highly individualized.”

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