With the big race coming to Boulder this Saturday, I’ve been asked by a lot of folks that know I’m a bike racer (but not much else) if I’m racing in the USA Pro Challenge. Obviously I’m not, but could I?
Getting There (Teams):
First, I’ll explain how teams get into the race. Pro cycling has three classifications for teams. The USA Pro Challenge decides which teams they want to invite, and the level of the race determines the ranks and numbers of teams invited. There are 16 teams in the 2012 race.
The top tier of cycling consists of 18 ProTeams, with rider salaries from $50,000 to $1-2 million per rider and the team is guaranteed entry to the Tour de France. There are 6 ProTeams racing in the 2012 USAPC.
The second tier is called Pro Continental with rider salaries ranging from $30,000 to perhaps $150,000. There are about 22 Pro Continental teams worldwide, and 5 in the 2012 USAPC.
The third tear is called Continental. There are no salary minimums and many riders have a second job or other source of income. There are approximately 150 Continental level teams worldwide, and 10 in the United States. Four US based Continental teams were invited to the 2012 USAPC.
The USA Pro Challenge has the highest possible international race ranking, and only pro teams from the above categories are allowed to be invited to race. There are some races of lower international status (e.g. Tour of the Gila), where the invited teams will be selected from Pro Continental, Continental, and also including Amateur teams like mine.
Getting There (Riders):
Once a team is invited, the team will decide which riders to select from their roster to send to the race. Many factors dictate who a team will send, ranging from fitness, home country, race schedule, logistics, and even fan base.
Keep in mind that pro cycling teams are a business, and rider selection can be based on sponsor exposure and cost rather than giving the team the best chance to win. The USAPC will feature a lot of American pros to cater to American fans watching the race. It might not be in Garmin’s best interest to send a lot of their foreign riders to the race, even if they stood the best chance to win (plus, it could cost more to send them). Some teams (Astana, 6 riders) didn’t even send a full squad to the 2012 race.
There is a small amount of roster flexibility, however. Many Continental teams don’t have a full roster all season. They can hire riders without contracts (amateurs) at the last second in August and invite them to the race (This happened to local racer Julian Kyer, who is in the 2012 USAPC racing for Bissell). They can also have young riders from different teams ride as a ‘stagiaire’ or intern (This happened to local racer Danny Summerhill who is racing for United Healthcare). I’m not certain of the procedural details, but Continental squads can also have ‘guest riders’ in the race, provided they aren’t from other professional teams.
So potentially, even though I race for an amateur team, I is possible I could be called up by a pro team to race the USA Pro Challenge. But as you can see from the stories above, these opportunities are reserved for amateurs who have been kicking the snot out of the pros as national level pro-am events.
How Hard is the Race? (Power Analysis):
I’ll start with the first stage. The first stage was much harder than most commentators, and racers anticipated (see Sam Johnson’s post from his excellent blog).
The most obvious limitation I would have is the length of the stage at almost 130 miles. The longest I have ever raced (by distance) was just over 100 miles in 2011, taking just under 5 hours to complete. The 130 miles of Stage 1 were completed in only 4 hours and 42 minutes. Since I had trouble with the energy demands of a 92 mile (flat), 3.5 hour race last weekend, the length of the stage would be my biggest obstacle to overcome.
As of this writing, I am aware only of data published by riders who finished in the lead group of 56. Their data is similar, but I’ll compare against Jani Brajkovic since I know his weight and will assume that he didn’t put his nose in the wind much, as he had a few teammates leading the chase for him once things settled down. Below is a chart of his peak power outputs versus my 2012 records:
As you can see, my best day would be just enough to almost hang on to the lead group, but I still would have been dropped in the first 15 minutes of the race (like Sam Johnson, and I’m sure many others). My 5 minute power is my strongest ability, and it still wouldn’t have been enough to stay in contact on the first climb of the first stage. Also keep in mind that all of my 2012 power records listed above were set on different days. I wouldn’t be able to meet all of those numbers in the same five hour effort.
So, I certainly wouldn’t have made the lead group. I may have been able to hang on to finish the stage, but I easily could have been one of the seven individual abandons who saw their biggest race of the year evaporate on the first day.
I’d like to see some data from the ‘grupetto’ (the last group to finish) for comparison and will post it if I can find it. I also expect the numbers from Stage 2 to be a little more forgiving and will probably amend this post with another comparison.
Keep reading for more USA Pro Challenge coverage. I’ll be watching the race Wednesday through Saturday and will at least post a few pictures