Lock up the animals, the race is here

Experts Overend, Wherry break down Durango’s Grand Depart to Telluride

If you live in downtown Durango, you might want to keep the cat inside Monday morning.

That’s when Durango’s streets, avenues, alleys and byways will entertain the world’s top cyclists in the opening stage of the 2012 USA Pro Cycling Challenge.

While the two casual parade laps downtown might present a challenge for felines such as Reggie, Bop, Enzo or Isabella, the serious racing on Lap 3 is sure to send kitties, dogs and squirrels scrambling for cover from Narrow Gauge to Fourth Avenue and from 13th to Fifth Street.

Once the official race starts at 10 a.m. Monday, the racing will get serious – immediately, said the dean of Durango cycling, Ned Overend.

“In Durango, the teams’ll want to work together to get their sprinters up front,” Overend said.

“Then, you’ll see classic leadouts,” he said of the positioning of the sprinters for the first Sprint Line on Main Avenue on the riders’ third pass downtown.

“The downtown crowd is going to see sprints like they’ve never seen before,” said Chris Wherry of Durango, who serves as assistant sporting director for the first-year Champion System Pro Cycling Team.

“People in Durango have seen some small sprints in the criterium at the Iron Horse, but when these guys light up Main Avenue, you’ll see some of the fastest guys in the world,” said Wherry, who won an Iron Horse criterium title in a sprint a few years ago.

A former U.S. national road racing champion, Wherry said the teams will use their collective horsepower to move their sprint specialists into position to pocket points and cash at the Sprint Line.

“It’s always an honor to hold one of the jerseys,” Wherry said.

The quick dash up the Fort Lewis College hill will inject early energy into the field Monday, Wherry said.

“We’ll try to put Matthias (Friedmann) in position for the sprint (in Durango),” Wherry said of the German rider on the Champion System Pro team, a squad based and funded in China.

A versatile all-around rider, Friedmann is an excellent sprinter, Wherry said.

The race tactics will change again after the field leaves Durango by Camino del Rio and begins the climb past Lake Nighthorse. That’s where the first breakaways likely will begin.

“I think there will be opportunistic breaks even before Hesperus Hill,” Overend said of the course that will climb up to Lake Nighthorse before a rapid descent of Wildcat Canyon to U.S. Highway 160, where the route will turn west.

“Especially early in a tour, you will see guys get in an early break.” Overend said. “The peloton usually lets the early breaks go. They try to chase them down later.”

Wherry, too, envisions early breakaways in Monday’s stage to Telluride.

“I think this stage is ideal for a long breakaway,” Wherry said after reviewing the course with his Champion System riders.

“I really think some group can slip away in this stage,” Wherry said, pointing to a plethora of quality climbers in the 135-rider field.

“It’s up to the climbers to be aggressive,” Overend said.

He referenced recent situations at the Tour of California and the 2011 USA Pro Cycling Challenge.

“The team situation is complicated,” Overend said.

“An example is the pro tour race in California, where (Peter) Sagan – a sprinter – won so many stages,” Overend said of the 2012 Tour of California.

Overend said the teams featured lineups deep with climbers who could help keep the sprinters close to the front of the peloton where they could win a dash to the line – such as Sagan, a Slovakian who won five stages in the California stage race, including the first four stages in a row.

Sagan, however, isn’t in this year’s USA Pro field.

Similarly, Italian sprinter Elia Viviani of Liquigas-Cannondale won three stages in the mountainous tour of Colorado last summer. But the sheer depth of the climbing field this year might offset a breakaway, Overend said.

“There are so many good climbers in this field,” Overend said. “Garmin alone has great climbers in (Peter) Stetina, Tom (Danielson), of course, Lachlan Morton ... and Christian VandeVelde – he’s also a great climber.”

The first King of the Mountain points line atop Hesperus Hill will showcase the climbers.

“Then the field will settle down,” Wherry said.

“The way the terrain undulates (from Durango to Mancos), you’ll see opportunistic breaks,” Overend said.

Wherry agreed.

The gradual but long climb up Lizard Head Pass after the second Sprint Line in downtown Dolores will test the peloton’s ability to bridge to any breakaways, he said.

“When the climb is long and gradual, you can draft at a higher average speed (in the peloton),” Overend said.

“I think what happens on Lizard Head Pass and on the other climb before Telluride will be the keys,” Wherry said.

The 125-mile opening stage, which will start on Main Avenue in Durango, will finish in downtown Telluride.

Durango is bracing for the expected crowds Monday with a free shuttle parking operation. Outlying parking will be available at the Durango Mall, Durango High School/La Plata County Fairgrounds, Twin Buttes and Fort Lewis College. Free shuttles will transport spectators from the parking areas to the downtown Transit Center, where they can walk to the race course.

There will be large video screens broadcasting the race in Buckley Park and at the start at Eighth and Main.

Additional spectator viewing will be available at Guido’s Favorite Foods, which is hosting a fundraiser for the FLC cycling team. Bleachers will be set up at Guido’s for the race.

“There is so much talent here,” said Overend, marveling at the star-studded start list that includes defending champion Levi Leipheimer, 2011 runner-up VandeVelde, Tejay van Garderen of BMC (third last year) and Danielson (fourth last year).

The field also includes Johann Tschopp of Switzerland, riding for BMC, who is coming off a dramatic come-from-behind victory in the Tour of Utah.

“The whole thing is pretty cool,” said Overend, a U.S. Bicycling Hall of Famer, an international legend in cycling and the face most associated with Durango biking.

“I just saw Basso and Nibali down on Main (Avenue),” Overend said of popular Italian cyclists Ivan Basso and Vincenzo Nibali – who probably turned to each other and said, “Ehi, ho appena visto Ned Overend.”


Overend Enlarge photo


Wherry Enlarge photo