Call the 2015 USA Pro Challenge the year of firsts.
Race officials on Aug. 5 announced the men’s roster, led by the Tinkoff-Saxo super duo of Alberto Contador and Peter Sagan, along with current U.S. road champ Matthew Busche of Trek Factory Racing and Taylor Shelden of Jelly Belly, the first Summit County native to join the peloton.
This year’s race, held Aug. 17-23 with four stops in Summit, features 16 men’s teams, highlighted by World Tour teams BMC Racing (USA), Trek Factory Racing (USA), Tinkoff-Saxo (RUS) and Cannondale-Garmin (USA).
Joining the four international powerhouses are four pro continental teams, including Novo Nordisk (USA), UnitedHealthcare Pro Cycling team (USA), Drapac Professional Cycling (AUS) and Caja Rural-Seguros RGA (ESP), making its first appearance in an American cycle event.
Curiously absent from the start list is Aspen resident Tejay van Garderen, the reigning Pro Challenge champ and only cyclist to notch two victories in the race’s five-year history. Van Garderen instead will race in the fabled Vuelta a Espana, aka the Tour of Spain, which begins Aug. 22. He’ll likely be joined by 2015 Tour de France winner Chris Froome, who was confirmed for the 2013 Pro Challenge before pulling out just days before the first stage.
The first-ever women’s teams will be announced in the next week, according to race officials.
“It’s always an exciting time when we get to announce the phenomenal level of talent and superstar teams who will ride in our race,” said Shawn Hunter, CEO and co-chairman for the USA Pro Challenge. “This year we have some new additions, who will make their debut at the USA Pro Challenge in front of millions of people.”
And, the firsts don’t start there. In addition to top-tier World Tour and Continental Teams, this year also features Cycling Academy, the first-ever professional team licensed from Israel. The Israeli team is joined by Optum Pro Cycling presented by Kelly Benefit Strategies (USA), Team SmartStop (USA), Hincapie Racing Team (USA), Jamis-Hagens Berman (USA), Axeon Cycling Team (USA), Team Budget Forklifts (AUS) and Jelly Belly presented by MAXXIS (USA).
Summit local Shelden was named to the Jelly Belly squad in the past week — right in time to join the Pro Challenge roster. He’s currently riding in the Tour of Utah and will likely join fellow Jelly Belly pros for a training ride in Dillon on Aug. 13.
DISSECTING THE TEAMS
Despite the loss of former winners like van Garderen and Christian Vande Velde, who retired from pro cycling just two weeks ago after Tour de France, the Pro Challenge field is filled with dominating cyclists.
BMC Racing is led by Australian cyclist Rohan Dennis, the Stage 1 winner at this year’s Tour de France. Alongside him will be Italy’s Damiano Caruso, a top finisher in this year’s Tour of Italy.
Trek Factory Racing features reigning U.S. champ Busche and Haimar Zubeldia, a four-time Tour de France top-10 finisher.
But Tinkoff-Saxo, the unofficial “Dream Team” of cycling, will be the squad to beat. It’s home to such stars as Contador — a two-time Tour de France winner and the most decorated cyclist in the field — along with Sagan and Roman Kreuziger. Kreuziger is slated to take the Stage 1 start in Steamboat on Aug. 17.
The Cannondale-Garmin team, based in Denver, will feature Davide Formolo, a stage winner at the Tour of Italy in May. He’s joined by Ruben Zepuntke of Germany, who took third overall at last year’s Tour of Alberta, and Colombian Janier Acevedo, who’s best finish is third overall in the 2013 Amgen Tour of California.
Most of the top teams in the Americas will be featured, including UnitedHealthcare Pro Cycling, led by Kiel Reijnen. The veteran American won the opening stage at last year’s Pro Challenge and is an early leader at the Tour of Utah.
Among the young upstart teams is Hincapie Racing, led by American Robin Carpenter, a 23-year-old American who took Stage 2 from Aspen to Crested Butte last year.
Axeon Cycling Team also boasts two up-and-comers, including Golden native Gregory Daniel and Daniel Eaton, the reigning U-23 U.S. National Time Trial Champion.
“The USA Pro Challenge has always been a proving ground for rising young talent, and this year will be no different,” Hunter said. “We are definitely seeing a changing of the guard (for) international-level cycling and it’s exhilarating to see it first-hand on the roads of Colorado.”
THE TEAM ROSTER
UCI WORLD TEAMS
BMC Racing Team (USA)
Team Cannondale-Garmin (USA)
Trek Factory Racing (USA)
UCI PROFESSIONAL CONTINENTAL TEAMS
Caja Rural-Seguros RGA (ESP)
Drapac Professional Cycling (AUS)
Team Novo Nordisk (USA)
UnitedHealthcare Pro Cycling Team (USA)
UCA CONTINENTAL TEAMS
Optum Pro Cycling presented by Kelly Benefit Strategies (USA)