What: USA Pro Cycling Challenge
When: Aug. 19-25
Where: Various locations throughout Colorado
More info: usaprocyclingchallenge.com/
Boulder's Tom Zirbel will compete in his second USA Pro Cycling Challenge next week, this time wearing his 2013 time trial national champion stars-and-stripes jersey during stage five in Vail.
Zirbel, 34, races for team Optum Pro Cycling, one of the five UCI continental teams invited to compete with other UCI pro teams like Sky, which has 2013 Tour de France winner Chris Froome on its roster.
Zirbel crashed on the last day of the Cascade Classic in Bend, Ore., earlier this summer and broke his collarbone, but he says he's completely recovered and should ride at 100 percent during the USA Pro Cycling Challenge.
We caught up with a nervous Zirbel before he left Boulder for Aspen this weekend.
Is there anything you learned from last year's pro challenge that you'll apply this year?
You never know what to expect. I heard stories about the first race the first year they did it, and a lot of stages were not raced until the very end. It was a hard course, maybe a big climb early and a big climb late, and they would go pretty easy on the early climb and then race the last one.
Last year, it was start to finish. Every single day was really, really hard, so it made for exciting, good racing, but some of us were kind of expecting it to be a little more chill and had a rude awakening. Be ready for anything.
What does it mean to you for Colorado, your home state, to host a race like this?
I love this race. I love showcasing our state. We've seen it grow so quickly just because Colorado has such incredible venues. It started off in 2011 and was an instant success and that's just because we have so much to offer in this state, both here on the Front Range and the Western Slope, and of course the mountains. They've done a good job showcasing different areas and towns and it just makes for a great excuse for a lot of people out there to go visit and plan their vacations around the race. I was so crushed when I wasn't able to do it in 2011. Then I was able to ride with Optum last year, and coming through Boulder was one of the highlights of my career, if not the biggest moment. It was just so incredible seeing people five to 10 deep the whole way through Boulder, and it wasn't even time for the final climb.
How do you feel about there not being a Boulder stage this year?
I was a little disappointed, but I think it needed to be done because Boulder, we're hard to deal with (laughing). We need to miss out on some of the good to realize 'OK, the hassles are worth it and the select few who make the most trouble, we'll just have to ignore.' It's a really cool event and I have friends who say that was the best day they've ever had in Boulder. It was such a great party atmosphere and so exciting. They just loved it. It just brought so many people. I can't see how it wasn't a success. Hopefully next year and years to come.
As the 2013 national time-trial champion, is the Vail time-trial stage the one you're looking forward to most?
I'd definitely like to represent well in the time trial in Vail. It'll be exciting to have the national championship jersey and be able to show off the kit and the bike. It's not a great course for me, but it's not terrible. I'd like to do well there, and there are a couple of other stages that I would like to get in the breakaway as well. Stage three (Breckenridge to Steamboat Springs) and stage six (Loveland to Fort Collins) would be a good one, too, because I know the roads over there.
Is there any added pressure for you with 2013 Tour de France winner Chris Froome and 2013 Tour de France sprint jersey winner Peter Sagan riding?
I'm not going to be competing for the overall. We have a couple of stages where we'd like to see it come down to a sprint because we have some really great sprinters on our team, but I think it's great that the biggest names in cycling are coming to town. It adds to the excitement. I don't feel more pressure. We just have to take care of our own business.
--Follow Sarah Kuta on Twitter: @SarahKuta.