Chris Froome of Great Britain made himself the favorite for this summer's Tour de France, and if he meets expectations, Colorado's USA Pro Challenge could have the defending Tour champion in its race in August as well. Froome's Sky Procycling team headlines the Pro Challenge field for the third annual race, which begins Aug. 19 in Aspen and ends Aug. 25 in Denver.
On Sunday, the 28-year-old Froome won the seven-day Criterium du Dauphine by a whopping 58 seconds. It's the same race teammate Bradley Wiggins won last year before winning the Tour de France and the Olympic time trial gold medal.
"This will be our best field ever," Pro Challenge CEO Shawn Hunter said. "With the addition of Sky, we have the potential to have the best riders, best teams we've ever had. I also think it's highly likely the winner of the Tour de France will be racing in Colorado this August."
The six other UCI Pro Teams entered in the 16-team field are BMC Racing (U.S.), Cannondale Pro Cycling (Italy), RadioShack Leopard Trek (Luxembourg), Team Argos-Shimano (Netherlands), Team Garmin-Sharp (U.S.) and Team Saxo-Tinkoff (Denmark).
Teams aren't required to submit a race roster until late July. It isn't known whether Froome or Wiggins will race in Colorado. Wiggins, a former rider for Boulder-based Garmin-Sharp, is recovering from a chest infection and knee injury that knocked him out of the Giro d'Italia and Tour de France.
Hunter hopes Wiggins will choose the Pro Challenge as his return race.
"Absolutely," Hunter said. "If anything, that (illness) is in our favor. Certainly there are no guarantees, but the relevance of the event, the location, the fact that this would be a great comeback event for him, it measures it up pretty well."
Andy and Frank Schleck of RadioShack were huge draws in the inaugural 2011 race. Andy, the 2010 Tour de France winner, missed last year's Pro Challenge after breaking his pelvis in the Dauphine. Frank, third in the 2011 Tour, was banned for a year after testing positive for the diuretic xipamide in last year's Tour. His ban is lifted July 13, five weeks before the Pro Challenge, but a team spokesman said his 2013 debut race will be the Vuelta a España on Aug. 24-Sept. 15.
Andy has struggled in his recovery and finished 33rd in 2011.
"We don't know about the Schlecks," Hunter said. "I know they like our race and love Colorado. ... I think people now know our race and will be better prepared physically and mentally."
Hunter said the race will be wide open for up to a dozen riders. That includes defending champion Christian Vande Velde of Garmin-Sharp and BMC's Tejay van Garderen, the Boulder resident who won the Tour of California and is a dark horse in the Tour de France.
"It's a great race that has everything," Carsten Jeppesen, head of Sky's technical operations, said in a statement. "With climbing, sprints and a time trial as well as good crowds, it's a mini-Tour, the kind of race we really like. ... It's only our second race in the U.S., and we aim to put on a good show."
The UCI Pro Continental Teams, one step below ProTour, include Champion System Pro Cycling Team (China), UnitedHealthcare Pro Cycling Team (U.S.), Team Novo Nordisk (U.S.) and Colombia.
The UCI Continental teams, which can include amateurs, are Bissell Pro Cycling (U.S.), Bontrager Cycling Team (U.S.), Optum presented by Kelly Benefit Strategies (U.S.), Jelly Belly presented by Kenda (U.S.) and Jamis-Hagens Berman presented by Sutter Home (U.S.). John Henderson: 303-954-1299, firstname.lastname@example.org, @johnhendersonDP
The Denver Post's John Henderson breaks down the seven major UCI World Tour teams entered in the USA Pro Challenge:
BMC Racing team (U.S.)
Features two Boulder residents: Tejay van Garderen, winner of this year's Tour of California and the top young rider in last year's Tour de France, and Taylor Phinney, defending champion of last year's Pro Challenge time trial. Team leader is Cadel Evans, winner of the 2011 Tour de France.
Cannondale Pro Cycling (Italy) Formerly Liquigas-Cannondale, it features Ivan Basso, winner of the 2007 and 2010 Giro d'Italia, and 2010 Vuelta a España. Peter Sagan won the green points jersey in last year's Tour de France.
Leopard RadioShack (Luxembourg) Stars are the Schleck brothers. Andy, the 2010 Tour de France winner, is recovering from a broken pelvis last year and is only 78th in this week's Tour du Suisse. Brother Frank, third in the 2009 Tour de France, returns from a one-year doping ban July 13. Fabian Cancellara, the four-time world time trial champion who won Paris-Roubaix, is not doing the Tour de France and will focus on the world championships in Sept. 21-29.
Sky Procycling (Great Britain) Bradley Wiggins is the defending Tour de France and Olympic time trial champion but is recovering from a chest infection. Chris Froome finished second to Wiggins in last year's Tour and is favored this year.
Team Argos-Shimano (Netherlands) In its first year on the World Tour, the team had wild-card berths in the 2009 and 2012 Tours de France. Marcel Kitten, a 25-year-old German, is having a breakout year. He won France's Tour de Picardie in May and has won stages in the Tour of Oman, Paris-Nice and three in the Tour of Turkey.
Team Garmin-Sharp (U.S.) Boasts defending champion Christian Vande Velde and Ryder Hesjedal, last year's Giro d'Italia winner. Hesjedal abandoned this year's Giro with a viral infection and crashed out of Monday's stage of the Tour de Suisse.
Team Saxo-Tinkoff (Denmark)
Timmy Duggan, a Boulder native and Nederland resident, is recovering from a broken tibia and collarbone suffered in January at the Tour Down Under. He finished 91st in the Tour of California and 77th in the Tour of Turkey. Team picked up Rory Sutherland, who won the Pro Challenge's epic Stage 6 up Boulder's Flagstaff Mountain for Team Unitedhealthcare a year ago.